The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) on March 2, 2020, joined the league of errant public institutions inducted into the “Enhanced Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame” and will now face litigation aimed at compelling it to perform its statutory duties, according to Media Rights Agenda (MRA), which upbraided the Commission for failing to perform its obligations under the FOI Act.
In a statement in Lagos announcing the induction of NMEC into the Hall of Shame, MRA’s Project Director, Mr.Segun Fatuase, described as unfortunate the fact that the institution failed to appreciate the correlation between its principal mandate of eradicating illiteracy and the objectives of the FOI Act, which in part are to facilitate the free flow of information and eliminate ignorance.
He said: “The disposition of the Commission towards the FOI Act has been an unfortunate one, which unwittingly undermines its mandate of eradicating illiteracy to enhance national development. This stance also negates both the requirements of the Law and the expectations of citizens that their public institutions would implement laws and comply with the express provisions of the Law, in accordance with the principles of the rule of law.”
NMEC was established by Law in 1990 as a Federal Government parastatal tasked with making educational opportunities available to nomadic illiterate people, out-of-school youths (Almajiris), street children, women in purdah, migrant fishing folk as well as victims of teenage motherhood, among other disadvantaged people in the society. It was set up to monitor and standardize the implementation of mass literacy delivery in Nigeria.
Mr.Fatuase contended that as an agency that receives funding from the federal budget, local government councils as well as other sundry sources, NMEC has a duty to be transparent and accountable as well as to operate in strict compliance with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act.
He noted that although it is almost nine years since the enactment of the FOI Act into Law in 2011, NMEC has not submitted any implementation report to the Attorney General of the Federation, when it should by now have submitted nine annual reports, as required by Section 29 of the FOI Act.
According to him, “Such level of impunity, as exhibited by NMEC, which has failed in the last nine years to submit even a single annual implementation report to the Attorney-General of the Federation in blatant violation of the mandatory provisions of the FOI Act, should not be tolerated in any decent society. The conspicuous absence of NMEC in the list of public institutions that have submitted Annual Compliance Reports since the enactment of the Act only goes to show the levity that has characterized the attitude of the Commission towards to the implementation of the Act.”
Mr.Fatuase also pointed out the failure of NMEC to proactively publish the 16 categories of information that Section 2(3) and (4) of the FOI Act requires all public institutions, including the Commission, to proactively publish, even without anyone making a formal application for the information, saying it was further evidence of its total disregard for the Law.
In addition, he said, NMEC has not designated an FOI Desk Officer to whom requests for information should be sent by members of the public, as required by the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines for the FOI Act issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Mr.Fatuase argued that this was evident from the fact that the database of FOI Desk Officers for public institutions maintained by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, which has oversight responsibility for the implementation of the FOI Act, does not contain information about any such official of the Commission.
Noting that NMEC does not have a website of its own, besides the webpage dedicated to it on the website of the Federal Ministry of Education, its supervisory ministry, he said: “It is inexcusable that an agency like NMEC, which is expected to play a pivotal role in ending illiteracy in the Nigerian society and whose impact cuts across all sectors, does not have a website of its own. It is quite shocking that an institution whose primary function is in the field of information and knowledge sharing has no platform to which the public can turn for information about the organisation or its activities.”
Mr.Fatuase said since the relevant authorities have failed to act to ensure respect for and the full implementation of the FOI Act, MRA has taken it upon itself to use the judicial process to enforce the provisions of the Act. He said MRA would be taking legal action against NMEC to compel it to comply with its duties and obligations under the Act.