LAGOS, Monday, October 16, 2017: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today inducted the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame, saying it was recognizing the agency for its determined efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the FOI Act, 2011.
MRA accused the Commission of failing to comply with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act, including the most simple and straightforward aspects of the Law that do not present any implementation challenges or that would cost it nothing to comply with.
In a statement in Lagos, Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s Programme Director, said: “In the absence of any explanation to the contrary, it would appear that the NIMC has adopted a deliberate policy of non-compliance with the FOI Act, which really amounts to shooting itself in the foot as such an attitude robs it of the public trust and confidence that it requires to execute its mandate efficiently and effectively.”
MRA noted that the NIMC is a vital government agency, established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007, to operate Nigeria’s national identity management systems, including the national identity card database, integrate the existing identity database in government institutions, register individuals and legal residents, assign a unique national identification number and introduce general multi-purpose cards.
But it stated that the Commission had failed over the years to act in accordance with the requirements of the FOI Act, including its obligation to conduct appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to government-held information and equip relevant staff with the skills to effectively implement the Act as provided by Section 13 of the Act.
Mr. Longe said: “Among many other arguments which can be made, one reason why the Commission’s attitude is troubling is the fact that as an agency that collects and maintains citizens’ personal data, it owes the citizens a duty to be open and to let them know how it collects the data, what it does with the data, how it keeps them and, crucially, allow citizens access to information held about them and be able to correct their own personal data where there are errors.”
MRA also observed that over the last six years, the NIMC has not designated an officer to whom FOI requests should be sent in utter disregard of Section 2(3) (f) of the Act, while it has also never, during the same period since the coming into force of the Act, submitted a single FOI implementation report to the Attorney General of the Federation as required by Section 29 (1) (a – h) of the FOI Act and in accordance with the provisions of the Guidelines on the Implementation of the FOI Act issued by the Attorney General of the Federation.
Mr. Longe also noted that “the NIMC has not published on its website most of the categories of information it is expected to publish that will assist the public in making requests for information to the Commission. For instance, there is no information on its website about the classes of records it holds or information relating to grants or contract it had made; the list of all its staff and their salaries; information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public funds; manuals used by its employees in administering or carrying out any of its programmes or activities; documents containing substantive rules of the institution; or any list of files containing applications for contracts, permits, grants, licenses or agreements, etc. among many categories of information that the Act requires it to publish.”
MRA also questioned the Commission’s responsiveness to requests for information from the public, saying that there is also no indication that it has granted any request for information made to it.
On the contrary, it said, in September 2014, when two non-governmental organisations, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) and Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), requested from the NIMC pursuant to the FOI Act, details of the agreement between it and MasterCard leading to the use of the MasterCard logo in the National Identity Card, it took more than one month for the NIMC to respond despite reminders and when it eventually did by its letter dated October 24, 2014, it refused to disclose the information requested with a bogus national security claim.
MRA called on the NIMC to redeem its image by complying with the provisions of the FOI Act and to demonstrate that it actually holds “transparency” as one of its core values.
Launched on July 3, 2017, the FOI Hall of Shame shines the spotlight on public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions. MRA’s 16-minute video documentary titled: “The Dirty Dozen” which focuses on the first 12 inductees into the FOI Hall of Shame is available for viewing on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU7MEisRQqM.