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Effective Implementation Of FOI Act, Key To Participatory Democracy In Nigeria

Eric Ojo – A coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) and legal practitioners engaged in the implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act have said that effective implementation of the Act will ensure the enthronement of participatory democracy in Nigeria.

The coalition noted that Nigeria’s hope of having a democratic process that is participatory and people-orientated can be actualized seamlessly, if the provisions of the FOI Act are effectively enforced in the country.

The group added that the attainment of participatory democracy in any society is contingent upon having in place, systems and mechanisms which enable citizens to engage with those in authority, to ask questions with the assurance that those questions will be answered and to have the belief that they matter in the first place.

The coalition however lamented the low level of implementation of the Act in Nigeria which has culminated in a situation where it is impossible to tell how many people are actually using the Act, what categories of people use it, or what types of information are being requested.

The group therefore harped on a need to collaboratively develop a mechanism for tracking all FOI requests across the country so as to provide reliable data and statistics about its usage, adding that efforts should be intensified in raising public awareness about the Act and how to use it.

The FOI stakeholders further observed that a vigorous media campaign is necessary to enlighten and sensitize members of the public about the Act, its progress and various developments regarding the Law, noting that such sensitization was critical to its effective implementation.

The coalition also expressed concern with the judicial process relating to freedom of information cases, noting that a lot of courts in different parts of the country are coming up with decisions that are inconsistent with the spirit and letters of the Law while cases are routinely taking more than one year to resolve in the courts of first instance despite the requirement in the Act that FOI cases should be dealt with summarily.

In its recommendations at the end of the three-day meeting which was convened by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme’s  (UNDP) Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) II Project in Abuja,  noted that if FOI Act is going to be effective, the Bar and the Bench must play a more positive role in its implementation and that effective strategies should be put in place for addressing the legal and judicial challenges.

The meeting therefore resolved that measures be taken to sensitize judges about the provisions of the FOI Act and that agencies like, the National Judicial Institute (NJI) and the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) should be involved in such efforts.

Meanwhile, the meeting commended the efforts of lawyers providing pro bono legal assistance in an effort to assist individuals and organizations to vindicate their rights of access to information whenever they are wrongfully denied information.

Over 100 participants who were drawn from across, also use to occasion to call on other legal practitioners to join such efforts and urged the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to come up with an arrangement to provide litigation assistance to citizens around the country who are wrongfully denied access to information.

The meeting re-structured the Freedom of Information Coalition to reposition it from its original advocacy role to an implementation coordination role and elected a Board of Governors to manage the affairs of the Coalition with a Secretariat to be hosted by Media Rights Agenda until it is able to set up an independent office.

The meeting was addressed by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Augustine Alegeh (SAN), as Keynote Speaker; and Mr. Kelechi Nwosu, President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN).




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