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MRA calls on stakeholders to ensure effective implementation of FOI Act

(MRA/IFEX) - Lagos, May 28, 2012 - Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today called on all stakeholders to work together to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 is effectively implemented as the freedom of expression organization issued a report to mark the first anniversary of the signing of the Act into Law.

In the report titled “One Year of Implementation of the FOI Act 2011: Many Rivers to Cross”, the organization highlighted key observations from its monitoring of the implementation of the Act over the last one year and made recommendations for improved levels of compliance with the provisions of the Act.

Specifically, it called on the Presidency to prevail on the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Implementation of the Act to complete its assignment and release its roadmap on the way forward for the speedy, effective and efficient implementation of the Act.

The organization also urged the Attorney General of the Federation to exert pressure on all public institutions to comply with the provisions of the Act, especially the aspect on the filing of their annual FOI reports.

Other recommendations contained in the report include a call on public institutions to, as a matter of urgency, designate appropriate information officers to receive and process requests for information by the public as required by the Act and proactively publish information about their activities and operations in accordance with the Law.

It also challenged civil society organizations and the media to play their watchdog roles of ensuring that the law works and that transparency, accountability and ultimately, good governance are entrenched in Nigeria.

MRA explained in the report that as May 28, 2012 approached, it decided to collate and analyse information on the level of implementation of the Act, which President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law on May 28, 2011, to determine how well the law was being implemented. It also looked at how well public institutions were complying with their obligations under the Act and what other stakeholders were doing to ensure the law is effectively implemented.

The organization concluded that as things stand, there is still a long way to go to achieve the goal of effective implementation of the Act.

MRA said it found, among other things, that after one year of becoming law most public institution are yet to designate their information officers or proactively publish and disseminate information about their activities and operations as provided for in the law.

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of MRA, said: “Clearly, not enough is being done to ensure that the FOI Act achieves its potential. The level of ignorance among public institutions about the provisions of the Act is simply shocking. Governments at all levels must take urgent steps to redress this unwholesome situation.”

According to him, “For Nigerians to enjoy good governance, there is an urgent need for the effective implementation of the FOI Act, which will bring about transparency and accountability in governance and strengthen participatory democracy.”

Media Rights Agenda therefore proposed a number of recommendations for the various stakeholders, including the following:

Federal, State and Local Governments should provide public institutions under them with adequate resources to effectively implement the Act, including for the training of relevant personnel, acquisition of necessary record storage and information management systems as well as other structures and facilities which will enhance the processing of requests for information from the public.

The National Assembly should carry out its oversight functions in the implementation of the Act by demanding full compliance with the requirements for the submission by February 1 of annual reports by all public institutions to the Attorney-General of the Federation, who should also have submitted a consolidated report to the relevant committees of the National Assembly by April 1.

The National Assembly should then proceed to review the reports submitted by public institutions as well as by the Attorney-General of the Federation to determine what additional measures it might need to take to ensure the effective implementation of the Act, including possibly amending or repealing any law, rule or regulation that is inconsistent with the provisions of the FOI Act and inhibiting its implementation.

All public institutions to which the Act applies should immediately designate appropriate information officers, widely disseminate the information about these appointments and provide them with the relevant training, tools and resources to carry out their functions under the Act.

The media community should take advantage of the Act, which they worked so hard to bring about, by making use of it to obtain information for both in-depth investigative reports as well as for verification of facts in routine reports.

Civil society organizations should continue to play and intensify their watchdog roles of monitoring the implementation of the Act and ensuring that the law works and that transparency, accountability and ultimately, good governance are entrenched in Nigeria.

Civil society organizations should also mainstream FOI issues in their work and promote the law as much as possible to their beneficiaries, constituencies, and partners to improve public awareness of the law and knowledge of its provisions and how to use it.

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