IN celebrating the International Right to Know Day, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) has implored Nigerian public institutions to improve compliance with requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
At an event held on Friday at the CBN International Training Institute, Abuja, the centre also released the 2018 compliance and transparency ranking of public institutions as well as state governments.
The ranking is an annual tradition started in 2013, put in place to assess how much access public institutions grant citizens to public expenditure information among others contained in the FOI Act.
During his presentation, Jonathan Ebe Lefae, PPDC data analyst, said security institutions in the country have not been compliant in proactively disclosing information and urged them to adjust.
“We don’t know why but we urge security institutions to do the needful and respond to FOI requests,” he said.
“As we continue to advocate for open contracting, for transparency and accountability as a civil society organisation, we urge public institutions and MDAs to do their best in being proactive in exposing information for the overall interest of everyone — citizens and those in government.”
Featured at the programme was a panel discussion around the role of access to information in strengthening good governance. The panelists included Joe Abah, DAI country director in Nigeria, Dayo Aiyetan, executive director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, and Kemi Okenyodo of Partners West Africa Nigeria who was represented by Barbara Maiga, the organisation’s programme manager.
In his contribution, Abah argued that access to information is beneficial to both citizens and government officials. It is first of all a right predicated on the fact that government exists to serve the people, he said. With it, the public is able to hold officials accountable.
“Many times, public servants don’t actually internalise the meaning of their names, because a public servant is actually a servant who serves the public. And so the right of information is the right to hold your servants to account.”
He added that access to information also builds the credibility of government and people tend to ask less questions believing an MDA has little to hide.
He said: “So, on the part of public servants, it reduces the amount of stress. I can remember that when I was Director General [of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms], for the last year of my tenure, I didn’t get a single FOI request. Not one. And that’s because everything had been proactively disclosed. I didn’t need to have staff dedicated to answering FOI requests.”
Aiyetan, giving his remark on the importance of accessible information in governance, said the reason corruption is so widespread in the country is the secrecy surrounding government activities and policies.
“For me, information is power,” he said. “Without information for the people, the contractors can go away with money, government officials can collude with contractors so that monies meant for communities would disappear.”
“The reason why government officials relate with Nigerians the way they do, like masters, is that they have all the information available around government activity. People do not have the information. If they do, then the person who wants to represent them will find himself at some point becoming answerable because the people have information and will be able to ask questions
“For example, if Nigerians know how much their representatives receive every year for what they call constituency projects, there will be riots on the streets of Nigeria. But because they don’t have the information, people are complacent and they can’t react.”
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.
According to Transparency International, Nigeria is one of about 120 countries of the world to have enacted laws protecting the right of citizens to access information and government data.