Media Rights Agenda (MRA) is planning a two-day sensitization and training workshop for lawyers from across Nigeria on Freedom of Information (FOI) and Freedom of Expression (FOE) Litigation in March 2019. The workshop, which is scheduled to take place in Kaduna is slated for March 5 and 6 and is aimed at improving the effectiveness of lawyers in the litigating FOI and FOE cases on behalf of media organizations and journalists.
According to Ms Chioma Nwaodike, MRA’s Legal Officer, the workshop is intended to offer a comprehensive understanding of litigation on FOI and FOE issues for lawyers who will provide pro bono legal services and support to media organizations and journalists around the country when their rights of access to information are denied under the Freedom of Information Act, and they require legal assistance to challenge such denial as well as to contest regulations, policies, laws and practices that violate their media rights.
Ms Nwaodike observed that the implementation and enforcement of the FOI Act remains plagued by challenges in part because the judicial mechanisms available for addressing freedom of information issues have not been fully explored to provide the required clarity in many areas of the Law.
She noted that since the FOI Act provides only for judicial mechanisms for enforcement, lawyers are indispensable in ensuring the effective implementation of the Law and that it is only through their active involvement and engagement that those aspects of the Law which are still unclear would be fully clarified.
Ms Nwaodike identified one aspect of the Law that is yet to be utilized as those sections relating to the consequences for non-compliance or breaches of the provisions of the Act, saying it was sad that even seven years after the Law came into existence, so many lawful information requests are still being denied without consequences.
She stressed that “information is the lifeblood of any media organization as the media assumes the role of providing information to citizens and the public in general on issues such as government policies and actions. The media can only flourish in this role if access to information is guaranteed.”
Ms Nwaodike also argued that “under Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, the Media have the responsibility of holding the government accountable to citizens and it can play this role much more effectively by using the FOI Act to target certain types of information, which can help the media to reveal corruption, abuse of power, and other wrongdoings. Consequently, it is of great importance that the media have improved access to information so that they can in turn aid citizen engagement and improve accountability.”
She explained that it was in response to this need that MRA decided to initiate a project to sensitize lawyers to the FOI Act and the need for a larger number of them to provide legal and litigation assistance to journalists to ensure that they are able to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to the society.
Besides, Ms Nwaodike said, the workshop will also seek to provide the lawyers with the knowledge, skills and resources to conduct effective litigation on behalf of media organizations and journalists as they try to realize their rights to freedom of information and freedom of expression.
The workshop, which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), will have about 40 participants drawn from different States across Nigeria, with most of them coming from Lagos and Abuja. The workshop will address substantive FOI and FOE issues as well as procedural matters in the litigating such issues.