Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on July 3, 2018 called on the National Assembly to institute measures to enforce compliance with the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in its capacity as the ultimate oversight body in the implementation of the Law, as the organization marked the first anniversary of the launch of the “FOI Hall of Shame”.
In a statement issued in Lagos in commemoration of the first anniversary of the Hall of Shame launched by MRA on July 3, 2017, its Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said: “We believe that the National Assembly has a crucial role to play in ensuring the effective implementation of the FOI Act. The National Assembly itself apparently recognized this role, which was why in making the Law, it included Section 29(7) and (8), requiring the Attorney-General of the Federation to report to the National Assembly annually details regarding the implementation of the Act during the preceding year.”
According to him, “We consider these provisions to be consistent with international best practice in the implementation of FOI Laws as they can give the National Assembly a good picture of the status of compliance by the relevant public institutions with the FOI Act and enable it to determine whether additional measures are required to improve the implementation of the Law.”
Section 29(7) of the Act provides that “The Attorney-General shall submit to the National Assembly an annual report on or before April 1 of each calendar year which shall include for the prior calendar year a listing of the number of cases arising under this Act, the exemption involved in each case, the disposition of such cases, and the cost, fees, and penalties assessed” while Section 29(8) stipulates that “Such report shall also include detailed description of the efforts taken by the Ministry of Justice to encourage all government or public institutions to comply with this Act.”
Mr. Ojo noted that “Although the two Attorneys-General of the Federation who have held the position since the FOI Act was enacted in 2011 have religiously submitted their annual reports to the National Assembly without fail, members of the National Assembly have not acted on any of these reports over the last seven years and there is no indication that the reports are even being read by them.”
He explained that widespread violation of the Act led to the initiation of the FOI Hall of Shame in July 2017 to shine the spotlight on public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions, noting that 49 inductees have so far been named into the Hall of Shame from all the three arms of government, namely the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive.
Mr. Ojo said “most of the inductees bagged the ‘FOI Hall of Shame’ Award owing to their obvious disregard for their duties and obligations under the FOI Act, including their failure to submit their annual FOI implementation reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on or before February 1 of each year, and failing to publish such reports proactively either on their websites or anywhere else; their failure to respond to requests for information made by members of the public; their failure to train their officials on the public’s right of access to information and equipping them with relevant skills to ensure the effective implementation of the Act; as well as their failure to designate appropriate officers and to publish the titles and addresses of such officer to whom applications for information by members of the public can be sent.”
He expressed concern that even one year after the launch of the Hall of Shame, the 2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the FOI Act, submitted to the National Assembly on March 27, 2018 by the Attorney-General of the Federation still indicated that 90 per cent of public institutions are not complying with their reporting obligations.
Mr. Ojo called on the Attorney-General of the Federation to explore administrative sanctions to ensure that public institutions to which the FOI Act applies take their duties and obligations under the Act seriously and respect the rights of Nigerians to information, which is also a fundamental right of citizens of all countries as established under international law.
By so doing, he said, the Attorney-General of the Federation will be giving effect to the provisions of Section 29(6) of the FOI Act which stipulates that “the Attorney General shall in his oversight responsibility under this Act ensure that all institutions to which this Act applies comply with the provisions of the Act.”
Mr. Ojo urged the Attorney-General of the Federation to solicit the assistance of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the National Assembly in applying appropriate pressure on all public institutions to fully implement the Act.