MRA’s Director Advocates Review of OGP Action Plan, Outlines Implementation Proposals

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

The Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and former Co-Chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in Nigeria, Mr. EdetaenOjo, has proposed a comprehensive review of the country’s current OGP National Action Plan (NAP II) to make it relevant to the prevailing governance realities and outlined proposals for its effective implementation even in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic

Mr. Ojo, who is also a member of the National Steering Committee (NSC) of OGP Nigeria, made the proposal at a webinar on “Implementing OGP NAP II in Nigeria in the Face of COVID-19”, organized by the Secretariat of Open Alliance, a network of civil society organizations seeking to promote good governance in Nigeria. The webinar took place on April 20, 2020.

Asked if the OGP Nigeria NAPII was designed with sufficient flexibility for it to respond to the present circumstances, Mr. Ojo said it was not, explaining that at the time of its creation, which began early in 2019 and ended with the validated plan in September 2019, “nobody anticipated a situation such as the one we are in now.”

According to him, “Most of us have never experienced anything like this in our life times. So there is really no way anyone could have envisaged this possibility and prepared for such an eventuality in the design of the NAP II by making allowances for any such occurrence. The closest any of us saw was the impact of the 2019 elections on certain aspects of the OGP in Nigeria. However, after the elections early in 2019 and the political transition by the middle of that year, no significant elections were expected to take place at any time from the beginning of 2020 until the end of 2021. So it really did not occur to anyone that there was a need to build safeguards in NAP II to respond to this sort of situation.”

But Mr. Ojo suggested that since the situation had now arisen, the OGP Nigeria community could undertake a thorough review of the activities proposed in NAP II to determine which of them might require some tweaking and how they might be refocused to ensure that they remain relevant for the current circumstances.

He remarked that in some cases, no modifications in the activities may actually be required as the challenge may be how to implement them under the current circumstances or in the immediate post-COVID-19 period and that in such situations, what would be needed would be other approaches to the implementation of those activities, such as taking advantage of technologies that will enable people to work remotely.

He stressed that the current period provides both the necessity as well as an opportunity to undertake such a thorough review of NAP II.

On what strategy or approach the NSC can put in place to ensure that the implementation of NAP II is not negatively affected by the impact of COVID-19, Mr. Ojo recalled that the OGP CEO, Mr. Sanjay Pradhan, first sounded the alarm about the COVID-19 situation ravaging the world in his March 14, 2020 message to the OGP community, adding that at that time, Mr. Pradhan had advised member countries “to delay any planned OGP events to later in the year or, if possible, switch to virtual meetings.”

Noting that there have been elaborations and further guidance thereafter by other OGP officials and organs, he suggested that the OGP Nigeria community should “look to these guidance documents and information in deciding how we proceed.”

He advised that the most urgent task was to get the NSC fully operational as the only meeting of the new NSC that has taken place was the one held in December 2019 where the old leadership formally handed over to the current leadership.

Mr. Ojo said at that time, although the substantive Government and non-State Actors co-chairs were in place, there was then no new Incoming Co-Chairs for both the Government and the non-State actors, as a result of which the Governance and Leadership Committee of the NSC (the G and L) was not in existence and could not be constituted.

He explained that the G and L is critically important for the effective functioning of the OGP in Nigeria because its responsibilities include working with the OGP Secretariat to plan and run NSC meetings, which means that ideally NSC meetings cannot be planned and organized without the G and L

Observing that a full leadership team was now in place as both the Government and non-State Actors co-chairs had now been designated, he said he was not aware if the new G and L had met so far and if so,  what the meeting discussed.

Mr. Ojo also noted that although an NSC meeting was scheduled to take place in Abuja on March 26, some of its members were concerned about having a physical meeting at that time in the light of the COVID-19 situation as a result of which the meeting was cancelled.

He suggested that the G and L should now work with the Secretariat to convene a meeting of the NSC online, adding that with the reduction of the number of NSC members from 42 to a more manageable size of 20, it should be possible to organize a meeting online to review the current situation and issue appropriate directives and guidelines to get the process of reviewing NAP II going and agreeing on priority areas for action.

Such a review, he said, should aim to determine which of the activities in NAP II should be adjusted and how or where no modifications in the activities are necessary, how to implement those sorts of activities using online platforms and digital tools in the current situation or immediately after COVID.  He added that the G and L or the NSC should also provide broad guidelines for the Secretariat to constitute the Working Groups envisaged under NAP II.

Once constituted, Mr. Ojo said, the Working Groups could then develop more detailed strategies and plans for the implementation of the various activities under the commitments that fall within their thematic areas or mandates while members of the G and L as well as the NSC would commit to working together and individually to mobilise governmental and other resources to support the implementation of NAP II and the operations of OGP Nigeria in general.

