In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) in Nigeria, the International Press Centre (IPC) in partnership with Media Rights Agenda (MRA) hosted an award ceremony Friday in Abuja.
Supported by the European Union, organisers said the awards recognise and reward individuals, organisations and public institutions that have made significant contributions toward the advancement of the right to information in Nigeria as well as in ensuring the effective implementation of the FOI act 2011.
The individual category of the award honours an individual who has made the highest number of requests for information under the FOI Act to public or private entities between May 2015 and October 2015. The organisational category recognised an organisation, company, association or institutions or other types of corporate entity that has made the highest number of requests under the FOI act.
In his welcome address, the Executive Director of the IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said despite the challenges of implementation, “we are convinced that it is a milestone worth celebrating.”
He said the occasion is an opportunity to take stock and strategise on improving the implementation and usage of this important law in the years ahead.
Mr Arogundade commended the “enormous sacrifice” of all those who played active roles in the 12-year struggle. He said he hopes that “this gesture will encourage state institutions to do better in proactively disclosing information, and heeding FOI requests.
“We also expect this to spur the citizens, especially journalists and civil society activists to utilize the FOI Act more.”
The event was chaired by Stella Anukam, a judge of the African Court on human and peoples rights in Tanzania. In her remarks, Ms Anukam said the mandate of her organisation is to strengthen the human rights protection system in Africa and ensure respect for and compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as other international human rights instruments.
She said it is indisputable that the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to information, will be better enhanced when people are aware of their rights and can exercise them.
“Events such as this are therefore doubly important for me because they serve to acknowledge and honour the efforts of those who are making or have contributed to making the right to information meaningful,” Ms Anukam said, adding that “we should therefore see today as a milestone in the journey to create an enlightened and informed society and think of the steps that we still need to take to get to our desired destination.”
In his goodwill message, Clement Boutllier, the head of Democracy, Governance and Migration section, Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS, said there is no democracy without a free press.
He said the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize award that was given to two journalists underscores the work of journalists, especially those who risk their lives to inform citizens with accurate reporting.
He said “factual and accurate” reporting should never put anyone in danger in holding the government and all institutions to be accountable for their actions and obligations.
Mr Boutillier said the EU assessment has shown that the Nigerian press remains one of the most vibrant on the continent, adding that “the adoption of the Freedom of Information Act has generated many hopes and we continue to encourage its effective implementation.”
Recipients of the FOI special honours award were former President Goodluck Jonathan and Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi.
Mr Jonathan was conferred with special recognition for his “bold and patriotic” act in signing into law the Freedom of Information Bill on May 28, 2011. Organisers of the event appreciated his “substantial and lasting contribution” towards the advancement of the right to information in Nigeria.
Accepting the award, Mr Jonathan, represented by Ann Iyonu, said his administration enacted the FOI act in 2011 to expand media freedom and give people reasonable access to information on the activities of government for the good of society.
“I believe for a society to grow and develop in a sustainable manner, the people should be granted access to official information. We are now in an official age which means that society would not function well if the people do not have adequate information on the way government business is conducted,” he said.
On the other hand, Mr Fayemi was honoured for his significant contribution towards the advancement of the right to information in Ekiti State and Nigeria, being the first governor in Nigeria to adopt a Freedom of Information Law for a State.
Meanwhile, the individual category of the award was conferred on Atiku Sarki and Ibrahim Garba Maryam as first and second positions respectively. They were said to have made the highest number of requests for information under the FOI Act between May 29, 2015, and October 31, 2021.
Likewise, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) received the award for the organisational category having made the highest number of requests for information under the FOI Act.
The FOI Award for special recognition and stakeholders category were conferred on different individuals and organisations in “recognition of their contribution towards the advancement of the right to information in Nigeria.”
Recipients of the special recognition award are Dimeji Bankole, Maxwell Kadiri, Chidi Odinkalu, Jibrin Ibrahim and Osaro Odemwinge.
Others are Victor Ndoma-Egba, Ayogu Eze, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Sam Amadi, Angela Agoawike, Tunde Fagbohunlu and Abdul Oroh.
For the stakeholders’ category, the award was conferred on Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), British High Commission, United States Agency For International Development (USAID), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and European Union (EU).
The FOI journey in Nigeria
The first draft of the FOI bill was produced by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in 1993. With the consolidation of democracy in 1999, a private member’s bill for the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act was presented to the National Assembly.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly in 2007, but former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign it into law. When submitted to his office, Mr Obsanjo simply returned “the FOI Act” back to the sender.
The bill was greeted by a lot of misconceptions, paving the way for a wider Freedom of Information Coalition. The group embarked on nationwide mobilisation, campaigns and sensitisation in support of the bill on the premise that an FOI law would strengthen democracy and enhance good governance.
The Nigerian media played a dominant role in the campaigns. Many media outlets serialised the content of the bill to further enlist public support.
Despite the widespread support, the advocacy for the access to information law lasted twelve years before the bill was passed by the National Assembly.
On May 28, 2011, President Jonathan signed the bill into law and it became an act of parliament. Nigeria thus became the second country in West Africa after Liberia (2010) to have an FOI law.
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