Promoting and Protecting Press Freedom & Freedom Of Expression In Nigeria

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Archives

 

FOI Bill Receives Massive Support at Senate Public Hearing

 

 ABUJA, TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 2005:  “To unleash the potential for good governance, we need to unlock the storehouse of public information to enable the people of Nigeria hold their representatives accountable,” Senate President Ken Nnamani said today in Abuja.

 

The three-week old Senate President said without information, Nigeria cannot translate the aspirations for prosperity and good governance into reality, adding: “We cannot keep information trapped in officialdom if we intend to be competitive in the globalizing economy.”

 

Senator Nnamani spoke while declaring open the public hearing on the Bill, where Nigerians representing various sectors, including the business sector, trade unions, the academia, religious bodies, the media, the legal profession, the civil service, and human rights groups expressed unanimous support for the Bill and urged the Senate to pass it as soon as possible.

 

Describing himself as a “believer in freedom of information”, he noted that information is now a huge income earner for developed and developing countries alike.

 

Senator Nnamani said: “I also believe that information is important for democratic governance.  We now know that economic development depends largely on the quality of institutions that coordinate political and economic interventions by the state and private actors.  The quality of institutions is measured by their degree of transparency and accountability.  As a matter of democracy and service delivery, people need information to engage with state institutions in a manner that provides incentives for good governance.”

 

Reaffirming that “the right to know is a fundamental right”, he observed that the right to know also has “instrumental value” because people can only hold their leaders and institutions accountable when they have the information about how government works.

 

According to him, “Constructive criticism is impossible if facts and figures are under locks and keys. To unleash the potential for good governance we need to unlock the storehouse of public information to enable the people of Nigeria hold their representatives accountable.”

 

But Senator Nnamani remarked that in unlocking the storehouse of information, Nigeria should pay particular attention to its historical and social contexts.

 

He said: “We need a freedom of information bill that addresses the peculiar problems we face as a developing country.  We are not exceptional in the comity of nations.  Nevertheless, we have our uniqueness.  Both our commonalities with other countries of the world and our uniqueness should guide today’s deliberations on the Freedom of Information Bill.”

 

In his welcome remarks, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Senator Tawar Wada, assured those present that the Senate was favourably disposed towards the Bill as evidenced by the positive contributions made many senators during the debates at the plenary session of the Senate when it went through the second reading.

 

He said: “We in the Senate do understand the importance of this Bill if we are to achieve our aim of making Nigeria a just and egalitarian society.”  He added that the benefits of the Bill, when it is passed into law, will speak for themselves.

 

Senator Wada described the public hearing as a historic occasion in Nigeria.

 

Members of the public who spoke at the public hearing included a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Kano State, Alhaji A. Balarabe Mahmoud (SAN); the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Press Council, Mr. Godwin Omole; the President of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Chief Executive Officer of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Ray Ekpu;  the President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Smart Adeyemi; the Publisher of Punch Newspaper, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola;  Professor Pat Utomi, Director of the Lagos Business School, whose submission was presented by Mr. A. Owolabi, a lecturer at the Lagos Business School, who also made a separate presentation on the potential impact of a Freedom of Information law on the accountancy profession; the Head of Information at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Owei Lakemfa; and Chief Nkem Nath Nwanzor, the President of the Civil Service Technical Union of Nigeria.

 

Others were the Secretary of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and editor of the Saturday edition of the National Interest newspaper, Ms Angela Agoawike; Dr. Mustapha Hussain Ismail, an Islamic scholar at the Bayero University, Kano and Director of the Centre for Human Rights in Islam (CHRI) in Kano; Dr. Tunji Olaopa, the Deputy Director of the Bureau for Civil Service Reforms in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation; the President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), Mr. Ken Ukoha, whose presentation was made by the Deputy National Public Relations Officer of the Association, Mr. Ambrose Enebe; the National Coordinator of the Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC), Ms Lilian Ekeanyanwu; the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo; an Abuja based lawyer, Mr. Ime Akpan; and Dr. Sam Amadi, the Chief Coordinator of the Think Tank Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria at the Catholic Secretariat in Lagos.

