The Freedom of Information Network in Ondo State, in partnership with Media Rights Agenda (MRA) held a two-day training workshop on the Freedom of Information Act on September 2 and 3, 2015 in Akure, Ondo State
The workshop included representatives of civil society organizations, including community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and other grassroots organizations as well as media practitioners in Ondo State.
The workshop had 47 participants in attendance and was funded with contributions from member organizations of the FOI Network while resource materials, including copies of the FOI Act, training manuals, FOI monitoring reports, among others, were provided by Media Rights Agenda.
The workshop was facilitated by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, MRA’s Executive Director; and Mr. Alimi Adamu, Coordinator of the national Network of Freedom of Information Lawyers.
The workshop sought to create awareness among diverse stakeholders in Ondo State; sensitize and train civil society activists and media practitioners in Ondo State to utilize the Freedom of Information Act in requesting and obtaining information from governments at Federal, State and Local Government levels; and equip representatives of civil society organizations in Ondo State with the knowledge, skills and practical tools to enable them carry out similar training and sensitization activities for individuals and organizations in their communities.
Participants at the workshop noted that more than four years after the passage of the FOI Bill into Law, there is still widespread ignorance in Ondo State about the Act as most people have not read it and not familiar with its provisions.
One of the noted consequences of the widespread ignorance about the Act is that the level of usage of the law by members of the public in Ondo State to demand information from government officials was unacceptably low.
The workshop therefore highlighted a need to undertake more training and sensitization of different stakeholders and members of the general public in Ondo State on the provisions of the Act, its objectives and how to use it.
Participants identified that one of the factors inhibiting effective implementation of the Act is that most government officials, especially at the State and local government levels, remain very ignorant about the Act as well as their duties and obligations under the law which results in these duties and obligations not being complied with.
The workshop covered topics such as: “Understanding the Freedom of Information Act”, “Ensuring Effective Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act”, “Case Studies of FOI Usage from Different Parts of the World”, “Making Requests for Information under the FOI Act”, as well as Judicial and Non-Judicial “Mechanisms for Enforcing Compliance with the FOI Act” Participants also did practical exercises on formulating requests for information, aimed at building their capacity to write and make effective FOI requests.
Participants at the workshop resolved to regularly use the FOI Act to make requests for information from public institutions at the Federal, State and Local Government levels in an effort to bring about transparency and accountability at all levels of government in Nigeria.
The workshop also motivated participants to seek to deploy various strategies to ensure that the text of the FOI Act is made more widely available to stakeholders and members of the public in Ondo State in hard copies and electronic format.
Having identified a need for awareness and sensitization, participants decided that there should be more training and sensitization about the FOI Act. In addition to sensitising the general public in Ondo State, targeted training will also be carried out for specific stakeholder groups, including officials of public institutions, students in institutions of higher learning, trade unions and professional associations in the State; step-down training workshops on the FOI Act will also be organised for communities and organizations as part of efforts to popularize the Act among ordinary people in Ondo State.
The workshop also culminated in a decision to carry out advocacy activities aimed at public officials and civil servants at state and local government levels to encourage them to comply with the provisions of the FOI Act as well as to periodically monitor the level of compliance by public institutions in Ondo State with the provisions of the FOI Act, including the requirements for the proactive publication of certain categories of information and their responsiveness to requests for information by members of the public.