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By Dayo Emmanuel
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today Tuesday, August 15, 2017 named the Presidency as the latest inductee into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame, accusing it of “a gross failure of leadership” and setting a bad example for other public institutions in the implementation of the FOI Act.
MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Freedom of Information, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, said in a statement in Lagos that: “since the signing of the FOI Act into Law in 2011, elected and appointed officials in the Presidency have consistently acted as if the Act does not apply to them or worse still, as if they are above the Law as the Presidency has made no effort whatsoever to comply with its duties and obligations under the Act, as required of all public institutions.”
The organization stressed that it is patently clear from the provisions of the FOI Act that it covers and applies to the Presidency, particularly in the light of Section 29(9)(a), which defines government bodies to which the Act is applicable to include “any executive department, military department, government corporation, government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the government (including the Executive Office of the President), or any other arm of government, independent or regulatory government agency or public institution.”
MRA said despite the express provisions of the Law, over the last six years since the FOI Act came into force, the Presidency has not issued or submitted to the Attorney-General of the Federation, as required by Section 29(1) of the Act any annual report on the implementation of the Act and has not published such a report, as stipulated by the Law.
Besides, it added, the Presidency has also not complied with its proactive publication obligations under Section 2(3) and (4) of the Act as it has not published, either on the State House website or anywhere else, the categories of information which the Law requires it to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
MRA said it was not aware of a single request for information that the Presidency has granted over the last six years, insisting that on the contrary, it knows of several applications for information that the Presidency has either refused or completely ignored, contrary to the provisions of section 4(b) of the Act, which makes it mandatory for a public institution to give a written notice to the applicant if it intends to deny access to all or part of the information requested with reasons for the denial.
It also accused the Presidency of failing to designate an appropriate officer in the Presidency to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent and publishing the title and address of the officer, as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the Act.
Mr. Sulaimon said: “given the peculiar nature of the Presidency with the heavy security arrangements at the seat of power, it is imperative that this provision of the FOI Act is complied with to facilitate the effectiveness of the entire Act. It is particularly important that an appropriate officer is designated to receive information requests from the public, that the address of such an officer is accessible to members of the public so that the right of citizens to request information is not impeded by the security arrangements and protocols within the seat of power, and that the address is published and widely disseminated so that people seeking information from the Presidency know where to go to make their requests.”
MRA also noted that there is no indication that the Presidency has provided appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act at any time in the last six years, as it is required to do under Section 13 of the FOI Act.
Mr. Sulaimon said: “This clear disregard by the Presidency for the provisions of the FOI Act in all respects amounts to impunity at the highest level of government. It is a gross failure of leadership that the institution of government, which should set an example for all other public institutions, has put itself in such an untenable position that it no longer has the moral authority to insist on compliance by other institutions of government.
According to him, “the Presidency is contradicting itself when it claims to be pursuing a policy of transparency and accountability while neglecting to comply with the Law of the Land that seeks to engender transparency and accountability in governance.”
Mr. Sulaimon stressed that “the government’s war against corruption has a better chance of success in an environment of openness, where the activities of public institutions and government officials are subject to public scrutiny and the government itself enjoys credibility arising from appearing to mean what it says and practicing what it preaches.”
Media Rights Agenda launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, decisions or utterances.