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Freedom of information law is a victory for democracy

Nigerian editors met with MRA at a forum in 2010 to discuss the status of the freedom of information law
Nigerian editors met with MRA at a forum in 2010 to discuss the status of the freedom of information law

MRA

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has approved a freedom of information law, giving Nigerians the power and resources to unearth facts, battle corruption and hold officials and institutions accountable. Nigerian civil society groups, including IFEX member Media Rights Agenda (MRA), have fought for years to institutionalise transparency and accountability.

President Jonathan signed the bill into law the day before he was sworn in to begin his first full elected term on 29 May.

MRA has been advocating for the passage of the law for 12 years. "The signing of the freedom of information bill into law is the clearest demonstration ever of the power of civil society working together to influence public policy and initiate reform," said Edetaen Ojo, executive director of MRA. "We are committed to continuing our concerted efforts to ensure that the new law achieves its ultimate objective of making government work for the people."

Under the new law, institutions spending public funds will have to reveal the facts about their operations and expenditure and citizens will have the right to access information about their activities. Whistleblowers who report on wrongdoing by their employers or organisations will be protected from reprisals.

The law also makes provisions aimed at meeting the information needs of illiterate and disabled applicants. Plus, the law gives government bodies a week to produce requested information and makes it a criminal offense to destroy records.

"The new law will profoundly change how government works in Nigeria. Now we can use the oxygen of information and knowledge to breathe life into governance. It will no longer be business as usual," said Maxwell Kadiri, associate legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The bill was first introduced in 1999. In 2007, the bill was approved by the National Assembly, but former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to assent to it before his term expired, ARTICLE 19 had reported.

Earlier in the year, when the draft law was approved, ARTICLE 19 commented, "After more than a decade of advocacy and struggle, Nigerian civil society organisations can now derive a sense of comfort and achievement from this important milestone." Nigeria is the second country in West Africa, along with Liberia, to have a right to information law.

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