Ndoma-Egba, Dabiri, Ayogu deplore journalists’ inadequate use of FOI Act
Leaders of the Seventh Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba and Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri, have berated Nigerian journalists for not holding the government to account with the use of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The duo, who spoke in Abuja at the FOI Awards, organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA), urged journalists and citizens to seek judicial assistance if they are denied access to the government’s records.
According to Ndoma-Egba, many Nigerian journalists have not sufficiently leveraged the act because they are not aware that the law exists.
His words: “I don’t think Nigerian journalists have sufficiently deployed the FOI Act the way it ought to have been used. I am not sure they are that much aware of the existence of the Act.
“The first thing we should do is, to sensitise the journalism profession and the public at large on the availability of the Act and what it can be used for.
“There are provisions under the Act on what can be done like going to court if need be to get the judiciary to intervene for the information to be made available to you on specific demand.
“We need to get some institutional support, not just the journalist to be aware of it but also get the judiciary to know how to respond to the FOI Act because it is meant to open up governance and to make the process of governance more transparent.”
On secrecy in the Act, the Senator explained: “Secrecy is inconsistent with the concept of democracy. That is why there are exceptions to where and when you can get information that relates to national security and national defence. So, I believe that if journalists on their own show a personal professional responsibility on how to deal with seeking security information, the issue of secrecy will be anathema.”
Also speaking, Dabiri, who noted that the FOI law was not meant for journalistS alone, said, “if all Nigerians are afraid of approaching the government for information, nothing is going to change”
According to her: “The challenge is how well are we using it. Unfortunately, there is no investigative journalism anymore. It is gone down the drain.
“You can’t afford to be afraid. When we had the bill to enhance the press council, the media fought me and what the bill was saying is, there’s need to protect journalists, every journalist must be insured, journalists salaries must be paid, you must give assurance that you won’t owe journalists salaries.
“If a journalist is not insured, is not being paid, how can they hold government accountable for not paying salaries?
“We still need a bill in place to ensure that journalist are protected, every media organisation must work to ensure that it happens.”
Also, Senator Ayogu Eze, who noted that the greater Nigerians were not using the FOI Act, however, admitted that some government agencies try to ignore request concerning access to information.
Eze stressed the need for more Nigerians take ownership of the act, maintaining that democracy thrives on the vigilance of the people. “When you hold people to account, they do the right thing. But people don’t persist because they are supposed to go to court when they are denied access,” he said.