‘Exempted Information Determined by FOI Act, Not by Civil Servants or Other Laws’ – MRA’s Programme Manager

Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, Programme Manager, Media Rights Agenda
Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, Programme Manager, Media Rights Agenda

Information exempted from disclosure under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act are clearly spelt out by the Act and not subject to the discretion of civil servants or determined by other laws, according Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, a Programme Manager at Media Rights Agenda (MRA).

Mr. Sulaimon spoke at a one day “OGP Anticorruption Commitments” Workshop organised by the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and AccessNG in Abuja on May 19, 2017.

He that the FOI Act did not require public institutions to proactively publish unclassified information, rather it specifically and in extensive details provides for information to be proactively published by public institutions under 16 heads of items in Section 2 of the Act.

Mr. Sulaimon gave the explanation after a presentation by Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, Special Adviser to the President on Justice Sector Reform and National Coordinator of OGP Nigeria. Mrs Ibekaku-Nwagwu had noted during her presentation that public institutions are expected to proactively publish information that is not “classified”.

Mr. Sulaimon however stressed that classified information cannot be determined by civil servants or public servants or by other laws such as the Official Secrets Act or the Civil Service Rules.

Rather, he noted, the FOI Act explicitly spells out information that may be exempted from disclosure in Sections 11 to 17 of the Act. He said that most of the information currently considered as classified by the civil servants have been automatically declassified by the FOI Act. He thus cautioned public institutions to refrain from approaching access to information issues from the perspective of the official Secrets Act and the likes as most of their provisions have been invalidated by the FOI Act.

The one day event was facilitated by Seember Nyager, CEO of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC). In her opening remarks, Ms Nyager noted that the workshop sought to strengthen the work of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on OGP and Anticorruption in Nigeria. The workshop was also expected to examine the recently adopted National Anticorruption Strategy (NACS) within the context of the OGP Nigeria National Action Plan (NAP).

The workshop focused on five institutions with anticorruption mandates, namely: the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).

Participants subsequently broke up into five small groups with each focusing on one of the identified public institutions. At plenary, participants came together to discuss the mandates of these respective institutions, identifying how they fit into the NACS and the OGP Anticorruption commitment. Participants also identified the gaps in the laws which may pose challenges to those institutions in effectively implementing the NACS and the OGP Anticorruption Commitment.

As a way forward, participants agreed to, inter alia: advocate for establishment of the inter-ministerial/high-level committee that was mentioned in the NACS and the OGP NAP; make moves to come up with a working national definition of corruption; replicate the workshop and carryout follow-up meetings to sensitise as many stakeholders as possible; and consider engaging states and local governments on open government and anticorruption.