FoI, scourge of corruption and matters arising

In taming the menace of corruption, Nigerians have reechoed the need for the Freedom of Information Act to play a big role.
Matters arising Head, Freedom of Information Unit, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr Benjamin Okolo, recently revealed that the ministry will soon provide a step by step guide for Nigerians to know how to seek for information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Okolo made this known in Abuja at the fourth Discussion Series themed; “Citizens Participation in the Anticorruption Fight; the role of lawyers.” According to him, the step was being considered by the ministry in order to allow Nigerians access information and start questioning people in positions of authority.
He said, the FOIA established the right to access public information to all race, gender, age, and nationality, notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation.
“The underlying philosophy is that public officers are custodians of public trust on behalf of a population that has the right to know what they do,” he explained, saying the Act mandates them to make public records and information more freely access to established exemptions, as well as encourage shift from secrecy in conduct of government affairs to openness.
“The FOIA is the second important law in Nigeria because it is a rights law, so citizens need to stay awake with the law and utilise it well.
“Nigerians need to start using the law to demand for explanations from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), when we begin to do that, they will sit up.
“FOIA is a foundation for open government as it helps in the fight against corruption, strive where there is corruption.
“Any person can access any information or record in custody of any public institutions and private institutions utilising public funds, performing public functions and providing public services subject to clearly defined exceptions.
Any person is entitled to request and receive information within seven days,” Okolo further submitted.
He therefore stressed the need for Nigerians to become more serious with the anti-corruption fight because the FOIA is a good weapon they can use to ensure the protection of their local Environment, adding that through adequate information, citizens would be enabled to advocate against projects and programmes that affect them negatively or were abandoned.
Earlier, Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, one of the conveners of the Say No Campaign, an NGO, said though the government had tried to fight corruption by amending laws and establishing agencies, corruption was still ongoing.
“In practice, government efforts have neither improved performance nor minimised corruption and have not also met or increased citizens’ satisfaction with service delivery from states or private institutions.
“Many people have argued that this is largely due to lack of citizens’ engagement in the process of conceptualization and design of solutions meant to address the root causes of corruption,” he said.
Nwagwu said, involving citizens in government by participating in governance activity in their states leads to appreciation level of social trust.
Implementing FOI While calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to make the effective implementation of the FOIA to boost the administration’s anti-corruption war, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Contended that that it is the most effective instrument for enabling ordinary citizens join the fight to stem the menace of corruption.
In a statement in Lagos, the organization noted that although the signing of the Act into Law on May 28, 2011 remains one of the enduring legacies of former President Goodluck Jonathan, its implementation over the last four years has been lacklustre in many respects with the result that it has been unable to achieve its full potential of enthroning transparency and accountability in governance.
MRA’s Executive Director, Mr.
Edetaen Ojo, said: “We have no doubt about the desire and capacity of President Buhari to combat corruption in Nigeria.
The body called on the Buhari administration to make specific budgetary provisions for public institutions to help them properly discharge their obligations under the Act.
This, according to Ojo include; allocating resources to assist them in putting in place adequate record keeping and information management systems as well as funding the Freedom of Information unit in each public institution.
In particular, it said, public institutions should take advantage of the Internet, ICTs and social media tools in receiving, processing and responding to requests for information as well as in fulfilling their proactive disclosure obligations, including using infographics to present and explain complex data.
It is also called on President Buhari to ensure that government’s public outreach institutions, such as the Federal Ministry of Information, its state counterparts, and the National Orientation Agency (NOA), undertake public enlightenment activities to enhance public awareness of the existence of the Act and better public understanding of its provisions as well as how to use it.
The office of the AttorneyGeneral of the Federation, it said, should also be adequately funded, staffed and equipped to ensure it provides effective oversight in the implementation of the law.
Curbing corruption Meanwhile, the SocioEconomic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has launched its latest report on “how citizens can use the Freedom of Information Act to curb corruption and improve access to public services, particularly education, healthcare and water in Nigeria.
In a report presented by the Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Professor Ayo Atsenuwa, he simplifies the FOI Act 2011 and explains “how citizens can take advantage of the Act to challenge allegations of corruption in the health, education and water sectors, which they witness and/or directly affect them.
The report, which was published with support from Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, explains why FOI Act targets government and public institutions and the duties of public institutions to keep and maintain records and facilitate access to Information.
It also identifies the categories of people that can make request for information under the FOI Act, and how any such request can be made as well as the timeframe within which people can expect to get information or record requested for.
The report also explains why the citizens need access to information on public services; gives specific examples of the types of records that can be requested for; addresses the issue of whether citizens are required to pay to access information, and if citizens can be refused access to information as well as the grounds for any such refusal.

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