The Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, on Tuesday unveiled the revised guidelines on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act,FOIA.
The unveiling took place in Abuja during a public presentationorganised in collaboration with the Democratic Governance for Development, an arm of the UNDP, and other development bodies.
Represented by his the Senior Special Assistant 1, Peter Akpe, theAGF said the revised Act is aimed at ensuring transparency and accountability, pointing out that under the Act, public institutions are required to disclose certain information to the public.
“The revised guidelines are built upon the fulcrum of transparency on which the FOIA rests and incorporates lucid explanatory materials on the provisions of the Act. Under Section 1 of the Act, all government or public institutions are required, subject to certain exceptions, to disclose information pursuant to a request by any person,” he said.
Adoke also unveiled the website of the FOIA, which he said would help in achieving the aims of the Act in addition to the revised guidelines.
“On this website, the public can access the report of the various activities related to the Freedom of Information Act and reports submitted by MDAs under Section 29 of the Act,” he said.
The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, urged Millennium Development Agencies, MDAs, to support the efforts of the Ministry of Justice in actualising the objectives of the Act by reviving theirFOIA desks and ensuring that adequate awareness via public education and enlightenment is created.
“This is in the sense that all public servants and public institutions are guided properly in their obligations to provide necessary information to requesting individuals and bodies,” Maku said.
The Project Director, Democratic Governance for Development Project of the UNDP, Mourtada Deme, said the revised guidelines will ensure active citizen participation.
“A young democracy like Nigeria’s can only be strengthened when the citizenry are empowered with access to public information that can assist them to make informed contributions to democratic reforms and to hold elected officials and public servants accountable,” Deme said.
Also, a representative of the European Union, EU, Alan Munday, said the FOIA was essential to national development.
“Freedom of information is essential to the citizenry as it will assist them to contribute to the development of the nation,” he said.
The FOIA has been employed to demand for certain information that are of public interest in recent times, but it would appear that it is at variance with the oath of secrecy, which prohibits public officials from disclosing certain information deemed capable of jeopardisingthe security of the country.
This, he explained, has provided a refuge for public officials to function in secrecy, which is the bedrock of corruption.
On Monday, the federal government was dragged before a Federal High Court, Ikoyi, by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, for failing to provide information on the spending of the N700bn borrowed between December 31, 2012 and April 30, this year.
Requests have also mounted on the leadership of the National Assembly to disclose the salaries and allowances of its members, which is yet to be provided.