Stakeholders at a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act Assessment Roundtable have urged Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) to deploy digital technology in their operations including setting up functional websites and other e-platforms that will enhance proactive disclosure, aid record keeping and enhance the effective implementation of the FOI Act observing that lack of proper record keeping is a major obstacle to the effective implementation of the Act.
They also called on the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria to render free legal services to indigent applicants who are wrongly denied access to information by Public Institutions to ease the burden on citizens of costly litigation.
These were among the recommendations made at a three-day FOI Act Assessment Roundtable held with State and Non-State Actors at Denis Hotel, Abuja from June 26 to 28, 2018.
Participants at the roundtable also asked the Attorney General of the Federation to liaise with the Accountant General of the Federation to create a chart of account to accommodate FOI sub-head in the budget line to ensure MDAs have funds with which to effectively implement the Act.
They also agreed that civil society organizations need to collaborate with MDAs to enhance and enforce, through creative ways, the effective implementation of the FOI Act and to promote economic, social, cultural and political developments noting that state and non-state actors are stakeholders working towards the development of the nation.
Observing the disturbing trend of MDAs failing to comply with their FOI Act obligations, participants called on them to endeavor to comply with all their obligations under the FOI Act to make it work.
Speaking on MDAs compliance level with the Act from 2011 to 2017 and efforts made by Federal Ministry of Justice to encourage pubic institutions to comply with the Act, Mr. Benjamin Ogu Okolo, Head, FOI Unit at the Ministry of Justice disclosed that the Ministry has firmed up plans to embark on training for public officials tasked with the FOI Act implementation.
Mr. Okolo said the training had become essential to ensure compliance with of Section 13 of the Act, which makes it mandatory for public institutions to train their officials on the public’s right of access to public information and records and for the effective implementation of the Act.
He added that: “In line with the mandate of the Federal Ministry of Justice, as the focal ministry on the implementation of the Act, the FOI Unit has developed a curriculum for the training of public officials.”
He said further that the “FOI Unit [of the Ministry of Justice] and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) secretariat have been involved in training of public institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs) on citizens’ rights to access public information and members of the public are encouraged to take advantage of the FOI regime to enhance public participation in governance.”
Okolo added that training of judges on the Act was necessary because of their role in adjudicating cases, adding: “The training process will involve all entities covered by the Act including the judiciary, executive and legislature, among others.”
Participants at the FOI Assessment Roundtable were drawn from representatives of selected public institutions, the media, professional bodies, unions, faith-based organisations and non-governmental organisations. It was organized by the Freedom of Information Coalition (FOIC) Nigeria in collaboration with the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) programme of the British Council with funds provided by the European Union (EU).