Media enjoined to use Freedom of Information Act

Qasim Akinreti, Lagos

The Nigerian Media has been challenged to use the provisions of the freedom of information act judiciously to crack corruption and other investigative journalism activities.
Director International Press Center , Lanre Arogundade, stated this at the social media interactions – “Tweet-a- thon”,   programme organised by the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria and the Public Affairs Section of the U.S Consulate General Lagos,  under the overarching framework of the role of the media in promoting
transparency.

He said the decision to focus on the use of the Freedom of Information Act, FOI , by the media and the civil society is based on recent happenings in the country which shows that the journey towards transparency in Nigeria could take longer than anticipated despite the change of government a year ago.

Arogundade noted that “it is quite worrisome that a wall of darkness envelopes the true earnings of our elected leaders; be it in the legislature or the executive. It is equally worrisome that transactions in the oil sector are still shrouded in secrecy based on the under belly of wide spread corruption”.

He tasked Nigerian Journalists  to reflect  on the three-year old FOI Act whose enactment was believed would pave the way to greater accountability and transparency by those who exercise public authority on behalf of the people.

Puzzled Questions

The media practitioner, enjoined Journalists to answer the following five questions to justify the effective usage of the act, : what has happened or what is happening to the FOI Act? How effectively has the media been able to use it in the course of fulfilling its constitutional obligation to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people? How effectively has the civil society been able to use the FOI Act in the performance of their oversight
functions in the areas of accountability, transparency and good governance? What are the challenges being faced by the media and the civil society in their attempt to use the FOI Act to promote transparency and accountability?

Inadequate Usage

Kabir Garba, a Nigerian Journalist with the Guardian newspaper, corroborated the inadequate usage of the FOI act by Journalists due to fear of the unknown, ownership structure of the media and poor skills of investigative reporting.

He regretted the inability of the Nigerian Journalists to effectively use the FOI Act, while the Coalition of civil society organizations and other group have recorded successes with the FOI in the last three years.

Part of the success story was highlighted by Kayode Ogundamisi  of Social Economic Rights  and Accountability , SERAP,  covered  the efforts of the organisation ‘s requested for details of the number of policemen seconded to  the Economic and  Financial  Crime Commission, EFCC, support and funding from the international community in 2013, Others are  the request by  Socio- Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)  from the  Governor of Lagos State- December in , 2014 to release the amount of funds for the execution of  world bank projects on Schools and roads and  another  inquiry by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project(SERAP) from the Accountant General of the Federation and the AGF.

Recommendations

Against this backdrop, Kayode recommended the review of the Freedom of Information Act specifically on about 10 sections of the law which dwell on non-disclosure of information.

He also called for more Public enlightenment on the usage of the Act and the need for the Judiciary to be more engaged to help in the implementation of the Act.

 

Nnenna.O