NIGERIA Electricity Regulation Commission has emerged as the winner of the 2019 National Freedom of Information(FOI) Compliance Ranking in an event held at the CBN International Training Institute, Abuja on Thursday 26, September.
Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission came second and third respectively.
Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), came fifty-seven while Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came one hundred and sixty according to the ranking.
In the Security Sector, Federal Fire Service came first, and 2018 winner Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) came second while the Police Service Commission (PSC) came third.
Meanwhile, staff members of Independent National Electoral Commission, National Orientation Agency, (NOA), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) have opposed the ranking, claiming that their agencies deserve to have ranked better than they were rated.
Nkem Ilo, who gave an overview of the FOIA ranking, said the parameters for the ranking were proactive disclosure, responsiveness in the request for information, level of disclosure, FOI training, and timeliness. Other parameters used include the establishment of FOI desk Office in MDAs, publication, and submission of annual FOIA compliance report to the office of the Attorney General of the federation.
She noted that the process is focused on promoting accountability and transparency by encouraging timely access to information.
National Co-ordinator of Right to Know, Ene Nkwankpa in her opening remarks, said the 2019 ranking was co-organised by six Civil Society Organizations, the Public & Private Development Centre (PPDC), BugdIT, Connected Development (CODE), Right to Know (R2K), Basic Right Watch (BRW) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) so as to give room for a robust evaluation across agencies.
She reminded the audience that the success of FOIA is a collective responsibility, “because at the end of the day it is for the benefit of us all because we are all Nigerians and we cannot run away to Canada, and as we have noticed nations are driving us away”.
During a panel discussion moderated by Stanley Achonu of Open Government Partnership Nigeria Secretariat – Federal Ministry of Justice, panelists examined the prospects and challenges of FOIA in Nigeria under the topic: Data, Institution and Good Governance.
Chioma Agwuegbo, Founder of TechHer, attributed poor FOIA compliance of MDAs to staff deficiency in the use of technology. Most government bureaucrats, according to her, lack knowledge of technology, and could not develop long-term policy and identifiable goal that could help in keeping the public record.
She also blamed the Ministry of Justice, the agency responsible for enforcing compliance with FOIA of high handedness, particularly in the transparency case involving Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation.
The Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission representative and panelist, Sabo Isiaku said public Institutions because of the nature of their work may not be able to meet up with the seven days requirements of the FOI Act and should endeavour to publish information on their website before they are asked for.
“Some ministries comply well with FOI act, some don’t but with gatherings like this, I believe we’ll get to our desired destination.”
Edwin Daniel from OneCampaign also said one of the reasons government policies are failing is due to lack of information, noting that Data is at the heart of challenging poverty.
“How do you make policies for people that you don’t know their population? when was the last population census conducted?” he asked.
When asked why media organisations fail to invoke FOIA more frequently, editor of The ICIR, Ajibola Amzat, one of the panelists highlighted the challenges faced by newsrooms requesting public information using FOIA. The ICIR, he said, has submitted more than 70 FOI requests in the last one year to various public institutions, and more than 60 percent were turned down.
He said The ICIR experience is similar to other newsrooms. “As at yesterday, The Cable was in court with the Ministry of Justice about the information on Abacha’s loot. Sometimes ago, Premium Times also had to initiate a court process because of denial of access to information.”
One of the attendees, Chibuzor asked about the position of the civil service rule as against the full implementation of the FOI act, Isiaku said, the public/civil service rule is not a law, the FOIA is a law and thus it overrides the civil service rule.