MRA Submits Shadow Report to Nigeria’s Country Report to the ACHPR

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA)

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in March submitted a shadow report to Nigeria’s sixth periodic country report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for 2015 to 2016 on the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s sixth periodic report was considered at the 62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights from April 25 to May 9, 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

MRA’s shadow report provided the much-needed information on freedom of expression and access to information in the face of inadequate coverage by the report. The report covers the relevant international instruments to which Nigeria is a state party as well as the statutory guarantees to the rights of freedom of expression and access to information.

The report highlighted that there were  policy and legal obstacles to enjoying the rights to freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria which make the guarantee of these rights fall short of international standards and practices. It also emphasises that journalists and media organisations continue to suffer various forms of attacks and the government, security and law enforcement agencies have not taken adequate steps to investigate, arrest or prosecute the perpetrators of these acts.

MRA noted that there is no express guarantee of press freedom in Nigeria and that the Court of Appeal determined this in a judgement delivered in 1983 which still has not been overturned by a higher court. MRA also noted that in addition, the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in Section 39 of the Constitution is not absolute, limiting the freedom of expression and the press by allowing derogation from this freedom in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons  in line with Article 19(3b) of the ICCPR.

Other issues highlighted in the shadow report are the Official Secrets Act, Criminal Defamation laws, False Publication, and the Cybercrime Act.

The shadow report spelt out the issues with the implementation of the Act noting that majority of public institutions have blatantly failed to comply with the several obligations expected to be carried out by them according to the FOI Act and without any sanction mechanism of any sort, they do so with impunity.

Amongst these was the dismal state of reporting as it explained that out of the over 500 ministries, agencies, departments and parastatals of government, only 16 submitted FOI implementation reports covering 2011; for reports covering 2012, only 29 agencies of government submitted annual FOI implementation reports while 47 submitted for the 2013 fiscal year. The number of public institutions submitting annual FOI implementation reports peaked for 2014 when 60 of them submitted and this number went down when 44 public institutions submitted FOI implementation reports covering the year 2015. For 2016, 54 public institutions submitted implementation reports. In other words, less than 25% of public institutions covered by the Act failed to comply with this important requirement of the law. This was established by reports obtained from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation showing the public institutions that submitted their annual FOI implementation reports.

It also stated that the majority of these public institutions have also persistently failed to comply with their proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2(3) and (4) of the Act which requires them to proactively publish and disseminate widely 16 classes of information even without citizens requesting for them. Most of them have neither published on their websites or anywhere else, the categories of information which the Law requires them to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.

Furthermore, the report discussed the failure of public institutions to designate and publish appropriate officers to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent.

The report also documents the cases of physical assault and battery of journalists by state and non-state actors as well as attacks of online expression as recorded by MRA between January 2015 and December 2016.

Media Rights Agenda in the report made some critical recommendations including calling on the government to review the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression to include that the freedom is regardless of frontiers, can be expressed orally, in writing, in print, in art form, or through any media of one’s choice.

MRA also urged the government to do everything within its authority to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, and to ensure impartial, speedy and effective investigations into all cases of alleged attacks against journalists and media workers and to bring perpetrators to justice while availing victims  access to appropriate remedies.

The organisation recommended the amendment or repeal of some laws, revisiting cases of murdered of journalists, beginning with the October 19, 1986 murder of Dele Giwa, late editor of the now defunct Newswatch magazine  and setting up the office of an independent information ombudsman like the office of an Information Commissioner immune to political interference to have oversight responsibility of the FOI Act.

MRA made recommendations to the government on how to better ensure the implementation of the FOI Act and make it more effective including administrative sanctions in addition to the resort to the court when requests for information are denied by public institutions, sensitising government officials, establishment of the FOI desk officers and regular training of these personnel.

Finally, MRA noted that the use of digital/electronic records management systems will further enhance the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act in public institutions.