The Patriot Institute of Journalism and Arts (PIJA), Lance Magazine is a public-centric independent media organisation dedicated to fighting injustice, fostering social justice and community development through the telling and retelling of the marginalised-oriented stories.
Over 175 MDAs Flout FOIA Requests
No fewer than 175 Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies do not actively respond to requests made through the Freedom of Information Act.
A 2023 FOI transparency ranking by the Public and Private Development Centre in collaboration with BudgiT, Basic Rights Watch, Right to Know and Media Rights Agenda revealed this on Tuesday in Abuja.
According to the Punch Newspaper, the FOIA, was signed in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. This Act gives Nigerians the right to access information on government activities in the custody of any public institution or where public funding was utilised.
Section one, subsection (1) of the FOIA states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.”
In several subsections, the act highlights the process by which information should be requested, noting that public institutions must ensure that the information requested is provided. There are, however, exemptions for security agencies and provisions for delays in responses.
However, in the new report, an analysis of 238 public institutions ranked by their responsiveness, disclosure and proactive disclosure level revealed that the National Population Commission, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigerian Correctional Services, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 136 other agencies did not attempt a response to FOI requests.
The research also disclosed that 136 MDAs scored below 15 points while the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission and National Orientation Agency emerged as the most compliant public institutions with 70.3 points, 64.6 points, and 63 points respectively.
According to the FOI ranking, the responsiveness of ministries reduced to 47 per cent from 70.4 per cent recorded in 2022 adding that only two institutions had full proactive disclosure of public information in 2023.
Resource constraints, inadequate tech-savvy staff, outdated information, and disregard for requests without valid reasons were also identified as challenges in the report, which recommended electronic means of communication as a solution.
In her keynote address at the event themed, “The importance of the online space for access to information”, the National Coordinator, Open Government Partnership, Gloria Ahmed, said the FIOA has kept Nigeria steadily on the path of giving its citizens, more access to information despite the prevalent challenges.
She also urged the representatives of agencies to make use of technology to enjoy the benefits that freedom of information brings.
She said, “Over the past 12 years, despite the prevalent challenges FIOA has kept Nigeria steadily on the path of giving its citizens, more access to information granting the right to request information and mandating public institutions to make such information readily available, with stipulated sanctions for erring institutions.
“While citizens can walk into an office or any public institution to request access to information of interest, it is worthy to mention that it is a lot easier to get this information online and for the institutions to publish information about their institutions online, so as to reduce the traffic of people who come into their offices ask for information.
“Technology can help to make governance easy and with limited manipulations. Nigerians must tag along to enjoy the benefits that freedom of information brings.”
Also, in his address, the Head of Investigations at the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Olugbenga Adanikin, charged all MDAs to proactively disclose and disseminate information to Nigerians on their portals or websites.
This, he said, was to promote a more transparent and accountable government, increase citizen participation and improve public service delivery.
“Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders in the media space including journalists have had reasons to utilize the FOI Act to demand information of public interests, such as road contract details, loan agreements, and budget releases to public institutions to mention but few. Agencies of government can proactively disclose information to Nigerians through their respective websites.
“Today’s event represents another opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to nation-building through the effective use of different art, and also an avenue to recognize relevant agencies of government that have either been proactively disseminating information to Nigerians or swiftly responding to Freedom of Information requests as required by law,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the PIJAlance had also reported that the Oyo State Ministry of Works and Oyo State Investment and Public Private Partnership Agency do not actively respond to FOIA requests made to them on two separate occasions.