Representatives of civil society organisations and the media from across the country have called on the Federal Government to take deliberate steps to enforce compliance with the Freedom of Information Act by public institutions.
Specifically, they urged the Head of Service (HOS) of the Federation to issue a circular making FOI compliance by MDAs compulsory and to get all MDAs to train staff within a stipulated period and framework.
In addition, they asked the HOS to ensure that desk officers are not
arbitrarily transferred out of MDAs, while stipulating punitive measures for defaulting officers. They suggested that she should ensure annual budgetary provisions for FOI implementation in Nigeria.
These and other recommendations came out of the hamonised communiques issued at the end of two civil society/media roundtables on increased use of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
The roundtables with the theme: Creating an Open Society Using the Freedom of Information Act, were held in Abuja from the 28th to 29th of November, 2016 and Enugu, from the 1st to 2nd of December, 2016.
The Roundtables reviewed citizens’ use of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, with participants exchanging ideas and experiences, building capacities and suggesting ways for increasing compliance with the provisions of the FOI Act.
Resource persons made presentations on different aspects of FOI Act implementation including: The FOI Act: an Overview, and strategies for engaging public institutions; The relevance of the FOI Act to the country’s anti-graft war; FOI Act: Opportunities and Challenges; FOI Act: Relevance and Challenges in the scheme of National Development; Freedom Of Information Act And The Challenge Of The Practice Of Journalism In Nigeria and Civil Society role in FOI Implementation in Nigeria.
Participants at the roundtables observed that the excitement that heralded the enactment of the FOI Act, citizens are yet to take advantage of it to demand for transparency and accountability from public institutions.
They lamented that the Federal Government has not matched words with action on FOI implementation.
They noted with concern the low level of compliance with their obligations in the provisions of the Act by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government. Coupled with this was the challenge posed by the absence of desk offices/units in some MDAs to handle FOI requests.
Participants observed that in spite of the enormous power the Act places in the hands of the media, they have not been effectively involved in utilising the Act for carrying out investigative reporting to enhance transparency in governance.
Participants also recommended that in the spirit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) of which Nigeria has become a member State, President Mohammadu Buhari should take up FOI compliance issues at the level of the Federal Executive Council.
They called on the president to make an open statement on the implementation of the Act and direct relevant public officers to ensure compliance with their obligations in the Act.
They also suggested a strong Civil Society, labour unions and professional organisations collaboration to strengthen civil society’s push for the effective implementation of the Act.
Participants called on government to set aside a special day for the annual commemoration of an FOI Day in Nigeria.
The roundtables were organised by the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria (FOICN) with support from the Justice For All/DFID.