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National Summit on FOI Act communique

(MRA/IFEX) - The following statement was issued at the National Summit on the Freedom of Information Act on 19 June 2012:

Introduction

A two-day National Summit on the Freedom of Information Act was held at the NICON Luxury Hotel in Abuja on Monday June 18 and Tuesday, June 19, 2012. It was attended by 164 participants, from various sectors and interest groups, including the National Assembly, the Presidency, institutions and agencies of the Executive at Federal, State and Local Government levels; the Judiciary, anti-corruption agencies, regulatory and other oversight bodies; civil society, the media, the private sector, public corporations and state-owned enterprises, the general public and other interest groups.

The Summit was organized by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and sponsored by Pact Nigeria.

Summit Objectives

The stated objectives of the Summit were to:

Engage in broad-based consultations among representatives of key stakeholders in the public sector, particularly the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary; civil society, the media, the private sector and other interest groups with outcomes that should feed into a variety of ongoing processes to develop strategies and action plans for effective implementation of the FOI Act.

Create a platform for an intensive appraisal of the FOI Act, including identifying its strengths and weaknesses and thereby ensuring that participants, especially in the public sector, have a better understanding of its purpose, objectives and potentials while also agreeing on strategies for overcoming its inadequacies.

Map out wide-ranging strategies for ensuring public awareness of the Act; better knowledge of its provisions by public sector actors and ordinary citizens as well as for the overall effective implementation of the Act, including by identifying the roles which various stakeholders can play in these different processes and aspects.

(. . .)

Conclusions and Observations

The right of access to information held by governments and government bodies at all levels is a fundamental right which every Nigerian is entitled to enjoy. The Summit commends the 6th National Assembly for finally passing the Freedom of Information Bill in 2011 in recognition of this right. It also commends President Goodluck Jonathan for his bold and courageous move in signing the Bill into Law.

The Summits notes and fully endorses President Jonathan's statement of firm belief upon the signing the FOI Bill into Law that the Act would “strengthen all institutions to ensure greater transparency, probity and accountability.”

The Summit does not dispute the right of the States to pass their own Freedom of Information Laws. It however commends those State Governments that have indicated their willingness to be bound by the Federal Freedom of Information Act as well as the Ekiti State Government for speedily passing its own Freedom of Information Law.

The Summit also commends those local government councils that have indicated their readiness to be bound by the Federal Freedom of Information Act and are taking steps to implement the Law with regards to their records and information. The Summit however acknowledges the challenges which confront local governments in the implementation of the Act, particularly those arising from inadequate resources and capacity.

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