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Right to Know Day: Eight years after passage of FOI law, govt agencies frustrate access to public information

AS the world celebrates the international right to know  day, public institutions in Nigeria have continued to deny and frustrate access to public information in their custody despite the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2011 – eight years ago.

The Right to Know Day, otherwise called the International Day for the Universal Access to Information, was inaugurated by the United Nations in 2015 and was first observed on September 28, 2016.

Data from the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), shows how public institutions disregard the freedom of information law by hoarding public information. The annual FOI compliance ranking of public institutions, which was co-organised with five other Civil Society Organisations, comprising of BugdIT, Connected Development (CODE), Right to Know (R2K), Basic Right Watch (BRW) and the Media Rights Watch (MRW) shows that in 2018, inaccessibility to public information requested under the FOI law is high, about 56 per cent. The data also shows that the chance of getting all information requested for is just about 33.5 percent, while the chance of getting a partial response to the information requested for is just about 10.5 percent.

On responsiveness of public institutions to FOI requests, in 2018, the PPDC and other CSOs indicate that over 50 per cent of the public institutions did not respond to FOI requests sent to them thereby, militating against the possibility of gaining access to information, and undermining open, transparent, and accountable governments.

Section 2(4) of the FOI Act provides that public institutions should ensure that information is widely disseminated and made readily available to the public through various means, including electronic and online sources, in other words, proactively disclosing information.

“A public institution shall ensure that information referred to in this section is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”

Data from the PPDC concludes that it is unlikely to get procurement-related information on websites of public institutions. A breakdown of the data shows that there is only one percent likelihood of finding procurement information on online; 90.6 percent likelihood of not finding the information online, while there is just 8.6 percent chance of getting partial information on websites of public institutions.

The data also shows that only 5.2 percent of public institutions respond to requests sent to them within 0-7 days of receipt. This means that over 90 percent of public institutions do not respond within the time frame stipulated by section 4 of the FOI act.

The ICIR in the last one year has filed over 70 FOI requests and can say authoritatively that over 60 percent of requests were denied or not responded to.

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. and the situation has not increased in the subsequent years.

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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