MRA accuses FG of backing public institutions to flout FoI Act
The Media Rights Agenda (MRA) yesterday accused the Federal Government of condoning unbridled impunity by hundreds of public institutions that have refused to implement the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) Act, 2011 or comply with their obligations under the law.
It said the situation makes a mockery of the administration’s claim that it is committed to transparency and accountability.MRA’s Programme Manager, Ridwan Sulaimon, who disclosed this in a publication to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the signing of the FoI Bill into law by then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, said “the scale of non-compliance with the provisions of the FoI Act by public institutions under the authority and direct control of the Federal Government is mind-boggling.”
According to him, the failure of the government to sanction such institutions or their chief executives can only be interpreted as evidence of its lack of interest in seeing the law enforced.
He said: “It is inconceivable that if the Federal Government takes the implementation of the FoI Act seriously and accordingly instructs all public institutions to comply with and fully implement the provisions of the Act, no public institution would dare to disobey such a directive. If public institutions are ignoring their duties and obligations under the Act and are refusing to implement its provisions, it can only be because they are confident that there will be no negative consequences for them.”
Besides, the MRA criticised the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) for not doing enough to discharge his oversight responsibility under Section 29(6) of the FoI Act to ensure that all public institutions to which the Act applies comply with its provisions.
Sulaimon said: “It is ironic that although the FoI Act imposes a duty on the Attorney-General of the Federation to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act, in dozens of cases where citizens and organisations have sued public institutions before various courts across the country, it is the office of the same Attorney-General of the Federation that comes to court to defend those public institutions for their unjustifiable violation of the clear provisions of the law, sometimes proffering ridiculous arguments in their defence.”
He cited cases such as MRA’s suit against the Nigerian Police; another by Enough is Enough against the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and the case of F.O.C. Uzoegwu Esq. against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), saying that it would better suit the responsibility of the Attorney-General of the Federation under the FoI Act for him to offer free legal services to members of the public who might want to enforce their right to information or other provisions of the Act against public institution as that is consistent with his statutory role under the Act.
The MRA, therefore, urged the AGF to explore the possibility of imposing administrative sanctions against public institutions that are not complying with their duties and obligations under the FoI Act, such as withholding legal assistance or representation by the Federal Ministry of Justice to such public institutions that are not submitting annual reports or are in breach of the provisions of the Act in any other way.
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