A three-day Meeting of civil society organizations and legal practitioners engaged in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act was held at Top Rank Hotel Galaxy, in Abuja from Tuesday, January 27 to Thursday, January 29, 2015. It was attended by 120 participants, from across Nigeria.
The meeting was convened by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) II Project. The DGD II Project is a joint donor-funded project managed by UNDP in support of deepening democracy in Nigeria and is funded with contributions from the European Union, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFTAD) Canada and the UNDP.
The meeting was addressed by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Augustine Alegeh (SAN), as Keynote Speaker; and Mr. Kelechi Nwosu, President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN).
The goal of the meeting was to institute mechanisms for ensuring greater coordination, collaboration, as well as information, experience and skills sharing and exchange in Freedom of Information implementation activities among civil society organizations and legal practitioners.
The meeting also provided an opportunity for organizations and individuals to share their experiences from various activities aimed at implementing the FOI Act and ideas on how some of the challenges of implementation can be addressed.
Observations, Recommendations and Resolutions
The meeting observed that there have been tremendous improvements in the implementation of the FOI Act in recent times as a result of their collective efforts as there is now more awareness about the Act as well as a significant increase in the level of usage of the Act by different people.
The meeting however noted that the level of usage remained far too low, given the country’s population and the issues which citizens ought to be engaging.
The meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the current situation where it is impossible to tell how many people are actually using the Act, what categories of people use it, or what types of information are being requested, saying that there was a need to collaboratively develop a mechanism for tracking all FOI requests across the country so as to provide reliable data and statistics about the usage.
The meeting further expressed concern with the judicial process relating to freedom of information cases, noting that a lot of courts in different parts of the country are coming up with decisions that are inconsistent with the spirit and letters of the Law while cases are routinely taking more than one year to resolve in the courts of first instance despite the requirement in the Act that FOI cases should be dealt with summarily.
The meeting noted that if FOI Act is going to be effective, the Bar and the Bench must play a more positive role in its implementation and that effective strategies should be put in place for addressing the legal and judicial challenges.
The meeting therefore resolved that measures be taken to sensitize judges about the provisions of the FOI Act and that agencies like the National Judicial Institute (NJI) and the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) should be involved in such efforts.
The meeting commended the efforts of lawyers providing pro bono legal assistance in an effort to assist individuals and organizations to vindicate their rights of access to information whenever they are wrongfully denied information.
It called on other legal practitioners to join such efforts and urged the Nigerian Bar Association to come up with an arrangement to provide litigation assistance to citizens around the country who are wrongfully denied access to information.
The meeting observed that in view of the fact that public awareness of the FOI Act and how to use are critically important for its effective implementation, a vigorous media campaign is necessary to enlighten and sensitize members of the public about the Act, its progress and various developments regarding the Law.
The meeting noted that Nigeria’s hope of having a democratic process that is participatory and has the people at its centre depends on systems and mechanisms which enable citizens to engage with those in authority, to ask questions with the assurance that those questions will be answered and to have the belief that they matter. It stressed that the effective working of the FOI Act can help the country to achieve this goal.
The meeting re-structured the Freedom of Information Coalition to reposition it from its original advocacy role to an implementation coordination role and elected a Board of Governors to manage the affairs of the Coalition with a Secretariat to be hosted by Media Rights Agenda until it is able to set up an independent office.
Members of the Board of Governors are: Mr. Yusuf Yakub Arrigasiyyu from the Muslim League for Accountability (MULAC) in Kaduna; Mr. Isah Garba from the Bauchi State Coalition for the Improvement of Public Expenditure Management (BACIPEM) in Bauchi; Mr Terna Yanayka of the Centre for Public Opinion and Media Research (CePOMeR) in Abuja; Mr. Bob Dum Lezina Amegua, a legal practitioner with Karibi-Whyte & Co (Coronation Chambers) in Port Harcourt; Mr. Walter Duru of the Media Initiative Against Injustice Violence and Corruption (MIIVOC) in Owerri; Mrs. Motunrayo Alaka of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) in Lagos; Ms Jennifer Onyejekwe of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos.
The oath of office was administered on the new members of the Board by Mr. Adeleke O. Agbola, a legal practitioner and notary public.
Participants thanked the UNDP DGD II Project for its continuous support to government and civil society for freedom of information implementation activities in Nigeria, including funding the meeting.
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