A non-governmental organisation, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), has named the Federal Ministry of Information this week’s inductee into the “FOI Hall of Shame.
The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture on Monday joined the growing list of public officials and institutions accused of undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 through their actions, decisions or utterances.

MRA in a statement in Lagos that it gave the Ministry the FOI “Hall of Shame” Award for its “flagrant” violation of the several provisions of the FOI Act.

The alleged violations include: “failing to designate an appropriate official of the Ministry to receive requests for information from members of the public; failing to publish the title and contact details of such an official as required by the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation; and refusing to accept requests for information from members of the public on the excuse that it does not have an official designated for that purpose, contrary to Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act.”

The organization also accused the ministry of refusing to meet its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act by failing to provide appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information held by the ministry and the effective implementation of the Act as required by Section 13 of the Act; unjustifiably refusing to disclose information to members of the public seeking information from it under the FOI Act; and persistently failing to submit its annual report on its implementation of the Act to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29 of the Act and the Attorney-General’s FOI Implementation Guidelines.

According to MRA, over the last six years since the FOI Act came into force, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has submitted only one annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation, which was the report it submitted in 2012 for the fiscal year, 2011, but has subsequently disregarded its statutory duty to turn in its reports by February 1 of each year over the last five years.

“It is tragic that an institution such as the Federal Ministry of Information which is supposed to be the information gateway of the government of Nigeria and which claims that its mandate includes the management of ‘a dynamic public information system that facilitates access by the citizens and the global community to credible and timely information about our nation’ can be in such shameful violation of a law aimed at helping citizens to obtain information from public institutions,” said Ridwan Sulaimon, the MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Freedom of Information.

Sulaimon said that the Ministry of Information and Culture ought to be a shining example to other agencies of government in the implementation of the FOI Act by ensuring that citizens have access to information in an efficient and timely manner, its position and responsibilities.
“It should, indeed, be able to facilitate access for citizens to information held by other ministries, departments and agencies of government. Unfortunately, the only example it appears to be set is in enthroning a culture of impunity,” he added.

MRA, therefore, called on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) as well as the National Assembly, as the oversight bodies in charge of ensuring the implementation of the Act, to take steps to enforce compliance by the Ministry and other government agencies in similar situations, with the provisions of the Act.