The Programme Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Ayode Longe, says the organization is deploying robust and innovative strategies to ensure the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011. He spoke at a webinar held on August 16, 2021 at the commencement of an online course on the Right to Information for civil society and journalists in Africa, organized by the Friederich Ebert Stiftung media programme (fesmedia), based in Windhoek, Namibia.
The webinar had participants from across Africa and was meant to share experiences in the implementation of the Access to Information laws in the countries of participants.
Welcoming participants to the webinar and explaining the purpose of the event, the moderator, Jian Yang Hoh, Legal Officer at Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) in Canada, encouraged participants to share their experiences on implementing the access to information law in their countries for the learning of other participants.
Sharing the experience of MRA, Mr. Longe disclosed that MRA has carried out researches on the implementation of the FOI Act to determine how public institutions were complying with the Act as well as how prepared they were to implement the law. He added that MRA has also published its findings from the research works in a number of publications available in hard and electronic copies.
Besides, he said, MRA conducted several training and sensitization programmes for journalists, representatives of civil society organisations, the media, public officials as well as town hall meetings with community-based organisations.
Mr. Longe recounted that MRA had also done an audit of how public institutions were complying with their FOI Act obligations and had through the “FOI Hall of Shame” and the “Enhanced FOI Hall of Shame” called out public institutions which were failing in their FOI obligations and the areas where they were failing with a view to getting them to sit up and comply with their duties under the Act.
On the issue of journalists using the Act and the likely negative consequences on them, he noted that MRA at its training programmes stressed the importance of documentary sources to investigative reporting especially when using the FOI Act.
MRA, he said makes it clear that the FOI Act now makes it easier for journalists to access public documents but does not remove the need to be diligent and to have the necessary official documents which they must cite in their reporting.
Mr. Longe pointed out that the Nigerian FOI Act protects journalism confidential sources and as such, Nigerian journalists had nothing to fear when they use the Act.
He also disclosed that MRA, in collaboration with five other civil society organisations, has also over the years conducted FOI Ranking, a research work in which the cohort members rank selected public institutions based on their compliance or otherwise with the various obligations in the Act.