MRA Says Nigerians Now Know More Because of FOI Act, Calls for Better Implementation

Mr. Edetean Ojo
Executive Director, MRA

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has said that Nigerians now know more about government activities because of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act but stressed that better implementation is necessary for the Law to achieve its ultimate objectives of making government transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of citizens

In a statement issuedMay 28, 2021 to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into Law by then President Goodluck Jonathan on May 28, 2011, MRA noted that a study conducted by the organization on the implementation of the Act over the last 10 years showed that it had yielded a treasure-trove of information for scores of citizens, civil society organizations, journalists and media organizations, as well as other groups within the society who, as a result, definitely now know more about various actions and policies of governments at Federal and State levels.

The organization observed, however, that the Act was still a long way from achieving its full objectives as a result of its poor implementation by the Federal Government and various government ministries, departments and agencies as well as many State governments who continue to resist the application of the Law to them so that they can continue to run secretive governments.

MRA’s Project Director, Mr. SegunFatuase, said in the statement that: “The Federal Government has had neither bark nor bite in the implementation of the FOI Act in the last 10 years as there has been no concerted effort to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act by public institutions under its authority and control.”

According to Mr. Fatuase, “There is now an urgent need for those charged with oversight functions with regards to the FOI Act to do more to ensure its effective implementation while the Federal Government itself, if it is serious about combating corruption, must demonstrate greater commitment to this piece of legislation that is designed to enthrone an open, transparent and accountable governance and thereby impede corrupt practices.”

He stressed that the Attorney-General of the Federation and members of  the National Assembly, who have primary responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the Act, must live up to their statutory responsibilities in order to improve the level of compliance by public institutions with the Act in different critical areas.

Mr. Fatuase noted that MRA’s research findings showed “a particularly worrying low level of compliance in the submission of annual reports by public institutions, with hundreds of public institutions failing to submit their implementation reports annually and facing absolutely no consequence for their wilful and contemptuous disregard for the Law, not even a reprimand from any authority of the government.”

He also cited the latest Annual Report of the Attorney-General of the Federation on the implementation of the Act submitted to the National Assembly which reported that only 73  public institutions submitted reports in 2020, out of over 500 public institutions to which the FOI Act applies at the Federal level.

Mr. Fatuase also decried “the lack of responsiveness by most public institutions to requests for information from members of the public; their refusal to publish the categories of information that they are required to proactively disclose under the Act; the low number of public institutions that have designated FOI Desk Officers, and the painfully slow adjudication and resolution of cases arising under the Act by courts across the country.”

He advised the Attorney-General of the Federation, pursuant to the powers and responsibility conferred on him under section 29(6) of the Act, to adopt and implement a regime of administrative sanctions to be applied against public institutions and officials who fail to comply with the provisions of the Act, neglect to perform their duties and obligations under the Act or in any way violate the provisions of the Law.