 

The Committee also received other written submissions from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) based in New Delhi, India; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI); the Freedom of Information Coalition; the International Credit Information Bureau (ICIB); and the General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. John Odah.

 

All the presentations and submissions were unanimous that the Bill should be passed into law as soon as possible, although many of those who spoke suggested amendments to the current Bill to strengthen it and make it more effective.

 

Chief Nwazor, who spoke on behalf of workers in the public sector, expressed the support of public sector workers for the passage of the Bill.  He noted that although civil servants will bear the burden for the implementation of the Act, when it becomes law, they were nonetheless urging the National Assembly to pass it because “access to information is a vote for living well.”

 

He regretted that “our secretive tendency in the civil service has ruined the service”, adding that although a lot was happening in the public service “people are afraid to talk.”

 

In his closing remarks, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Senator Etanimo Spiff, agreed with Senator Wada that the public hearing was a historic occasion and expressed the gratitude of the Committee to all those who had come to make presentations to it.  He observed that people had come from different parts of the country to attend the public hearing to make their views on the Bill known, which was indicative of the importance of the Bill to Nigerians.

 

He said the members of the Committee were impressed by the quality of the presentations and the caliber of people who had come to express support for the Bill.  He described the presentations as enlightening particularly because it had succeeded in demonstrating to members of the Committee how the proposed law will affect virtually all sectors of the Nigerian society.  He added that he was particularly struck by the presentation by the National Association of Nigerian Traders, saying that before he heard from them, he could not understand how they could  possibly be affected by a Freedom of Information Act or why they were interested in the matter, but that their presentation had brought the issue down to the grassroots.

 

Senator Spiff remarked: “We have heard from the public.  We know where the public stands.  Our goal is to ensure that whatever law we come up with will be in the best interest of Nigeria.”

 

He noted that one of the main concerns which the members of the Committee had before the public hearing was why the Bill was restricted to public institutions alone.  He said the Committee members were pleased by the suggestion from a number of presenters that the provisions of the Bill should be extended to apply to private bodies and corporations in certain circumstances because the activities of such bodies sometimes have as great an impact on the lives of the people as the activities of public institutions.

 

Senator Spiff admitted that the Bill would be equally useful to members of the National Assembly.  According to him, “The Bill will be of and assistance and help to the National Assembly.  What we have found out when we carry out our oversight functions is that we cannot have access to information from the government agencies.”

 

He stressed that “Nigeria will be better for it” with the passage of the Bill.

 

Click here for text of Remarks by Senator Ken Nnamani

Click here for presentation by A.B. Mahmoud (SAN)

Click here for presentation by Ray Ekpu

Click here for presentation by Ajibola Ogunshola

Click here for presentation by Professor Pat Utomi

Click here for presentation by Owei Lakemfa.

Click here for presentation by Angela Agoawike

Click here for presentation by Dr. Mustapha Hussain Ismail

Click here for presentation by Dr. Sam Amadi

Click here for presentation by National Association of Nigerian Traders

Click here for presentation by Zero Corruption Coalition

Click here for presentation by Media Rights Agenda

Click here for presentation by Bureau for Civil Service Reforms

Click here for submission by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

Click here for submission by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)

Click here for submission by Juliet Ume-Ezeoke, Member, Int'l Media Lawyers Assoc.

Click here for submission by Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)

Click here for submission by Freedom of Information Coalition

Click here for submission by International Credit Information Bureau (ICIB)

Click here for submission by Nigeria Labour Congress

Click here for submission by Engr. F. A. O. Oseni
Click here for submission by Women Aid Collective (WACOL)
Click here for submission by Hadina Consulting Limited for MTN Nigeria Limited
Click here for submission by Bureau For Public Opinion
Click here for submission by Owolabi Akintola

 

Coalitions

Partners

 

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Archives