Nigeria’s top civil servant calls for review of FOI Act

Head of service of the federation
Head of service of the federation

Bukar Aji called for an amendment to the seven days prescribed by the Act.

The Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Bukar Aji, on Tuesday recommended the review of the Freedom of Information ACT (FOI), 2011.

Mr. Aji made the call at National Conference on the Freedom of Information ACT (FOI), 2011 organised by the Right to Know Initiative (R2K), an NGO, in Abuja.

He recommended that the seven days time limit for disclosure of information to the requesting institutions be reviewed upwards to 14 days.

According to him, the nation’s civil service system is not yet fully digitalised to cope with the seven days time limit.

“It may, therefore, be necessary to review the time limit. I recommend its review from seven days to 14 days within which information under the Act may be disclosed.

“In organisations, keeping of records in the MDAs, most of which is the analogue system of record keeping, retrieval of information within the specified time limit has been practically difficult,” he said.

He stressed the need for proper record keeping, easy accessibility of formats and eventual digitalisation of public records to ensure the publication of information on Website of various MDAs.

Mr. Aji also advocated review of the Official Secret Act (OSA) to conform to 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 that efforts were being made by his office and that of the Attorney-General of the Federation to encourage public bodies to go beyond Servicom and establish FOI units and Help Lines for public use.

He said that the lack of effective sensitisation, organisation of training and capacity building programme in the MDAs 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 FOI in MDAs and the Zones,” he said.

M. Aji expressed optimism that the conference would provide a window of opportunities to harness the experience and initiatives of the MDAs in relations to their level of compliance.

Earlier, The Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, said that the realisation of the Act required time, planning, skill and determination and called for collective efforts from all Nigerians.

Mr. Odinkalu said that the only way to accomplish its effective implementation would be by re-organising information management, maintaining effective and regulatory update Website.

According to him, awareness about provision of the Act remains low in the public service and resistance to its full implementation is high.

He suggested that work on its implementation should continue at all levels, especially, legislative, judiciary, executive and public administration as well as in the private sector.

(NAN)


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