Media Rights Agenda’s (MRA), Deputy Executive Director, Jennifer Onyejekwe was in Kigali, Rwanda recently, to share Nigeria’s civil society experiences in implementing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 with Rwandan counterparts. ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa in partnership with Rwanda Governance Board (RGB – Rwanda), organized a training workshop for civil society actors in Rwanda to support the processes of implementing Access to Information (ATI) laws in their country.
In her presentation, Onyejekwe shared the intense implementation activities that MRA and other civil society actors have carried out in ensuring the effective implementation of the FOI Act 2011. Such interventions as she explained encompasses so many elements such as: trainings, research, publications, monitoring, litigation and sensitization. She also highlighted the importance of partnerships among civil society organisations (CSOs) and between CSOs and public bodies.
She explained that there is no one size fits all intervention that will ensure the effectiveness of the Law but that it is necessary for all hands to be on deck to ensure that their ATI law is implemented in the manner that suits the citizens best. “Not carrying out an activity to ensure its implementation is to leave everything in the hands of government which will create a system that will favor it”, she said. She stated that such exercise is an ongoing process and should be taken one step at a time. Onyejekwe said: “It’s been three years since the Nigerian FOI Law was enacted yet a lot of public institutions in Nigeria are clueless about how to implement the law in the atmosphere of the culture secrecy and bureaucracy, while some are not aware of its provisions.”
Onyejekwe shared MRA experiences with the FOI mentoring pilot programme currently running in Nigeria as an innovative manner of expanding the scope of ATI experts across the country, in order to ensure a multiplier effect on implementation activities for different stakeholders.
She concluded by explaining that the process to get more people to use the law is ongoing. This, she said, “will never be complete as the need to build public awareness about the law; build capacities to engage the law; build capacities of public institutions to apply it; build the capacity of the Judiciary to understand the special legal regime it creates; develop capacities for sectoral application so that more groups see and understand its relevance for them and their work; and collect data about usage and compliance so we can access progress” are constant FOI implementation activities and realities in Nigeria.
Rwanda passed its Access to Information (ATI) Law in 2013 and it is the latest country in Africa among 13 others to have an ATI law.