Justice Ministry to ‘Name and Shame’ Public Institutions Which Fail to Submit FOI Annual Reports

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Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), has said that the Federal Ministry of Justice plans to “name and shame” public institutions which fail to submit their annual implementation reports to his office as required by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 pending the adoption of appropriate punitive administrative measures to sanction such defaulting institutions.

Section 29(1) of the FOI Act provides that on or before February 1 of each year, each public institution shall submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation a report which shall cover the preceding fiscal year and which shall include:

  • The number of determinations made by the public institution not to comply with applications for information made to such public institution and the reasons for such determinations;
  • The number of appeals made by persons under the Act, and the reason for the action upon each appeal that results in a denial of information;
  • A description of whether the Court has upheld the decision of the public institution to withhold information under such circumstances and a concise description of the scope of any information withheld;
  • The number of applications for information pending before the public institution as of October 31 of the preceding year and the median number of days that such application had been pending before the public institution as of that date;
  • The number of applications for information received by the public institution and the number of applications; which the public institution processed;
  • The median number of days taken by the public institution to process different types of applications for information;
  • The total amount of fees collected by the public institution to process such applications; and
  • The number of full-time staff of the public institution devoted to processing applications for information, and the total amount expended by the public institution for processing such applications.

The Attorney-General of the Federation announced the plan in his 2023 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011 submitted to the National Assembly pursuant to Section 29 of the Act – his first FOI implementation report since his appointment as Justice Minister and Attorney-General of the Federation under the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Administration.

The Attorney General is required by Section 29(4) of the Act to notify the relevant committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate, not later than April 1 of the year of the reports submitted by public institutions and by Section 29(7) to submit to the National Assembly on or before April 1 of each calendar year an annual report covering the previous year, which should include a listing of the number of cases arising under the Act, the exemption involved in each case, the disposition of such cases, and the cost, fees, and penalties assessed.

The Attorney-General’s report should also include a detailed description of the efforts made by the Federal Ministry of Justice to encourage all government or public institutions to comply with the Act.

Mr. Fagbemi said in the 52-page report that it was a matter of concern that in spite of reminders to public institutions regarding the submission of Annual Implementation Reports to him as stipulated in the FOI Act, the compliance index shows that up to 90 percent of the public institutions were failing to comply with their reporting obligations since the Act was enacted.

The report contained the record of submission of reports by public institutions to the Attorney General of the Federation since the enactment of the Act in 2011, indicating that 16 public institutions submitted reports for the year 2011; 32 for 2012; 51 for 2013; 60 for 2014; 44 for 2015; and 54 for 2016.

For 2017, 73 public institutions submitted reports; 70 submitted for 2018; 89 submitted for 2019; 73 submitted for 2020; 89 submitted for 2021; 91 submitted for 2022; while 91 also submitted for 2023.

Highlighting some of the implementation challenges encountered over the last one year, “as in the previous years”, he noted that the FOI Act does not provide for sanctions for failure by public institutions to submit their Annual Implementation Reports.

The minister said: “The Ministry is intending to use ‘naming and shaming’ pending when appropriate punitive administrative measures would be put in place to punish defaulting Institutions”, adding that the Ministry is also sending constant reminders to public institutions on mandatory compliance with provisions of the Act.

He gave a summary of efforts made by him and the Federal Ministry of Justice to encourage government or public institutions to comply with the FOI Act during the year under review as well as the activities of the FOI unit in the ministry.

The minister identified factors hindering the “effective and sustainable” implementation of the FOI Act, noting that before the enactment of the Act, there were several laws in force which had provisions regulating the public’s right to access information held by public institutions.

According to him, as a result of these, there is a need for concerted efforts by “all tiers of Government to ensure that public officers shrug off a culture of secrecy and embrace the values of transparency and openness embedded in the Act. Each tier must complement the other and aim towards effective and sustainable implementation of the Act.”

The minister observed that several challenges were encountered in the course of implementing the Act, including lack of record keeping and systematic means of record management in a manner that facilitates public access to information; inadequate or non-financial provisions to fund activities related to the Act activities with the result that there is a general lack of funding for FOI activities across Government departments.

He noted that there is general apathy among those that should operate the Act, which is worsened by a high level of ignorance about the provisions of the Act and the nature of obligations expected of public institutions.

The minister recommended intense and continuous sensitization of Government officials about the Act.

He also noted that public institutions invariably respond to requests for information well beyond the seven days required by the Act primarily because they lack necessary structures to respond due to ignorance of timelines stipulated in the Act.

In addition, the minister said, there is also the challenge of bureaucracy and bottlenecks in most public institutions which hinders compliance with the Act.

He noted the refusal by a high percentage of public institutions to set up FOI Units and to designate FOI Desk Officers in line with Chapter 6.16.1 of the Guidelines on the implementation of the FOI Act, 2011 adding that there was also a reluctance by public institutions to develop FOI online portal to proactively publish their activities, operations and businesses as required by the Act to enable easy public access.