Media Rights Agenda (MRA) convened a two-day Freedom of Information (FOI) Act Implementers Strategy Meeting last month in an effort to strengthen coordination and collaboration activities for the effective implementation of Nigeria’s 28-month old access to information law.
The meeting, held on September 16 and 17 at Jades Hotel in Abuja, was supported by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) II Project.
The meeting, which had 72 participants in attendance, brought together representatives of member organizations of the FOI Coalition, representatives of other organizations which though have never been members of the FOI Coalition, are engaged in FOI implementation activities; as well as lawyers who have litigated FOI cases and other lawyers interested in providing pro bono legal services within the framework of a Network of Lawyers that Media Rights Agenda is establishing around the country to assist citizens who are wrongfully denied access to information.
In a welcome address at the meeting, MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, noted that although some progress had been made with the various efforts by different organizations to popularize and enforce the Act, a lot of work remained to be done for the Act to realize its full potential.
He expressed the hope that everyone present at the meeting was ready and willing to contribute their “quota to a collaborative effort that will put us on a clear path to the realization of that objective.”
According to him, the primary aim of the meeting was to explore mechanisms for ensuring greater coordination, collaboration, as well as information, experience and skills sharing and exchange in FOI implementation activities.
Mr. Ojo said MRA had tried to map the sector and focus on some critical areas that organizations present at the meeting were focusing on in their work or which ought to receive some focus.
He identified the different areas of focus as public enlightenment and sensitization activities; training and capacity-building activities; FOI monitoring and research activities; legal assistance and litigation; as well as other areas which would encompass those using the Act to simply request information; those involved in ongoing advocacy for policy and institutional reforms, the technology issues as they relate to the FOI Act, the application of the Act to gender issues and gender work, among others.
Mr. Ojo explained that the programme for the meeting had been “drafted with a strict focus on what we are meeting to do and the need to provide adequate time for issues to be discussed and for decisions to be made on the critical issues.”
He said the first day of the meeting would focus on trying to get a clear picture of who is doing what through a mapping of the sector, identifying the gaps and opportunities that exist and developing a framework for greater cooperation and collaboration.
According to him, the second day would be devoted to seeking to advance the collaborative framework by assessing the possibility of achieving such an objective through a coalition strategy.
Mr. Ojo said most of the discussions would focus on the status and future of the Nigerian FOI Coalition, adding that the meeting would take some critical decisions to re-energize and re-vitalize the coalition and accordingly enhance FOI implementation activities.
In his remarks at the meeting, the DGD II Project Director, Dr. Mourtada Deme, congratulated the FOI Coalition on its 13th year anniversary and commended “the hard work, determination and unity of purpose which you all brought to bear to ensure the passage of the FOI Act, 20ll.”
Represented by Mrs. Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, the Media Expert for the DGD II Project, Dr. Deme noted that despite the laudable work done by many of the participants since the FOI Act was passed two years ago, there remains “a critical need to have a stakeholders’ mechanism to keep track of the results, challenges and lessons learned of the FOI Implementation in Nigeria.”
He called on members of the FOI Coalition “to collaborate more effectively by building on each other’s strengths and leverage opportunities, connections and resources” adding that “there is a need to develop a skilled knowledge base at the nexus of the FOI Implementation and to undertake work at states and grassroots levels where local communities who are not aware of the existence of the Act, have a right to know and need to know how to use the FOI Act to hold their elected officials accountable and to get the dividends of democracy – good roads, clean water, health centres – for sustainable human development.”
Dr. Deme expressed the hope that the FOI Coalition will be reenergized with a new passion and commitment to launch its second phase and become a strong coordination mechanism, monitoring and keeping the implementation of the FOI Act on track and working at national, states and local government levels where they can begin to see results in improved livelihoods of ordinary citizens.
He reaffirmed the commitment of the DGD II Project and its international partners to support the successful implementation of the FOI Act in Nigeria.
Presentations were made at the meeting on: “Overview of the Challenges of Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011”; “Historical Background and Current Status of the Freedom of Information Coalition”, and “Building an Effective Coalition for Civil Society Engagement.”
Working plenary and break-out sessions, the meeting also discussed and agreed on various strategies improving coordination and collaboration among organizations carrying out FOI implementation activities as well as for enhancing the effectiveness of the FOI Act.
Based on discussions at the meeting, a committee was constituted to develop a framework for restructuring the FOI Coalition.