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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT(FOIA) IN NIGERIA: A BILL IN FUTILITY WITH BUHARI AND LAI MUHAMMED IN CHARGE

As Nigeria recently marked her 17years of uninterrupted civilian rule, it is quite clear that she is yet to master the basics of people-centred governance.
In a true democracy, the public is expected to have access to information on how they are governed and plans for the future. Such access to information is basic to the Democratic approach to life, and the tendency to withhold information from the general public is an indication of unconstitutional, fraudulent or corrupt practices by government officials.

The denial of access to information and the attendant widespread ignorance in the society actually does more harm than good. Many Nigerian government officials say the ‘Official Secrets Act’ which makes it an offence for civil servants to give out government information, prevents them from complying with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act(FOIA).
However, the level of secrecy in Nigerian government is so ridiculous that every government file has the words “Top Secret” printed on its cover, even if all it contains are newspaper cuttings which are already made available in the public domain.

Read also:MEDIA BLOCKADE: BUHARI'S WEAPON AGAINST BIAFRANS AND HIS REASONS

When Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the FOIA into law on May 26th, 2011, it was assumed that Nigeria was finally on the path to open accountable governance. The Act is supposed to make public records and information more freely available, provide public access to public records and information, and protect public records and information to the extent consistent with public interest. It also contains provisions for protecting public officers from adverse consequences of providing or disclosing certain kinds of information without authorization.

The emergence of such freedom of information legislation worldwide was a response to increasing dissatisfaction with the all-encompassing secrecy surrounding government activities and decision making. Freedom of information legislation is supposed to establish a “right to know” process by which requests may be made for government held information to be received freely or at minimal costs.
Despite the FOIA being five years old in Nigeria, the fact remains that the only commodity that is scarcer than petrol in Nigeria is the truth.

Read also:MORE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: DICTATOR BUHARI BANS NIGERIAN NEWSPAPERS AND TV NOT TO REPORT BIAFRAN NEWS

It is incredible how we constantly receive contrasting and contradictory information from the present government official sources. It betrays either an unacceptable level of incompetence, or worse still, an international misinformation and deceit for propaganda purposes. We find ourselves into perilous times for truth and information in Nigeria. The Federal government says one thing in China and another in Nigeria.

Amnesty International have substantiated quite shocking revelations on the Army-Shiite clashes, including that of the Pro-Biafra killings which contradict the official version given by the Nigerian army. You can always rely on the Nigerian army as been always spreading falsehood and economical with the truth. Where they say that those they killed were carrying arms, you investigate to only find out that they are nothing but pathological liars.
Where they say that three were killed, it shocks you to find out that not even many were killed but many others were taken away to an unknown destination where they were later executed secretly.

Since 2001, all Secretaries to Government of the Federation(SGF) claim to have dealt with ‘ghost workers’, yet they are amazingly still being discovered on the payroll. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, during the intense fuel scarcity announced that fuel queues will end by April 7th, and it was still with us almost a month later.
It is evident that disinformation is being freely given out and truth is still being hidden in Nigeria.

Read also:TRUTH:BUHARI IS BURYING FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND JOURNALISM IN A ROTTEN PIT

Unfortunately for Nigerians, the role of the Federal Ministry of Information has transmuted from its original function. Its current minister, Lai Mohammed appears enamoured with the trappings of office and unclear as to what his ministry should be doing. His tirades, gutter and false verbiage and other forms of uncouth information he dishes out is second to none, which is testamentary of intellectual deficiency, debility and infantilism.

In the post independent 1960s, the Federal Ministry of Information concerned itself with providing information on Nigeria and liaising with her embassies and government worldwide. Back then, the ruling party had a Chief Press Secretary whose business it was to articulate and promote policies of the government of the day.

During the Biafran war, the Nigerian government decided to use the Ministry of Information’s worldwide network to counter the effective international pro-Biafra propaganda as they call it and promote their own version of the story. Thus, the ministry became a mouthpiece for the government of the day rather than for the country as a whole.
Since the departure of the military, the ministry has not reverted back to its original raison d’etre of providing real and authentic information to the general public at large.

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One of the main drawbacks of the FOIA is that it is within the ambit of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation when it should be the job of the Federal Ministry of Information to provide platforms through which citizens can apply for, and receive, government information. It is often said that the truth is simply what people believe.

 In the current absence of accurate information on matters of public interest which the Nigerian media has failed to portray the truth, citizens are forced to believe rumours, unconfirmed reports and misinformation. It is only when there is true freedom of information that a nation can impose professional standards of truth, accuracy, informative content, objectivity, and balance in reporting the actions of their leaders and other happenings around them.

It is manifestly clear that the serial abuse of Nigeria’s democracy will continue so long as they fail to tie their leaders down to telling the truth. True freedom of information can go a long way of curbing executive and judicial recklessness, assist the war against corruption, quench extra-judicial killings, facilitate openness and transparency.

Written By Chukwuemeka Chimerue
Published By Nwosu C.S
For Biafra Writers

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