The FOI Act (FOIA) has been a  tool in getting information for my work. However, there are certain things I recently found out about the Act and its implementation which I think you should know too. First, of, you can get a copy of the Act here

  1. It can be traced back to 1993 during the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha. Edetaen Ojo of Media Rights Agenda, Civil Liberties Organisations and the Nigerian Union of Journalists were instrumental in the drafting of the first draft.
  2. It went through several reviews before being passed to President Obasanjo in as an executive bill. Obasanjo declined! It was then submitted to the National Assembly in 1993 and was not voted on in the four years of the 1st assembly.
  3. The Bill was resubmitted to the 3rd assembly in 1999. The Senate version was entirely different from the House of Representatives version. Well, history has shown that the house of reps usually comes out with better versions of laws, but do not ask me how I know this o!)
  4. A committee sat and harmonized both versions, and this harmonized version was passed by the House on May 26, 2011, sent to former President Goodluck Jonathan on May 27, 2011 and he assented to the bill on May 28, 2011
  5. The FOIA is a law of the Federal Republic. Therefore it has a statute of general application, and it binds EVERYBODY, ; whether on the demand (requestee) or supply side (requester).
  6. The FOIAct SUPERSEDES all other previous laws that seek to “keep information from the public” such as the Official Secrets Act, the Evidence Act, the Public Complaints Commission Act, the Statistics Act, the Criminal code, etc.
  7. National laws CANNOT be DOMESTICATED (Adamawa state, take note!), they can only be adopted
  8. States have two options as far as the law is concerned
  •         Adopt the FOI law in the state
  •       Pass state FOI law. In this case, if that of the state holds a different opinion from the Federal FOIA, the Federal FOIA supersedes! (no question or argument about this okay)
  1. The Act is broad  in application and covers over 500 institutions including all public institutions at Federal, State and Local Government levels, private institutions working with government funds (so, if Julius Berger has been contracted by the Federal Government to construct a road, information regarding the construction of the road can be requested from Juius Berger!),  
  2. All public institutions are supposed to submit an FOI compliance report to the Office of the Attorney General every February (OAGF) 1st (including the OAGF!) which the OAGF then submits to the National Assembly every year. For a summary of the FOI compliance results summary, visit the Federal Ministry of Justice FOI website. However, we have been told to expect a new improved FOI site soon!
  3. Currently, out of over 500 institutions, only about 20 submit FOI compliance reports to the OAGF (just imagine!)
  4. All public institutions (Ministry, Department, Agencies) are MANDATED to disclose certain information proactively and are liable to be sued on the grounds of denial if they do not publish this information (who knew!) Even the OAGF has been sued on several occasions for this (na wa ooo…even the enforcer is a culprit..okay!)
  5.   The OAGF is supposed to devise mechanisms to encourage compliance from public institutions which he is supposed to show proof of in his yearly submission to the National Assembly

My Recommendations:

  • the official secrets Act should be repealed
  • the OAGF should do more to ensure compliance by public institutions; more public naming and shaming, publish compliance records for everyone to see!
  • The Act should be amended to include punitive measures for institutions that fail to disclose proactively!
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