Adamawa State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Bala Sanga, has said that public officials have a responsibility to be transparent even without an access
to information law in place because they exist to serve the people.
Mr. Sanga made this statement at the opening session of a three-day assessment roundtable on the implementation of, and compliance with the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 in Adamawa State. The commissioner affirmed that the FOI Act was germane to democracy and good governance, even as he described the present Adamawa state government as transparent.
He expressed concern over the attitude of keeping public documents including the annual budget, away from the citizens by some state governments, describing it as unfortunate. He pledged to cooperate with non-state actors and the entire Adamawa state citizens to ensure that their rights of access to information are protected at all times. He further promised to advise the state Executive Council to ensure the operationalization of the Freedom of Information Act in the State, even as he urged the organisers of the event to transmit the action points from the meeting to his office for necessary action.
The roundtable which took place from April 17 to 19, 2018 at the Madugu Rockview Hotel in Yola, brought together public officials, the media, professional bodies and non-governmental organisations to assess the level of understanding and implementation of the FOI Act, 2011; ascertain the gaps that exist and work on closing those gaps, as well as to get a sense of the needs that exist in knowledge about the FOI Act in order to adequately prepare for capacity building to address the identified needs.
It was conducted in various sessions, comprising of presentations, situation assessment through administration of questionnaire, feedback through questions and comments and screening of a video on how members of a rural Indian community in Rajasthan successfully used the FOI law in the country to hold their elected officials to account for funds that they administered.
In a communique issued at the roundtable, participants called on all states of the federation to implement the FOI Act to help expand the democratic frontiers, following the landmark judgment by the Federal Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, Ondo State, which affirms that the FOI Act is applicable in states and that they do not need to enact state versions.
Having developed and adopted an anti-corruption strategy document for Adamawa State, participants urged the government to implement the FOI Act, 2011 in the State to strengthen its anti-corruption drive.
They observed, among other things that, there is lack of knowledge and non-implementation of the FOI Act in the State, as majority of the citizens do not know about its existence and provisions.
They also observed that the Act holds huge potentials to engender development and good governance and ultimately expand the frontiers of democracy, and although the media worked tirelessly with other non-governmental organisations to get the FOI Act enacted it is regrettable that they have not made much efforts towards its implementation.
They called for vigorous state-wide, multi-facetted public enlightenment programmes at all levels on the FOI Act because of its potential to opening up governance to transparency and enhancing development.
Participants also called on the media, as the fourth estate of the realm and as an integral part of civil society, to wake up to its responsibility of continuing, not only to push for the effective implementation of the Act but also using it to enhance and deepen their reportage.
Civil society and public officials were encouraged to work collaboratively and tenaciously to make the FOI Act work.
The roundtable was organized by the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria (FOICN) and Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption (MIIVOC), with support from the European Union, through the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme, managed by the British Council.