Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has added five federal public institutions to its growing list of Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame inductees.
The Presidency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the Nigeria Television Authority were the new inductees into the FOI Hall of Shame for their failure to comply with their obligations in the FOI Act, 20117 thereby undermining the effective implementation of the Act.
For “a gross failure of leadership” and setting a bad example for other public institutions in the implementation of the FOI Act the Presidency was inducted into MRA’s FOI Hall of Shame.
MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Freedom of Information, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, said in a statement in Lagos that: “since the signing of the FOI Act into Law in 2011, elected and appointed officials in the Presidency have consistently acted as if the Act does not apply to them or worse still, as if they are above the Law as the Presidency has made no effort whatsoever to comply with its duties and obligations under the Act, as required of all public institutions.”
MRA stressed that it is patently clear from the provisions of the FOI Act that it covers and applies to the Presidency, particularly in the light of Section 29(9)(a), which defines government bodies to which the Act is applicable to include “any executive department, military department, government corporation, government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the government (including the Executive Office of the President), or any other arm of government, independent or regulatory government agency or public institution.”
MRA said despite the express provisions of the Law, over the last six years since the FOI Act came into force, the Presidency has not issued or submitted to the Attorney-General of the Federation, as required by Section 29(1) of the Act any annual report on the implementation of the Act and has not published such a report, as stipulated by the Law.
Besides, it added, the Presidency has also not complied with its proactive publication obligations under Section 2(3) and (4) of the Act as it has not published, either on the State House website or anywhere else, the categories of information which the Law requires it to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
MRA said it was not aware of a single request for information that the Presidency has granted over the last six years, insisting that on the contrary, it knows of several applications for information that the Presidency has either refused or completely ignored, contrary to the provisions of section 4(b) of the Act, which makes it mandatory for a public institution to give a written notice to the applicant if it intends to deny access to all or part of the information requested with reasons for the denial.
It also accused the Presidency of failing to designate an appropriate officer in the Presidency to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent and publishing the title and address of the officer, as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the Act.
For its failure as a vital arm of government to abide by any provision of the FOI Act and its ‘active’ refusal to comply with any of its various obligations in a law its members enacted six years ago the National Assembly was inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame.
Justifying the choice of the National Assembly as inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of MRA said “It is difficult to believe that six years down the line, the National Assembly failed, neglected and refused to comply with all its obligations in the FOI Act but rather pays lawyers huge sums of money from our commonwealth to ensure they frustrate the effective implementation of the FOI Act.”
Explaining further, Mr. Ojo said since the enactment of the FOI Act, the National Assembly has not granted a single request made to it for information by virtue of the FOI Act. He said further that the National Assembly not only refused to grant access to all the requests for information made to it, it has actively frustrated this right by wasting the nation’s resources on frivolous litigations to appeal all the High Court judgments which ruled that the National Assembly release information to the requesters.
In addition to all of these, the National Assembly has also undermined the FOI Act in a number of ways: it has not submitted a single implementation result to the Attorney General of the Federation as required by Section 29(1) and (2) of the FOI Act and in accordance with the Attorney General’s implementation guidelines; it has not designated an officer to whom freedom of information requests should be sent much less publish the title and address of the appropriate officer in accordance with Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act; aside some bills being made available online on its website, it has also failed to proactively publish virtually all the categories of information that the FOI Act requires public institutions to publish.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Reform of Government Institutions, which was also called the FOI Committee and which has oversight authority over the FOI Act is charged with the responsibility of overseeing compliance by public institutions with the FOI Act. However, the Committee is not exerting any positive influence on seeing to the effective implementation of the Act in accordance with its mandate.
For consistently failing to comply with its duties and obligations under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 over the last six years and repeatedly violating the public’s right of access to information, the Federal Ministry of Education was inducted into the “FOI Hall of Shame”.
Making the announcement in Lagos, MRA noted that the Ministry has failed to designate an appropriate officer to whom FOI requests should be directed in breach of Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation; refused to train its personnel on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act as stipulated in Section 13 of the Act; consistently failed to submit its annual FOI implementation report to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29 of the Act; and has neglected to proactively publish and disseminate the categories of information specified by the Act in Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the Act.
Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Freedom of Information, said in a statement: “The Federal Ministry of Education’s continued negligence, failure and refusal to comply with virtually all its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act can only be seen as a strategy by the Ministry to frustrate the effective implementation of the Act and must not be allowed to continue unchallenged. This act of impunity in the disregard of our Laws must be redressed.”
Mr. Sulaimon noted that an FOI request letter he personally took to the Ministry in July 2017 which was addressed to the head of the Ministry’s Freedom of Information Unit “was rejected on the ground that it was not addressed to the Minister and on the excuse that there is neither a Freedom of Information unit or department in the Ministry.”
Inducting the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) as inductee into the FOI “Hall of Shame”, MRA accused it of consistently failing to implement the FOI Act and to fulfill its obligations under the Law over the last six years.
Justifying the choice of jamb, MRA said between 2011, when the FOI Act was passed into Law, and the present time, JAMB ought to have submitted six annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act but it has not actually submitted a single report.
In addition, MRA noted, JAMB has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the Act as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that it is required by the FOI Act to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
Other aspects of the FOI Act which MRA accused JAMB of disregarding include Section 2(3)(f) and Section 13 of the Act. Section 2(3)(f) mandates every public institution to publish the title and address of the appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent, which JAMB has failed to do.
Under Section 13, every government or public institution is required to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access information and records held by the government or public institution for the effective implementation of the Act. MRA noted that although this is mandatory, JAMB had not carried out any such training for its officials since the Act was passed into Law six years ago.
MRA said it did not have enough information to make a definitive statement on the level of JAMB’s responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public, arguing that JAMB itself is to blame for this situation as it has repeatedly failed make returns to the Attorney-General of the Federation on this issue, as the Law requires it to do.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame for its long-held reputation as one of the most corrupt government institutions in Nigeria worsened by its refusal to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
MRA conferred the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with membership of its FOI “Hall of Shame”, for wasting public funds to advance a culture of secrecy and cover up dubious transactions.
MRA’s Freedom of Information Programme Manager, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, said rather than complying with the FOI Act which encapsulates a public policy of open government, the agency chose to dissipate public funds in challenging every effort to make it transparent and any attempt by citizens to obtain information from it.
The agency claims that its operating principles, guidelines and standards applied in the civil aviation sector in Nigeria are based on the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARP) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and stipulated national laws and regulations.
Mr. Sulaimon said: “This claim by the NCAA that its operations and activities are guided by national laws and regulations is a myth going by its clear disregard for the FOI Act. An agency that performs such important functions and activities as the NCAA should be open and transparent. But a quick examination of the activities of NCAA since the inception of the FOI Act reveals that it is one of those public institutions undermining the Act through its actions and omissions.”
MRA noted that since 2011 when the FOI Act was passed into Law, the NCAA failed to comply with its duties and obligations under the Act, saying that the agency prefers to squander public resources in fighting any request for the disclosure of information by engaging the services of lawyers to assist its efforts to advance an illegal and unjustifiable culture of secrecy.
The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was named recipient of the FOI Hall of Shame award for its failure to promote the FOI Act and ensure its effective implementation as a public service media organization as well as for its non-compliance with its obligations under the Act as a public institution.
Justifying the choice of NTA, Mrs. Mosunmola Olanrewaju, MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Legal Matters, said MRA was constrained to award the dubious honour to the NTA because in addition to failing to promote the Act and monitor compliance by other public institutions, the national broadcaster was itself consistently in flagrant disregard of its statutory duties and obligations as a public institution covered by the Act, thereby undermining its implementation and effectiveness.
Mrs. Olanrewaju noted: “The NTA, being the national television network, considering its wide reach and its key function, which is to provide news and information as a public service in the interest of Nigeria, is expected to set the pace by complying with all the obligations imposed on it by the FOI Act. As purveyors of information, one would have thought that compliance with the proactive disclosure obligations imposed on the NTA as a public institution would be second nature to it. Unfortunately, the reverse appears to be the case as the organization does no proactive disclosure as required by Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act.”
According to MRA, all public institutions, a class to which the NTA clearly belongs, being a body established by Law, providing a public service and utilizing public funds, are expected to proactively disclose certain types of information listed in Section 2(3) (a) to (f) of the FOI Act, by various means including print, electronic and online sources.
However, it said, the NTA is not doing this, in addition to the fact that very little information is generally available on its website, which does not include the categories of information which the Act specifically requires it to proactively publish to the public through this very important medium.