Participants at series Freedom of Information Coalition Nigeria (FOICN) Awareness Roundtables on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act have called for a nation-wide sensitization of people the grassroots on the Act to address the apparent widespread ignorance about the law.
Following assessment of participants on their knowledge of the FOI Act at four FOI awareness roundtables for state and non-state actors in Adamawa, Lagos, Kano and Anambra States, it was discovered that majority of Nigerians, cutting across state and non-state actors, do not know about the existence of the law much less what right it gives them.
The Freedom of Information Coalition Nigeria (FOICN) in collaboration with the British Council held the awareness/assessment roundtables in these states as part of activities under component three, strengthening the fight against corruption, of its Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) programme funded by the European Union.
The lack of knowledge about the FOI Act came to fore when participants at these workshops were asked to say what they know about the FOI Act and the majority of them say they have either not heard of the law or that though they have heard about the law, they do not know what it is meant to achieve. Others, based on the name of the Act, guessed what it is meant to do and a number of them believe it is a law enacted to ensure that journalists are able to seamlessly access government held information without being harassed.
They agreed that state and non-state actors are all stake-holders in efforts aimed at ensuring an effective access to information regime in Nigeria and should therefore collaborate for the sake of development and to deepen our democracy.
Following the landmark judgment by the Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, Ondo State, which affirmed that the FOI Act is applicable in states and that they do not need to enact state versions, the participants called on all states of the federation to implement the FOI Act to help expand the frontiers of democracy
They observed that the FOI Act is a potent tool that can be used to fight corruption and enhance good governance if it is adopted and implemented.
Participants at these roundtables were made up of state and non-state actors drawn from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government of the four RoLAC focal states as well as civil society organisations comprising of non-governmental organisations, trade unions, professional bodies and the media. The roundtables were precursors to a more elaborate capacity building workshops on the four focal states and the Federal capital Territory
They also recommended that laws and regulations whose provisions may militate against the effective implementation of the FOI Act including, but not limited to the Official Secrets Act, Public/Civil Service Rules as well as the Oath of Secrecy should be reviewed/repealed as the case may be.
They called on all public institutions to, as a matter of importance and in consonance with modern day trends, ensure that they upgrade their record keeping using modern technologies which have become available, affordable and easy to use.
Participants also called for massive reproduction, translation into local languages and distribution of copies of the act while also working with community based associations and using town hall meetings to enhance widespread knowledge of the Act.
The Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) programme of the British Council seeks to contribute to good governance through four components namely; criminal justice reform; access to justice for women, children and people with disabilities; strengthening the fight against corruption; and citizens engagement in the criminal justice reforms and the fight against corruption.
Funded by the European Union, the objective of the RoLAC programme is to enhance good governance, strengthen rule of law and curb corruption. The FOI awareness roundtables were held in the four RoLAC focal states of Lagos, Kano, Anambra and Adamawa. Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory is also in the RolAC radar.