BPSR, RTK Launch Policy Brief on FOI Act Implementation

Ag.DG Mr. D.I Arabi,
 Mr. D.I Arabi, Ag DG, BPSR

The Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), in collaboration with Right to Know (R2K) Nigeria have launched a Policy brief titled; “Policy recommendations for strengthening the implementation of the freedom of information act in the Nigeria Federal Public Service”

Announcing the Brief in a statement issued in Abuja on March 19, 2019 the groups said the policy brief was developed following a joint study by BPSR and R2K, Nigeria on the “Administrative Burden in the Implementation of The Freedom of Information Act 2011” in four pilot supervising Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The MDAs in focus were Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Justice, Code of Conduct Bureau and Federal Ministry of Finance.

The study which was done with support from the MacArthur Foundation highlighted 17 constraints and challenges, six key lessons learnt and 11 policy recommendations that will need to be undertaken across the public service to engender effective implementation of the FOI Act.

The challenges highlighted by the Brief include among others that: a number of public institutions are resistant to full implementation of FOI Act; proactive and reactive disclosure of public information/records among MDAs is generally low; performance by public institutions are generally weak or low, as public institutions appear generally reluctant to provide citizens with easy access to information; personnel capacities and quality is generally poor because most public institutions do not have dedicated FOI Act Units staffed with trained professionals who are conversant with the provisions of FOI Act.

The Brief acknowledged that the Federal Ministry of Justice, as a Ministry has demonstrated strong performance regarding its regulatory function required by the FOI Act as it has been up to date with regards to its annual reports. The brief noted that it has however not yet brought the guidelines up to date with current realities.

It noted that the implementation of FOI Act has been adjudged to be so far generally ineffective, evident from the 8.1% national compliance rate as of 2017, coupled with the overall statistical average mean value of 3.6%.

It also listed lack of critical understanding of the access to FOI Acts by public officials and citizens as one of its challenges.

The Brief also noted that “Individuals who are responsible for records that are eligible for FOIA requests often are unaware of (i) the eligibility of their records, (ii) the policies that apply to the records, and/or (iii) the record-keeping responsibilities that accrue to their position.”

BPSR and R2K, Nigeria recommended in the brief among others that penalties and sanctions are important in ensuring the effective implementation of FOI Act; there is need for appropriate staffing and resources to ensure effective implementation of FOI Act; record keeping procedures need revamping to respond to request for information from the public; and that MDA’s should invest in the training of FOI Act officials, information officers and the citizens, and also in raising long-term awareness.

They also recommended that Government should raise awareness of FOIA by linking it to e-government and citizen participation and social programmes; that access to information laws should be simplified and/or translated into local languages to make them accessible to broader sections of the population; and that conflicting laws such as Official Secrets Act, Public Complaints Commission Act, Criminal Code, etc. that affect the effective implementation of FOI Act should be repealed or amended to avoid perceived conflict with the Act.