On the extent to which COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect the implementation of NAP II, he pointed out that the country was already behind schedule in its implementation of the plan as one quarter of the first year has already passed and members of the OGP community are now only just discussing how to fully ramp up efforts to implement the activities.

According to him, “Given the current environment, it is going to be difficult for us to operate at optimum capacity and speed to meet some of the targets and timelines proposed in NAP II.  One constraining reality, even as we make these plans for working remotely and using technology, is that many of us are just not equipped to work from home for many different reasons.”

Outlining the constraints, he said:  “In some cases, we do not have the facilities to work from home, including electricity supply and back up generators that we can rely on constantly in the event of the all too frequent power cuts. Some of us do not have suitable or reliable Internet access or connections for us to operate online and digitally, especially for activities such as holding meetings, communicating with colleagues, with other stakeholder groups that we might need to engage for extended periods, and so on.  For some, the home environment is not conducive either because we do not have suitable spaces or family members can be challenging to manage and therefore we are not able to be productive. “

Mr. Ojo also pointed out other constraining factors, saying some people do not have the culture, temperament or discipline to work from home such as setting aside proper work hours, adopting a proper work culture and behavior or separating our work-related activities from domestic chores, or entertainment, while some people may not have access to critical documents, materials and other resources that they need while they are at home.

He stressed that these factors are bound to slow down work or in some cases, make it impossible to achieve anything but urged members of the community to try and identify the challenges that the situation presents and proceed to also identify and take appropriate remedial action to mitigate the negative impact of the situation.

Mr. Ojo argued that if these the intervention measures can be undertaken, it would be possible to rescue the situation to an appreciable degree.

Asked in what ways access to information and citizens engagement of the government could be made more relevant and useful in the context of the current COVID 19 situation, he noted that there is a lot of fear and anxiety emanating from the COVID 19 situation, much of which is directly related to the Pandemic itself.

For example, he said, many people are anxious over whether they have been unknowingly infected, or whether they could become infected if they are infected, what they should do, what support and assistance is available or will be available to them, and what their chances of survival would be.

He suggested that relevant government agencies and public institutions should proactively and regularly put out information that responds to these information needs, using different communication channels, as such an approach is consistent with the obligations that the agencies and public institutions already have under the Freedom of Information Act.

In Mr. Ojo’s view, what is required is simply a question of placing additional emphasis on information that may be most relevant to the public or that most need to members of the public at this time, adding that “this approach of proactively publishing information that is of interest to members of the public is also already part of what all public institutions are required to do under the Guidelines for the Implementation of the FOI Act, issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation in 2013.”

In addition to this, he said, if they do not already have them, public institutions should also “establish a functioning and effective channels of communication through which members of the public can reach out to them to ask for information, bearing in mind that if the staff of the institution are largely working from home or remotely, the normal channels of communication through which members of the public usually reach out to the institutions for information may not be very effective at this time.”

Mr. Ojo noted that there are some members of the public who may not be concerned about getting infected but are worried about the loss of their livelihoods and how they will survive the evolving economic situation and are “wondering whether they will benefit from the much-touted palliatives from the Government.”

Such people, he said, are very interested in understanding how the system will function and how they can access support from Government, adding “Given the widespread lack of trust in Government and the well-known propensity for corruption in government operations such as this, the government needs to proactively publish information about the criteria for qualifications to benefit from the palliatives, the types of palliatives that are available, a list of vulnerable Nigerians, broken down by States and Local Governments, that are eligible to receive palliatives.”

He also suggested that the Government should proactively publish the types of palliatives that potential beneficiaries are entitled to; a list of institutions or agencies responsible for distributing palliatives to eligible Nigerians in different states and local governments and their areas of responsibility, as well as information about processes and mechanisms for lodging complaints and the resolution of the complaint processes.

Mr. Ojo insisted that each of these institutions or agencies should also be required to periodically publish on their websites and notice boards palliatives received for distribution from the Federal Government or other sources, with a clear indication of whether these are cash or foodstuff or other materials, as well as details of how they were distributed.

The information published by them, he said, should include details of the specific quantities of palliatives that they received and the quantities that were distributed with explanations regarding any difference or discrepancy, including what happened to undistributed palliatives.

He also proposed that the main Federal Government distribution centre or centres should proactively publish details regarding palliatives that they sent to each of these institutions, or agencies for distribution and they should be required to have a functioning and effective channels of communication through which members of the public can reach out to them to ask for information.

Besides these measures, Mr. said all functioning and operational Government ministries, departments and agencies should also be required to meet their duties and obligations under the FOI Act, including their proactive publications obligations while also making necessary adjustments to their communication practices, so that members of the public can continue to demand information from them and get responses.