Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on July 30, 2019 announced the launching of an enhanced “Freedom of Information Hall of Shame”, saying it would now take legal action against every public institution inducted into the Hall of Shame for undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act.
The FOI Hall of Shame, into which public institution or official was inducted every week, was first launched in July 2017 but suspended in December 2018, after 68 public institutions and two High Court judges were inducted into the Hall of Shame.
In a statement issued in Lagos today, MRA’s Programme Manager for Freedom of Information, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, said: “When we first launched the FOI Hall of Shame in 2017, the intention was to call out public officials and institutions undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act in the court of public opinion and thereby shame them into compliance with the Act. We have since realized that the capacity for shame among most of our public institutions is unfortunately very limited as most of our public officials do not really care what citizens think of them. It was for this reason that we suspended the initiative at the end of 2018 to re-evaluate our strategy.”
According to him, “The outcome of our assessment was that the first iteration of the Hall of Shame brought about only very modest improvements in the level of implementation of the FOI Act and compliance with its provisions by public institutions across the board. Therefore, in addition to naming and shaming defaulting public institutions, we now propose to use the instrumentality of the Law and the judicial process to enforce compliance.”
Explaining some of the changes to the initiative, Mr. Sulaimon said: “This time around, MRA will regularly undertake a rigorous assessment of every Federal public institution’s implementation activities with regards to the FOI Act to establish how they are implementing the Act. Based on our findings from such assessments, every month, MRA will induct a public institution that is failing in its duties and obligations under the Act into the Hall of Shame. We will then follow this up with a law suit to compel that institution to comply with the provisions of the Act that it is in breach of.”
He argued that the FOI Act is too important an instrument to be ignored by public institutions as access to information is not only critically important for the effective functioning of our democracy, including in ensuring public participation in governance and decision-making, but is equally vital in checking the rampant corruption ravaging the country and bringing about sustainable development.