|BEYOND THE PASSAGE OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2011|
The Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by the President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on the 27th day of May 2011, thus ending a long- drawn out and intense agitation for its enactment by successive governments in the country.
Amongst other things, the Act provides for access to information of public institutions notwithstanding that an individual has a specific interest in requesting for such information. It further mandated public institutions under Section 2(1) to ensure wide dissemination of all information regarding or pertaining to such institutions as aptly described under the Act.
While it is not yet “uhuru” as the legislative antecedents of Nigeria have shown that laws are sometimes relegated to the doldrums as they are respected in breach rather than in obedience to their salient provisions; a decisive step would be popular citizen action as the growth of any democratic project is dependent on a citizenry whose access to information allows them to contribute meaningfully to public life by holding their public officials accountable.
It is, thus, of necessity for all and sundry to have a working knowledge of the salient provisions of this Act in order that they are conversant of its relevance to them.
NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FOI ACT.
WHAT IS THE FOI ACT?
The FOI Act is a law guaranteeing the right of access to public records and information by the citizens. The law basically recognizes the process by which requests may be made for government- held information by Nigerians.
WHO CAN MAKE A REQUEST FOR ACCESS TO PUBLIC RECORDS UNDER THE FOI ACT?
Section 1(1) of the Act recognizes the right of any person to make a request under the Act. The Act does not limit or specify the classes of persons who could make such request. Person is defined under the Act to include individuals and companies whether corporate or incorporate whether acting alone or as a group. An applicant need not indicate any particular interest or need for such information before his request can be granted.
WHAT CLASSES OF INFORMATION HELD BY PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS CAN A CITIZEN ACCESS UNDER THE FOI ACT?
Section 2(3) of the Act mandates public institutions to ensure the publication and dissemination of the information listed below through print, electronic and online sources. These include:
WHAT PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS CAN AN INDIVIDUAL DIRECT A REQUEST TO ACCESS ITS INFORMATION?
By virtue of Section 2(7) of the Act, an applicant makes a request to the bodies listed below:
DOES A CITIZEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO ACCESS ALL CLASSES OF INFORMATION FROM A PUBLIC INSTITUTION?
No. The Act exempts certain classes of information from the public domain. These are:
WHAT PROVISIONS DOES THE ACT MAKE FOR THE ILLITERATE AND THE DISABLED IN THE SOCIETY?
The Act, under Section 3(3) recognizes the right of the illiterate and disabled persons in the society to make an application to request for information from a public institution through a third party.
WHAT REMEDY IS AVAILABLE TO AN APPLICANT IN THE CASE OF A REFUSAL?
The Act recognizes the right of an individual whose request for access to information is refused to approach the court to challenge same within 30 days of such denial. He or She can apply to court for a judicial review of the decision to deny the access, and an Order may thereon be made by the Court or authorizing the public institution to grant access to the information otherwise as the case may be.
It is hoped that Nigerians would take advantage of the window of opportunity created by this Law to challenge the status quo and make the government, government departments and parastatals more answerable to the electorate who have elected them.