LAGOS (Sundiata Post) – A non-governmental organisation, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on Friday called on President Muhammadu Buharito make the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act a major pillar of his anti-corruption crusade, contending that it is the most effective instrument for enabling ordinary citizens join the fight to stem the menace of corruption.
In a statement issued in Lagos, MRA noted that although the signing of the Act into Law on May 28, 2011 remains one of the enduring legacies of former President Goodluck Jonathan, its implementation over the last four years has been lacklustre in many respects with the result that it has been unable to achieve its full potential of enthroning transparency and accountability in governance.
MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said: “We have no doubt about the desire and capacity of President Buhari to combat corruption in Nigeria. However, given the scale of the problem, for his efforts to gain traction and be effective, ordinary citizens have to be an integral part of his anti-corruption strategy so that corruption can be revealed and challenged wherever it manifests. A vigorously implemented and effective Freedom of Information Act is undoubtedly the most practical way of ensuring such citizen engagement.”
Ojo explained that it was for this reason that MRA decided to present President Buhari with a set of proposals on the day of his inauguration and a day after the fourth anniversary of the enactment of the FOI Act on how to enhance its implementation and position the Law to achieve its primary purpose.
MRA is therefore proposing that in order to overcome the bureaucratic bottlenecks and resistance to the access to information regime prevalent in public institutions, the Government of President Buharishould embark on a deliberate programme to sensitize public institutions and officials at all levels of government about the rights of the public to access information held by public institutions. Sensitization should not be limited to freedom of information officials alone but should include all staff of public institutions so that they are able to play their different roles in creating open institutions, including being able to direct
members of the public to appropriate Freedom of Information officials within their institutions. Administrative sanctions should be imposed on officials who deliberately flout the law or undermine its effective implementation.
Besides, MRA said President Buhari should make specific budgetary provisions for public institutions to help them to properly discharge their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, including allocating resources to assist them in putting in place adequate record keeping and information management systems as well as funding the Freedom of Information unit in each public institution.
MRA suggested that public institutions should be required to use digital and electronic records management systems to enhance the implementation of the Act. In particular, it said, public institutions should take advantage of the Internet, ICTs and social media tools in receiving, processing and responding to requests for information as well as in fulfilling their proactive disclosure obligations, including using infographics to present and explain complex data. The Government should put in place facilities and infrastructure to ensure the availability and effectiveness of such tools.
MRA welcomed President Buhari’s pledge in his campaign document, “My Covenant with Nigerians”, to encourage proactive disclosure of information by government institutions in the spirit of the FOI Act and emphasized that the proactive disclosure provisions in the Act, if implemented, will reduce the burden on public institutions to process numerous individual requests for information from members of the public. Accordingly, it said, public institutions should be required to comply with and take advantage of this important mechanism in the law to make information available to the public as this will also enhance citizens’ trust in them and in the government as a whole.
MRA called on President Buhari to ensure that public outreach institutions, such as the Federal Ministry of Information, its state counterparts, and the National Orientation Agency (NOA), are required to undertake public enlightenment activities to enhance public awareness of the existence of the Act and better public understanding of its provisions as well as how to use it. Such outreach activities, it said, should be sustained over time to achieve the desired impact.
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