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Four years after FoI Act, transparent society not in sight



WHEN the Freedom of Information Bill was finally signed into a law in 2011, it came with a lot of expectations, as many anticipated the positive fruits the passage of the bill would bring for Nigeria as a society. There was the consensus that the passage would promote good governance and better welfare for the average citizens.

   This was why many commended President Goodluck Jonathan for taking that bold step by signing the bill into law. The commendation was also based on the fact that several attempts to make the bill translate into a law were met with brick walls from those who were to work for good governance, which the law was meant to promote.

  It is now history and the Act would be four by May 28. And it is not out of place to take stock. It would be recalled that many who were working on the need to pass the bill by President Jonathan almost lost hope considering that the bill was only signed a day to the expiration of the tenure of the last administration. 

  The bill was first introduced to the National Assembly in 1999 and was not passed into a law by the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo that terminated in 2007. This is despite the House of Representatives and Senate both passed a Freedom of Information Bill in August 2004 and November 2006 respectively with a harmonized version sent to Obasanjo for assent but he did not sign till he left office in 2007.

  This did not deter those promoting the FoI bill, they kept pushing and started the process all over again, before it landed in President Jonathan’s table again in 2011 and luckily it got signed. It should also be noted that the introduction of the bill in 1999 was a fall out of the conceived Freedom of Information Law for Nigeria by three different organizations, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO). These bodies, especially MRA, were also at the forefront of the passage of the bill and worked tirelessly until President Goodluck Jonathan passed it.  

  However, four years after the FoI Act came into being, nothing much has happened in terms of its usage as conceived. This is so because some of the state governments are not willing to adopt the law passed by the Federal Government and are slow in coming with a state version. Some of the state governors argue that the federal legislation is not applicable to the states. On the other hand, Ekiti State should be commended, as it has passed its own form of FoI Act. Ironically, Lagos State that started the process of having FoI Bill passed into law is yet to successfully do so. It has also tactically kicked against using the one passed at the federal level being used in the state.    

  Speaking on the FoI Act, Segun Adejobi, said the law brought with it a lot of hope for a better Nigeria considering it was expected that with the passage of the law, the country would be a more transparent society. 

  According to him, “This is expected to ensure a more fruitful and prosperous Nigeria. It is one of the major reasons many Nigerians and stakeholders commended Jonathan for passing the bill. Ironically, four years after the passage, parties across board, the government, journalists, citizens and the civil societies could be held responsible for the law not making the impact many expected.”

  Adejobi, however, maintained that no matter the shortcomings in the FoI Act, especially its implementation, President Jonathan should be applauded for taking the bold step of signing it into law.  

  For him, the commendation is important because as at the time the law was passed in 2011, Nigeria became the first country in West Africa, the ninth country in Africa and among the over 90 countries in the world to have passed such law.

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