Civil society groups in Lafia, Nasarawa state, have recommended that the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly should put in place administrative sanctions to make public institutions comply with the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The recommendation arose from concerns expressed by representatives of many civil society organizations at a one-day sensitization workshop on the FOI Act organized by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) that the absence of any form of sanctions had encouraged public institutions to flout the provisions of the Act with impunity.
The proposal was among recommendations made by the groups in a communiqué issued at the end of the workshop. It was the last in a series of workshops held by MRA under a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Pact Nigeria.
The workshop was aimed at improving the capacity of civil society, community based and faith based organisations to effectively make use of the FOI Act to obtain information related to their thematic areas of work from public institutions and relevant private entities as well as to monitor the effective implementation of the law.
Participants at the workshop, which took place at Ta’al Conference Hotel in Lafia on December 6, 2012, observed that the relatively low level of usage of the FOI Act in Nasarawa State and other parts of the country is as a result of the lack of awareness of the provisions and potentials of the law.
They urged the Federal Government and its agencies to ensure the effective implementation of the FOI Act as there is clear evidence that a regime of access to information fosters transparency and accountability in government. They argued that this has a great capacity to reduce corruption, and bring about good governance which will engender sustainable development.
The participants observed that public institutions were yet to take advantage of the rapid development and growth of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), which can significantly aid the implementation of the Act. They therefore asked government agencies to take advantage of the availability and adaptability of ICTs to enhance the effective implementation of the Act, both in the proactive disclosures provisions and in dealing with requests for information made under the law.
The participants also resolved to initiate an access to information bill for Nasarawa State as a strategy for strengthening citizen’s right to information in the State. To ensure the smooth passage of the bill, the participants noted that it is imperative to work with the network of CSO in the state and individually in sensitizing Nasarawa state House of Assembly members and other critical stakeholders. They therefore recommended a broad based and sustained FOI sensitization plan under which civil society organizations will collaborate to draft a bill that will be sent to the state House of Assembly for consideration.
They also suggested that civil society organizations in Nasarawa State should work together with the National Judicial Council to implement a range of activities aimed at sensitizing and raising awareness among judges in the State about the Act.
At the end of the workshop, the participants made a commitment to become agents of change in the state by mainstreaming the Act into their work.
They also promised to use the Act to engage public and private institutions covered by the law, as part of a broader strategy of enthroning transparency and accountability in governance at the State and local government levels. They also resolved to conduct ‘step-down’ training workshops on the Act in their localities so that colleagues, partners, beneficiaries and other stakeholders could also be better enlightened about the Act.
Click here to view the full text of the communiqué issued at the Lafia Workshop.