Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, SAN, has said that vigorous implementation of the Freedom of information (FoI) Act, is essential for Nigeria to make significant breakthrough in the enthronement of good governance.
Malami made the assertion on Tuesday in Abuja at an event organised by the ministry to commemorate 10 years of implementation of the Act in the country.
The minister who was represented by his Special Assistant on Cyber Crimes, Mr Abiodun Aikomo, said the implementation of the FOI Act remained one of the cardinal policies articulated by the present administration.
” Section 29 of the Act places on the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the responsibility and obligation to oversee compliance with the Act especially by the MDAs.
“As such, the Office of the attorney -general published regulations on implementation and reporting requirements under the FOI Act, 2011 for public institutions on Jan. 29, 2012.
“This was closely followed with the guidelines on the implementation issued on March 15, 2012 and the revised edition issued on Feb.27, 2013.”
The minister said that the series of regulations were designed to clearly establish and coordinate the framework for compliance for effective monitoring and evaluation.
The attorney-general said it was also to respond to the challenges of implementing the Act by public institutions.
He expressed concerns that the implementation of the act had encountered several challenges among the different MDAs.
“Notwithstanding the laudable and noble objectives of the FOI Act and the regulations made pursuant thereto, there have been a lot of challenges towards the effective and efficient implementation of the Act by public institutions.
He said one of the key points of the celebrating a decade of implementation of the act was to develop sustainable strategies to further strengthen it’s implementation.
”Today’s event is expected to once again bring stakeholders together to foster widespread understanding, and instill a renewed commitment of FOI Desk Officers across public institutions towards a more effective implementation of the Act.”
He gave the assurance that the ministry would continue to work towards making the FOI Act achieve all its objectives in Nigeria.
He complimented all public institutions who had been compiling and also enhancing the implementation of the FOI Act in the last decade and urged those lagging behind to step up.
The Head of FOI Unit in the Ministry, Mr Ichibor Gowon said that the unit had received 489 reports from 176 MDAs.
“In the first year of implementation in 2011, we received annual compliance report from 16 MDAs, in 2012, 32 MDAs submitted their reports and in 2013, 51 submitted.
“For 2014, we got reports from 60 MDAs, 2015, we received reports from 44, in 2016, 54 MDAs submitted their reports and in 2017, we had 73 reports.
“The number went down in 2018 where only 70 MDAs submitted their reports but increased in 2019 with 89 MDAs bringing reports and in 2020, we had reports from 73 MDAs.”
Mrs Ene Nwankpa of Right to Know, a Civil Society Organisation decried the slow implementation of the FOI Act saying that it had been discouraging.
“There has been a systemic process of denial in the implementation of the act in such a way that some MDAs acknowledge receipt of a request for information but will never act on it by providing the information.
” We also discovered that some MDAs forward some requests to the Department of State Services (DSS) and so we have DSS officials constantly stalking our offices or asking why we are demanding for certain information.”
Some of the MDA requested for a review of the act to increase the seven days stipulated by law to respond to a FOI request as well as outlining which departments or units should handle FOI requests.
The highlight of the event was presentation of awards to six MDA that were up to date with submission of their annual compliance report.
The MDAs include: The Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN), the Nigerian Press Council and the National Pension Commission.
Others are the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission, the National Planning Commission and the National Youth Service Commission, (NYSC).
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Freedom of Information Act came into operation on May 28, 2011 to enable the Nigerian public have access certain government information in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
The Act is designed to make it easier for citizens to hold the government accountable, especially, in an event of misappropriation of public funds. (NAN)