AGF says FoI Act, necessary tool to stem corruption
The current leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari in complete deviation from the immediate past government has exhibited enough political will to combat corruption using the instrumentality of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act and other relevant instruments to achieve desirable results in the anti-graft battle.
Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, stated this when the Board of Governors, Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria (FOICN), paid him a courtesy visit in his office last Tuesday in Abuja.
Malami, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Comrade Salihu Othman Isah observed that the FoI Act is one piece of legislative instrument that is very strategic in the fight against corruption.
He also disclosed that the Ministry as the vanguard in the battle against corruption and corrupt tendencies welcome further collaborations and synergies with such civil society groups like the Coalition to further latch on the advantage provided by the act to stem corruption in the system.
According to the Special Adviser, to ensure that government wins the anti-corruption war, besides the Whistle-blowers Bill and the Asset Forfeiture Bill also known as FATF Bill which the Minister is spearheading, he has in the last couple of weeks been working with a team of experts to transmit four critical anti-graft related bills to President Buhari for further transmission to the National Assembly.
He listed the relevant bills to include the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Centre (NFIC) Bill that will domesticate the full remit of the FAFT Recommendation 29, the Proceeds of Crime (POCA) Bill, and the Money Laundering (Prohibition and Prevention) Bill as well as the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill.
“So far, two of these bills, the Money Laundering (Prohibition and Prevention) as well as the Mutual Legal Assistance Bills have been read on the floor of the House of Representatives on January 27th, 2016.
“It is the belief and hope of the Federal Government that these bills will not only support the policies of this administration in combating corruption and stolen asset return, they would also respond to the requirements of FAFT and international conventions.”
The Minister reassured that the Freedom of Information Act will not be swept under the carpet and that there will be no hiding place for any corrupt officials in any public institution in the country.
“I am sure you are aware of the efforts being made by the present Federal Government in the anti-graft battle and that the Federal Ministry of Justice is in the vanguard of this important battle. This is a battle my principal is very passionate about and committed to.
Let me reassure you too that this government would welcome any idea or move that encourage Nigerians to blow the whilst on any public official misappropriating our commonwealth, because it is the only way we can secure our future for our children and those yet unborn.
“It is also our candid belief that government cannot do it alone with the tacit support of civil society groups like your Coalition, so we are fully ready for any form of collaboration and synergy that would engender full implementation of the FoI Act because it is the desire of Mr. President and my principal that it works its full course”, Comrade Isah told the FOICN delegation.
He therefore pledged government support to the group to ensure success in the war against corruption and corrupt officials, hinting the group that the fight against corruption is symbiotic, and for which all hands must be on deck to be triumphant.
Speaking earlier, Chairman, Board of Governors, Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria (FOICN), Dr. Walter Duru informed the Minister that the FOI Act aims to make public records and information, in accordance with the public interest and protection of personal privacy which will enable the citizens to hold government accountable in the event of the misappropriation of public funds or failure to deliver public services.
According to him, it also seeks to protect serving public officers against any adverse consequences from certain kinds of official information, advocating the re-submission of such bills such as the Terrorism Prevention, Witness Protection, Whistle-blowers Protection and other relevant bills to the legislature for consideration.
The chairman emphasized that transparency is a great disincentive against corruption; adding that the FoI Act is a great instrument for the fight against corruption in Nigeria; equally stressing that a strengthened FoI regime will enhance citizens’ demand for accountability and prevent/check corruption in Nigeria.
He stressed the fact that in any economy, Act is a fundamental indicator of economic development and progress, civic engagement and a properly functional democracy. The Act is a promising start in ensuring good governance and rule of law in Nigeria.
Walter, also made mentioned that, “the FOI Coalition is aware of the steps taken so far by the Ministry in ensuring compliance by the MDAs, worthy of mention is the Federal Ministry of Justices’ Guideline on the implementation of the Act, a document adjudged critical in the building of the capacity of stakeholders.
He went further to say that, “ the core issues of FOI is in realizing the importance of the FOI Act, 2011 towards sustaining democracy, good governance, national development and the need for relevant stakeholders to work together towards realizing the objectives of the FOI Act, 2011.
Subsequently, Duru said that the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as the whistle blower should take step further by taking up the issue of compliance with FOI Act at the level of the Federal Executive Council, with a view to enforcing it.
He further stated that every MDA should establish an FOI desk/unit headed by a top senior management staff of the organization. That a special FOI implementation Network/ Committee, made of the FMOJ, FOICN/ Civil society, NBA, NUJ, FMI, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and any other relevant bodies be instituted by the FMOJ to review the issues of FOI implement and advice on an ongoing basis.
Moreso, the Chairman said they received with great delight the news of the Honourable Attorney-General re-submission of some critical anti-corruption bills to the 8th National Assembly and which the HAGF reiterated in his key note address during the Conference on cyber-crime, financial crimes and Cross- border crimes recently.
He charged Malami, that the proceeds of crime Bill, which seeks to set up a recovered Assets Management Agency for Nigeria is also important bill and that it is no news that the assets recovered from corrupt politicians in Nigeria cannot be accounted for they are rather simply re-looted, thereby making a mess of the anti-corruption war.