Editorial Team

Emmanuel Udom-Managing Editor, Stephen Dijo Philemon-Deputy Editor, Janet Udom-Senior Correspondent, Precious Udom-Senior Correspondent, Williams Ita-Bureau Chief(Akwa Ibom/Cross River), Fabian Idoko-Senior Correspondent
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    Thursday, 10 December 2015

    FOIA 2011: a killer tool for corruption in Nigeria



                                 
    By Emmanuel Udom

    Former Nigerian president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, delivered a killer tool for Nigerians, when he signed the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, into law, May 28, 2011.

    Jonathan is not a killer, but a humanist and a performer, who delivered democracy dividends to Nigerians, while in office. Please, feel free to disagree with me here.

     But, with the FOI Act, up and running, governance at the federal, state and local levels are in trouble in the country and politicians and government officials know the game is up for them. Time will tell.

    How? With the Act in place anybody could write to any of the more than 800 public institutions in Nigeria and demand for information on corruption, abuse of power and wrong doing. This is where the killer angle comes in.

    This is where the Muhammadu Buhari-led regime, that is busy preaching the gospel of change, should come in. Most public institutions in Nigeria have heard about FOI and have read it.

     But in truth, some of them are behaving like the ostrich, pretending that the Act is not for them. It is too late in the day to ignore the Act. It may be slow, but it is gaining grounds in the country.

    I agree totally with my readers that in Nigeria, secrecy, bureaucracy, half truth or outright falsehood are the hallmark of public ministries, departments and agencies.

    No government official is comfortable when certain information is demanded or requested from the person and he or she could threaten, ignored, ridicule or in extreme cases, plot the downfall of the person requesting for information.

    But, it may be slow, the FOI act is up and running in Nigeria and some corrupt government officials are not finding it funny. Statistics from the Media Rights Agenda showed that out of more than 800 public institutions that were contacted between 2012-2013 on the FOI issue, only 125 responded positively.

    But, thanks to the Independent National Electoral Commission, Police Service Commission, National Youth Service Corps, National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Justice.

    These public agencies have appointed FOI officers, who are not below the rank of an assistant director to handle issues relating to information from those who request this information.

    FOI is not a tool in the hands of journalists, but for every Tom, Dick and Harry, who wants information, within and outside the country. It is a global issue, not a Nigerian affair.

    Therefore, knowing fully well the danger and risk involved in attempting to get information from government and private agencies on corruption, diversion of funds, wrong doing and abuse of powers, Edetaen Ojo, executive director, Media Rights Agenda, assured that whistle blowers will be protected.

    December 1-4, this year, Media Rights Agenda, supported by The MacArthur Foundation held a training workshop on FOI Act 2011, for more than 50 pre-selected journalists from south- west states in Nigeria.

    This writer, still bubbling from fresh angles gathered during the training spoke with a cross section of ordinary persons in Lagos and Ogun states on what they know about FOI Act 2011.

    Kinsley Etim, a free newspaper reader at Vesper bus-stop, along Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, Ifo, Ogun state, confessed that he graduated from the University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom state and has since been looking for a job.

    His words: I have read about the FOI Act, but I think it is for journalists, who are daring enough to face corrupt cabals in Nigeria, not me.

    But, Mercy Appah, a self-acclaimed born-again at Iyana Ipaja bus-stop, Lagos, expressed pessimism on the Act working in a country where corruption is endemic.

    “Nothing works in Nigeria”, she thundered, insisting that “the signs we are seeing mark the beginning of endtime”.  

    There are a thousand and one Etim and Mercy, who in ignorant are either afraid or keeping miles away from the FOIA and yet they talk loudest at newsstands, beer joints, the  social media and public places about the wrong moves past and present government in Nigeria have made.   

    Politicians are presently shouting themselves to high heavens, calling on the- powers- that be to kill the social media, stone dead. But, these politicians and government officials should come out with documents, as opposed to propaganda and blackmail. The social media has come to stay. The angle is not to kill it, but find a way of controlling or regulating the social media.
     
     But, independent checks at the office of the Attorney General of the Federation showed that despite initial challenges, the FOI Act is up and running and the courts are getting more and more worked up from cases relating to the act.

    Do not accept this, do your own independent checks for confirmation. I have been empowered by MRA and I will do the job. Good luck and God bless.
       

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