Six Years Of The Freedom Of Information Act In Nigeria

By Ikenga Chronicles June 5, 2017

Six Years Of The Freedom Of Information Act In Nigeria

“What makes civilised societies civil is the Freedom of Information Act.”Dr Ayobamidele Taiwo

On 28th May, 2017, the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, was six years old in Nigeria! It was the immediate past Nigerian President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, who signed it into law on 28th May, 2011.

Six years of the FOIA, many Nigerians still don’t know it exists. However, some of those who know it exists think it’s media law and therefore it doesn’t affect them. Only a small segment of the Nigerian society knows what this law is all about and is ready to use it.

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Given the importance of this unique legislation, it’s extremely necessary to highlight its salient features for everyone to appreciate and realise why it shouldn’t be allowed to lie dormant.

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What You Should Know About FOIA –

  1. It’s meant for everybody whether Nigerians or foreign nationals, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, able or disable, skilled or unskilled, journalists or citizens, and young or old.
  2. The wordings of the FOIA are simple and easy for everyone to read and understand without having any legal training.
  3. It’s a small piece of legislation, containing just 32 sections and 58 subsections.
  4. It gives everybody right to ask government agencies, officials and private bodies performing public functions for public documents and records without any need to state reason for asking for them. Anyone can ask for any official information for whatever motive.
  5. Apart from the Federal Government of Nigeria, only a state has re-enacted the law at the state level and the state is Ekiti. Other states are yet to pass it and many of them, if not all, don’t recognise the application of FOIA in their states.
  6. Whenever an application is made for the release of official information, such public institution has to respond within 7 days or at most 14 days.
  7. If a public institution can’t disclose public information being requested for, such public body must give reason for refusing to disclose the information which must be justifiable under the provisions of the FOIA.
  8. The FOIA overrides the Official Secret Act, OSA, and other similar anti-disclosure legislation in Nigeria.
  9. It provides protection for any public official who discloses official information upon request without authorisation.
  10. The primary purpose of the FOIA is to promote transparency and accountability in public administration. Corruption and other acts of abuse of public office thrive in an atmosphere of secrecy.
  11. It’s an offence for any public official to refuse disclosure of official information upon request without any justifiable reason in accordance with the FOIA provisions.
  12. About ten sections of the FOIA forbid the disclosure of certain pieces of information, unless it serves public interest more in disclosing such information than any injury that may occur as a result of disclosure. Such forbidden information may have to do with national security or personal privacy.
  13. All public institutions in Nigeria, especially those of the Federal Government, have a duty to publish certain information about their organisations without being asked.
  14. It’s also an offence for any public official to doctor or destroy public documents before disclosure.
  15. Only the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, as a public institution in Nigeria, has Freedom of Information Portal on its website as at now and members of the public can make use of it to submit their application for information and receive response within a reasonable time.
  16. If a person applies for public information and his application is refused, he may challenge the refusal in a court within 30 days.
  17. An applicant bears the responsibility to pay for the cost of photocopying or duplicating any document requested for.
  18. Every public institution in Nigeria, especially the federal ones, has a responsibility to keep, organise, and arrange its documents and records in a manner that will facilitate easy access to them.
  19. Every public institution must submit annual report of its compliance with the provisions of the FOIA to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation on or before February 1st each year.
  20. Public institutions must publish their annual reports for members of the public by whatever means.

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  • Kehinde ADEGBITE Esq is a Legal Practitioner and he may be contacted on +2348038556525.