The head of civil service of the federation, Bukar Aji, has called for a review of the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, arguing that the seven day time limit for disclosure of information to the requesting individuals was inadequate, as the nation’s civil service system is not yet fully digitalised to cope with the short timeline.
Aji made the call at a two day conference on the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 organised by the Right to Know Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, in Abuja.
“In organisations, keeping of records in the ministries, departments and agencies most of which is the analogue system of record keeping, retrieval of information within the specified time limit has been practically difficult. I recommend its review from seven days to 14 days, within which, information under the Act, may be disclosed,” he said.
The head of service also advocated a review of the Official Secret Act to conform with the FOI Act and ensure that classification of information did not endanger disclosure of information.
He, however, identified the lack of desire by public officers to shift from a culture of secrecy to that of transparency as a major factor militating against the implementation of the Act.
He said efforts were being made by his office and that of the attorney-general of the federation to encourage public institutions to establish FOI units and help lines for public use.
According to him, the lack of effective sensitisation, organisation of training and capacity building programme in the MDAs has also constituted a major setback to the implementation of the Act.
“Efforts should be made to ensure adequate provision of funds to facilitate the sensitisation and training programme on the freedom of information in MDAs and the zones,” he said.
Also speaking at the occasion, the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, said the failure by parastatals, government agencies and ministries to comply with the FOI Act would frustrate the commitment of the administration to transparency.
He said the federal government remained committed to transparency and full implementation of the Act and called on government agencies to appoint information officers who would handle requests for information.
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, ChidiOdinkalu, also noted that compliance with the Act still remained very low but expressed the hope that it would eventually produce positive impact on governance in the country.