The House of Representatives Committee in charge of monitoring the compliance level of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, has disclosed that out of the over 900 combined federal government’s Ministeies, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), only 73 were found to have substantially complied with the law.
Chairman of the committee, Cornelius Nnaji over the weekend while speaking at the 10th anniversary celebration of the coming into effect of the FOI Act said that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 1962 has continued to impede the implementation of the law as it has continued to dominate the thinking and practice within the public service.
He said public officials have remained unwilling to adhere to the information structure established under the FOI Act, despite the amendment of the OSA of 1962 by the freedom of information law, adding that 90% of MDAs are not aware of the existence of the Act or committed to its implementation.
The lawmaker said the situation calls for intensive broad-based awareness creation by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders on the right to access information, especially through the mass media to reverse the ugly trend, saying that the FOI Act has been described as the “oxygen of democracy” by Article 19 of the Global Campaign for Free Expression.
Nnaji said this “implies that, without access to information and adequate disclosure within a democratic setting, quality delivery of goods and services as well as democracy dividends will always be a mirage to citizens”.
According to him, the FOI Act sought to enable the public to access information in the custody of public institutions and relevant private bodies with a view to entrenching the culture of transparency and accountable leadership.
He also explained that the aim of the Act was to make public records and information more freely available to the public while also protecting certain public records and information to the extent that is consistent with overriding public interest, as well as protecting serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of information without authorisation.