THE Bureau of Public Service Reforms has emerged winner of the 2020 edition of the Freedom of Information Compliance (FOI) ranking while the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) came second and third respectively.
The 2020 FOIA ranking held at the Olusegun Obasanjo Auditorium in the Federal Ministry of Justice on Monday, was organised by a coalition of Civil Society Organisations consisting of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Public Private Development Centre (PPDC), Basic Rights Watch (BRW), Right to Know (R2K), Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and BudgIT.
Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC), the 2019 winner of the ranking slipped to 29th position while the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) which came second last year dropped to 79th position.
Ajibola Amzat, the ICIR Editor, during his opening remark stated the parameters deployed for the 2020 ranking to include proactive disclosure, timeliness of response, level of disclosure, the existence of FOIA desk officer, Training for FOIA desk officers in MDAs, and submission of annual report and publishing on their website.
Amzat noted that out of 213 MDAs that were contacted, only about 30 per cent of them responded to the FOIA letter addressed to them.
“The reason why we are doing this is that we want our government to be more open and transparent, we want the Nigerian government to be more open than it is and all of us if you will agree with me will know that in an open society it is beneficial to all of us, both the leaders and the led,” he said.
“We are doing this because we want our government to be more open and transparent which is very important for our democracy.”
The ICIR Editor noted that “if everyone of us is carried along about the affair of our nation then it means we are all part of the system and it gives everybody a sense of belonging.”
“It is our hope that the culture of accountability and transparency will find acceptance in all Nigerian public institutions,” Amzat added.
Abubakar Malami, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation represented by Abiodun Aikomo, the Special Assistant to the President on Financial Crimes while delivering his keynote address noted the importance of the FOI Act to the governance of the country.
“Due to global evolving critical health situation, it has become very clear that the world is facing an unprecedented challenge and the duty to hold duty bearers accountable cannot be overemphasized,” Malami said.
He added that in line with the FOIA, the government institutions in Nigeria would ensure that citizens are kept informed when critical decisions are made to ensure compliance with the provisions of FOI that bestowed oversight function on the AGF.
“Several steps have been taken by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation since 2011, we have taken several steps over the years to encourage public institutions to promote the act, the ministry identified as a priority the need to build the capacity of desk officers across public institutions according to the provision of the act,” he further stated.
He stated that due to the country’s old culture where public information that ordinarily should be made public was treated with utmost secrecy the law is still undergoing growth in implementation.
“As Amzat rightly stated that letters were sent to 213 government agencies, 89 public institutions submitted their 2019 annual compliance report. We are reporting progress that is to show that we are still holding around 30 or 31 percent of MDAs,” Malami stated.
“We are not there yet but it shows that we are making progress. We are still engaging with relevant stakeholders to ensure compliance.”
“Laws do not self-implement but when you have a societal development that is still growing, certain people must put the government at check to ensure compliance, what you are doing is extremely commendable as it keeps the government on their toes.”
Cornelius Nnaji, Chairman, House Committee on Freedom of Information Reforms of Government Institutions who was also present at the occasion said it was sad that after nine years of existence of the Act, many public institutions are still unaware of it.
“I wish to remind MDAs that Section 29(1) of the Act which states important that on or before February 1st of each year, each public institutions shall submit to the Attorney General of the Federation a report which shall cover the preceding fiscal year this equally implies that in the case of NIL submission recorded, each Agency is bound by this section to report the same to the AGF,” Nnaji said.
“Sadly, we have discovered that most government institutions are not aware of this Act even after nine (9) years of its enactment. This calls for intensive and impactful broad-based publicity by key stakeholders on the existence and merits of the Act using the mass media.”
He added that the committee is working on employing legislative tools to ensure ‘needed amendments for proper implementation of the Act.
“I want to assure you that as a Committee and partners in progress we shall use the legislative instruments to effect the needed amendment to the Act in order to actualise the effective implementation of its provisions,” he noted.
He stated that the organisers should not hesitate to report any ministry of the government that fails to comply with the FOI Act.
However, the House of Representatives ranked 155th in compliance with the FOIA compliance, recording zero scores in responsiveness and level of disclosure.