Auditor-General’s office fails to comply with FOIA, declines ICIR’s request

IN clear violation of the provision of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (OAuGF), has declined a request to supply details of its capital releases between 2015 and 2019.

The ICIR had on June 22 sent an FOI request to the Office of the Auditor-General to seek the details of its capital releases between 2015 and 2019, but in its reply dated July 10, 2020, the OAuGF under the leadership of Anthony Ayine cited section 85(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as the reason for declining the request.

Section 85(2) of the Constitution only stated in clear terms that the OAuGF shall be in charge of auditing public accounts of all offices and courts of the federation, but it doesn’t in any way prevent the office from responding to FOI requests.

“The public accounts of the Federation and of all offices and courts of the Federation shall be audited and reported on to the Auditor-General who shall submit his reports to the National Assembly; and for that purpose, the Auditor-General or any person authorised by him in that behalf shall have access to all the books, records, returns and other documents relating to those accounts,” the section read.

The OAuGF, however, directed this newspaper to the National Assembly for the information it seeks.

In response, the auditor-general said his office only reports to the National Assembly, though the information requested is not exempted by the FOI Act.

It would be recalled that the Freedom of Information Act enacted on May 28, 2011, by the National Assembly mandated all public institutions to always comply with the Act, by making sure that it records and keeps the information about all its activities, operations and businesses open.

Section 2(2) of the FOI act also stated that “A public institution shall ensure the proper organization and maintenance of all information in its custody in a manner that facilitates public access to such information.”

The Auditor-General’s denial of FOI requests is therefore a clear violation of the act.

The ICIR made this request following the OAuGF’s submission in the recent audited report that its office is been poorly funded.

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“Severe funding constraints continue to be a major impediment to achieving the statutory and constitutional mandates of the Office (OAuGF), and the Office is not able to self-fund significant amounts of fieldwork,” the report read in part.

The Office of the Auditor General of the Federation is reputed for declining FOI requests as it ranks the lowest 82nd position in the 2018 FOIranking.

Nigeria still ranks a woeful 132 out of 162 countries in the FOI compliance, according to the 2018 Human Forum Index.

Similarly, Transparency International in 2019 ranked Nigeria 146 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

Meanwhile, the National Coordinator, Right to Know, Ms. Ene Nwakpa has expressed worry over how public institutions in Nigeria decline FOI request, noting that open governance is a catalyst to development in advanced countries.

“The attitude of Nigeria’s public institutions to FOI request is saddening and worrisome. From our interactions with them[OAuGF] over time, they could only be rated at 15 compliance to the FOIA

“It’s frightening how public officers threaten journalists, civil society organisations who demand accountability of what is meant to be made public by their institutions,” Nwakpa noted.

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