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FOI Act: CBN, budget ministry deny access to vital information on economy

THE Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Ministry of Budget and National Planning have denied The ICIR access to public information regarding key economic issues.

The ICIR on August 7 filed two Freedom of information Act, FOIA, requests asking for details of the FOREX intervention and specific items in the 2018 and 2019 budgets from the CBN and the budget and planning ministry respectively.

Over three weeks after the requests were made, none of them has provided the information.

In specific, The ICIR requested for the following information from the CBN: a breakdown of schemes created by the CBN to sell dollar at N305 per unit, one of which is the Forex Intervention Scheme, the value of the amount that has been given out so far for each scheme, a breakdown of the value per sector, and the list names of the beneficiaries of the forex intervention scheme.

From the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, The ICIR requested for details of budget code ERGP18115478 and line item “OSSAP- SDGs (SPECIAL PROJECTS)”in the 2018 budget, details of conditions and amount accrued to each grants on budget item “OSSAP-SDGs (CONDITIONAL GRANTS)”, details of conditions and amount accrued to each grants on budget item “OSSAP-SDGs (CONDITIONAL GRANTS)”, details of budget code ERGP18115483 and line item “OSSAP – SDGs: SDG PROJECTS 1 (2017 OUTSTANDING LIABILITIES)”, details of budget code ERGP18115551 and line item “OSSAP – SDGs: SDG PROJECTS 2”.

This should include total amount released and total amount spent on the project, details of budget code ERGP7115496 and line item “Subscription to shares in international Organisations”, and list of international organisations and amount contributed to each of the organisations according to budget code 22040203 and line item “Contributions to International Organisations” in the 2019 budget.

The ICIR’s experience with the CBN in the last year reveals that Nigeria’s apex bank is a serial defaulter of the FOIA law.

In July 2018, an FOI request was filed to the CBN on details of stamp duty recovered by the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), after its initial response that it will revert back to the ICIR, more than a year after, the CBN is yet to provide the information.

In its usual way, the CBN wrote the newspaper on August 9 that the current request was being processed and that it will get back to the organsisation.

“…we wish to inform you that the request is being processed and we will revert to you as soon as possible,” reads CBN’s letter written to days after it got the FOIA request.

On compliance with the FOI Act, the CBN is known for denying the public information at its disposal when asked for it. The FOI compliance ranking carried out by the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) also confirms this.

In the latest 2018 FOI compliance ranking by the Centre, CBN ranks 47th (third from the bottom).  In 2017, the apex bank maintained the third least position, ranking 40th, and in 2016, it ranked 44th with no proactive disclosure of information, responds to requests between 15 days and more as against the seven days stated by law.

On its own part, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning asked for an extension of 30 days to “source and collate the requested information”.

In 2018, the ministry ranked 56 (second from the bottom), indicating that the ministry does not proactively disclose information to the public, responds to requests between 15 days and more, and also partially disclose information where it will grant any request.

The 2017 ranking shows that the ministry and the CBN were ranked the same position− 40th position. While in 2016, the ministry ranked 5th by fully disclosing information to the public, partially proactive with its disclosure and responding between 15 days and more. The last best ranking for the ministry.

The ICIR spoke with an expert, Sam Ofia, FOI desk officer at the PPDC, he said the CBN deliberately frustrates access to information.

“We are not new to it, they have always been like that. It is as if they have a copy and paste thing there on their desktop. So whenever they see anything that has to do with FOI, they just copy and send back to that particular address.

“The CBN and NNPC, most especially always think they are the fat cow of this country because they are managing the resources of this country and so, they are no-go area. That amount to a denial of information because as MDAs, they are meant to provide information to the public and also provide the exact time you would have to wait for the information.

“I think their denial is intentional because they always believe nothing can happen. We have a matter against them in court. We are in the court of appeal now including NNPC on this same issue,” Sam said.

On her own part, Ene Nwakpa, the National Coordinator of Right to Know Nigeria (R2K) said they have people with similar experience. However, in terms of compliance of submitting their annual report, she said the CBN has really been efficient.

What the FOI Act says

The FOI Act was signed to law in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan and since then, all requests for information received by a public institution have to be dealt with in accordance with the FOI Act.

Sections 1 and 2 of the FOI Act establish the right of any person to apply for information or records in the possession of a public institution. Generally, these rights are:

  • The right to access or request any information or record that is in the custody or possession of any public institution or private bodies providing public services, performing public functions or utilising public funds.
  • The right to be told whether the information or record exists.
  • The right to have the requested information or record released if the information or record is in the custody or possession of a public institution.
  • The right not to demonstrate any specific interest or purpose in the requested information or record.
  • The right to receive information that public institutions are obliged to proactively disclose under the Act.
  • The right to take legal action in Court to compel any public institution to comply with the provisions of the Act, including discharging their proactive disclosure obligations under the Act.

Also, according to Section 29 of the FOI Act, every public institution must submit its annual report on or before February 1 of each year to the AGF on all applications of FOI request they received.

For 2017, only 73 out of 900 public institutions in Nigeria complied to that provision of the FOI act. This amounts to about only 8.1 percent compliance to section 29 of the FOI act by public institutions.

The ICIR in 2018 reported how budget provisions meant for the implementation of FOI request have not been utilised fully to ensure compliance with the FOI Act.

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