SEVERAL GOVERNMENTAL MINISTRIES, DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES OPERATE IN SECRECY AND IN GROSS VIOLATION OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
-EGALITARIAN MISSION FOR AFRICA (EMA)
In a democratic dispensation, such as Nigeria’s, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle of authority as representatives of the people for the people and under this dispensation, citizens’ inalienable right to inquire into the activities of their leaders vis a vis expenditure of public funds generated from their taxes is guaranteed.
It should be noted that one of the central pillars of Nigerian corporate existence is the safeguard of the welfare of the Citizens and assurances of popular participation in their government. Section 14(2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) states that:
The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of any government; and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
It is imperative to state that prior to the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the trajectory of the Nigerian landscape imbibed and entrenched the culture of secrecy and arbitrariness in civil and political administration. To obtain information from any organ of government often proved a herculean task and same has ultimately distanced the rulers from the ruled.
Quite commendably, the Freedom of Information Act 2011 was signed into law on the 28th day of May, 2011 as a legislative response to the malaise of secrecy and lack of transparency in governance and as could be gleaned from the wordings of the provisions of the Act, the National Assembly by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, introduced a new and progressive legislative device for the enthronement of accountability and transparency in all strata of government.
Sadly to say the least, as a Non-Governmental Organization whose activities boarder on the enthronement of the rule of law, good governance, accountability, transparency, anti-corruption, and adherence to due process, we have conducted our due dilgence and our research including inquiries at the office of the Attorney General of the Federation clearly showthat about 80% of Governmental Ministries, Departments, Agencies and other Public Institutions are in gross violation of the sacrosanct provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
A bird’s eye view through the leafs of the Act reveals that public officers are mere custodians of public records and apart from granting access to an Applicant, they are mandated to regularly publish and widely disseminate to members of the public through various means including print and electronic media, pieces of information on the activities of such public institutions including:
i. description of the organization and responsibilities of the institution including details of the programmesand functions of each division, branch and department of the institution.
ii. A list of all classes of records under the control of the institution in sufficient detail to facilitate the exercise of the right to information.
iii. A list of all the manuals used by the institution’s employees in administering or carrying out any of its programmes or activities.
iv. documents containing final planning policies, recommendations and decisions.
v. documents containing factual reports, inspection reports and studies, whether prepared by or for the institution.
vi. documents containing information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds by the institution.
vii. documents containing names, salaries and title and dates of employment of all employees and officers of the institution.
viii. list of files containing applications for any contract, permit, grants, licenses or agreement.
ix. a list of reports, documents, studies or publications prepared by independent contractors for the institution.
x. a list of materials containing information relating to any grant or contract made by or between the institution and another public institution or private organisation.
In addition to the above, Public Institutions are also mandated to provide appropriate training for their officials on the public’s right to access information or records held by government or public institutions and to annually submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation a report containing the above listed information.
Despite these salient and unambiguous provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, the sad reality is that most of the Public Institutions in Nigeria are in constant violations of the Act with every sense of impunity and the perdurable question to ask is: why would a Public Institution fail to make information available to the public even when the Act specifically provides that an application fee may be charged?
There is a general public interest in promoting transparency, accountability, public understanding and involvement in the democratic process. Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy. Indeed the very nature and quality of public participation in their government would be significantly impoverished without the nourishment of information from public authorities. To guarantee freedom of expression without including freedom of information would be a formal exercise, denying both effective expression in practice and a key goal which free expression seeks to serve.
It is on the backdrop of the above that Egalitarian Mission for Africa in collaboration with other partners, civil societies organizations, journalists, researchers, academicians and well spirited lawyers have declared 2021 as the year of war against lack of transparency, accountability and probity in government and to this cause we are committed. Any Public Institution, public officer who fails to comply with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act shall be made to face the wrath of the law.
We take the liberty to also call on the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to take the bull by the horn by ensuring that all Public Institutions adhere strictly to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
Nigerians are entitled to know how the common wealth is being utilized, managed and administered in a democratic setting, as this positively influences the feeling of belonging in the society and we shall pursue same to a logical conclusion.
God bless Nigeria!
Dr. Olukayode Ajulo
Chiarman, Board of Trustees, Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission For Africa.
Oladimeji Akinola, Esq.
General Secretary, Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa.
Hamza Nuhu Dantali, Esq.
Principal Counsel, Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa.