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Monday, December 11, 2023

Transparency: Over 180 MDAs Shun FOI Requests – By Sanusi Muhammad



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Despite the concerted efforts of the Tinubu led federal government to cut the wings of corrupt practices in Nigeria, over 180 federal ministries, departments and agencies have vehemently refused to respond to several requests made through the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for fear of exposure or request for bribe to facilitate response.

A released report on FOI ranking shows the 2023 FOI Transparency ranking was conducted by the Public and Private Development Centre in collaboration with Accountability Lab Nigeria, BudgIT Foundation; International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR); Basic Rights Watch, Right to Know and Media Rights Agenda that was penultimate Tuesday unveiled in Abuja.

The FOIA, signed in 2011 by former president Jonathan, gives Nigerians the right to access information on government activities in the custody of any public institution or where public funding was utilized.

Section 1, subsection (1) of the FOIA states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.”

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In several subsections, the Act highlights the process by which information should be requested, noting that public institutions must ensure that the information requested is provided.

There are however, exemptions for security agencies and provisions for delays in responses.

In the report in view, an analysis of 238 public institutions ranked by their responsiveness, disclosure and proactive disclosure level revealed that the National Population Commission (NPC), Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigerian Correctional Services, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and 136 other agencies did not attempt a response to FOI requests that include even tertiary institutions that suspiciously have skeletons to hide, working in collaboration with those to be exposed or have received bribes not to respond to requests on those under private investigation.

Although, there is provision within the FOIA to seek court intervention where there is no response to a request with seven (7) days from receipt of the request, most of those in need of the requested information prefer to tolerate and accommodate the delay tactics applied by those responsible for the requested response while carefully studying the modus operandi of the ministry, department, agency or tertiary institution concerned.

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In most cases, those responsible for the facilitation of responses to requests apply delay tactics ostensibly in expectation of bribes from the requesting body before doing the official assignment.

As the President Tinubu led federal government is determined to give corrupt practices a deadly blow, there is need for the government through legislation to introduce certain punitive measures against those trying to sniff out life from the FOIA as journalists and civil society organizations find it tough in most cases to receive responses of their requests within the stipulated timeframe from MDAs and other federal institutions which breeds more corrupt practices and murders facts.

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