Akpan Etukudoh Asare
Lecturers from two different universities have stressed the need for the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act which was signed into law by former president of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
They have also seriously encouraged the citizens to cultivate the habit of frequently invoking the powers available in the Act for them by always requesting for information about government expenditures as a way of ensuring transparency and accountability by public officers and private corporations utilising public resources.
Dr Walter Duru, head of mass communications department of Madonna University and Dr Temitope Olaiya of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta spoke at a 3-day training held in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State, on social mobilisation on FOIA. The event was organised by Strengthening Citizens Resistance Against Prevalence of Corruption (SCRAP-C) with supports from ActionAid, a UK-based public interest agency.
Dr Duru who also chairs. The board of Media Initiative Against Injustice, Violence and Corruption (MIIVOC), said there was dire need for the people, including media practitioners, Civil Society Organisations, to be aware of the enormous powers embedded in the Act, emphasising that if the country can effectively implement it, she will be on the road to achieving the country of her dreams.
He said many CSO working on the FOIA are at the ready to help interested applicants who have any difficulties to prosecute the demands for whichever public information they require, adding that they have already filed and obtained Court rulings in their favour over such matters.
Describing Nigeria’s Official Secret Oath sworn to by all public and civil servants as bedrock of corruption, he lamented that there was also very poor record keeping in several government offices, calling on the public to challenge such attitude which impacts against availability of required information.
“The FOIA was passed into law by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 to enable the public to access certain government information and ensure transparency and accountability. It has given Nigerians legal right to records and documents held by government and private bodies carrying out public functions.
” The law applies to all arms and tiers of government in Nigeria. If citizens fold their arms and journalists do not do follow up on reported cases, the society would continue to be plundered”, he said.
He charges all to income the FOIA to compel authorities to comply with demands for specific information on government activities.
Calling for the repeal of certain sections of the Official Secret Act, Duru advised applicants for such desired information to be professional, courteous, specific in their demands, citing relevant laws to back their requests.
On her part, Dr Olaiya who also represents Stephanie Peace building and Development Foundation who on importance of using the FOIA to foster peace in national development.
She said since there is increase in the quest for open and transparent governance, there should be deliberate efforts by public officials to assuage the yearning of those they govern by availing them of much needed information.
She said the Act was critical ingredient that distinguishes democracy from dictatorship.
Mr Newton Otsemaye of SCRAP-C and ActionAid stressed on the need for enforcement of the FOIA as well as need for citizens to properly understand it and garner its benefits.
He said the FOIA is the best law for the people of Nigeria which when they make use of it by constantly demanding for information.
He blamed the judiciary and anti-graft agencies for not being quite cooperative with applicants who make demands of government to deal with suspected criminals, adding that corruption in Nigeria seems to be condoned.
He frowned at tribal communities shielding suspects who is their relations, and said that the financial criminals seem to be celebrated rather than punished adequately.
“Corruption should have no tribes. Families and communities should stop covering identified corrupt persons who plundered national treasury. Indicted people should actually convince the law courts whether they are corrupt or not. Churches and other religious organisations should help to I!pact against corruption”, he said.
He explained that they were designed to contribute to the reduction of corruption through changing the attitudes of people, and to build public consciousness towards anti-corruption.