The fundamental objective of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act is to uphold a culture accountability and transparency in public institutions and governance, says the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on FOI, says Hon. Prince Cornelius Nnaji.
He stated this on the occasion to mark the national freedom of information (compliance ranking) in Abuja.
The lawmaker stressed that the significance of the Act cannot be over emphasised especially in the light of the unprecedented challenges and need for accountability posed by Covid-19 across the globe.
Rep. Nnaji noted that September 28 every year provides an opportunity to celebrate the universal right of access to information, and urged all stakeholders to align with 2020’s slogan for the celebration titled: Access to Information: Saving Lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope.
He said: “As you are no doubt aware, the enactment of FoI Act in 2011 in Nigeria empower citizens to hold government accountable when critical decision are made, in line with the legislation.
“I want to use this opportunity to assure you that government institutions in Nigeria will ensure that citizens will be kept informed when critical decision are made to ensure compliance with the provisions of the FoI Act which holds the office of the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice responsible for effective implementation of the Act”, said Nnaji.
In his remarks, the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami maintained that as a focal point, the ministry, his office have taken several major steps over the years to encourage public institutions to implement the Act.
He further added that the ministry identified as a priority the need to build capacity of desk officers across public institutions under the provisions of the Act especially towards improving their reporting and proactive disclosure obligations and establishment of FoI bureau in public institutions.
According to him, the Ministry is coming from a long history of non-disclosure in governance where government figures, information and documents are treated with outmost secrecy.
“People can be jailed or otherwise punished for revealing things which ordinarily should be made publicly or things that are made public in other climes.
The FoI Act which we operate in Nigeria was debated for more than a decade before its eventual signing into law.
“So when you are faced with this kind of history you have to take it within the context of your society and deal with the implementation in a way that it can be meaningful and that determined the decision of the ministry in terms of actual implementation and prioritizing”.
The Minister added that the Ministry has decided to put emphasis on training of desk officers to ensure that at least that it starts from that line of implementation.
He also noted that there are challenges with the implementation which has been identified and which the government is dealing with.
According to the Minister, in 2019 reporting year, 89 institutions submitted their annual compliance records, and added that about 30-31 percent of the MDAs are still expected to submit their reports.
“We are not there yet, but it shows that we are making progress and if we have moved to where we are now, it shows that there are good days ahead and that is to say that we are still engaging the relevant stakeholders towards meeting the expectation of Nigeria’s FoI Act”, he affirmed.