Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Wednesday inducted the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture into its Enhanced Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame for its “scandalous failure” to implement the FOI Act, 2011 over the last nine years and vowed to take legal action against the ministry to compel it to comply with the provisions of the Law.
In a statement issued in Lagos, MRA described as a national embarrassment the inability of the Ministry charged with leading and coordinating the country’s public communications to put in place the most basic institutional structures and mechanisms for providing members of the public with information, as required by the FOI Act.
MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, said in the statement: “Whether motivated by an arrogant disregard for the FOI Act, institution-wide ignorance or sheer incompetence, this scandalous failure or inability of the Ministry to comply with its duties and obligations under the Act over the last nine years has further served to rob it of essential credibility in speaking on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria or in leading and coordinating its public communications.”
Mr. Longe explained that the Ministry was inducted into the Enhanced FOI Hall of Shame for a long list of transgressions under the FOI Act, including failing to publish the title and contact details of an appropriate official to receive requests for information from members of the public, as required by the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation; and refusing to perform its proactive publications obligations under Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act.
According to him, other acts of non-compliance by the Ministry include failing to provide appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information held by the Ministry to ensure the effective implementation of the Act as required by Section 13 of the Act; refusing to disclose information to members of the public seeking information from it under the FOI Act; and persistently failing to submit its annual reports 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.
Citing the Ministry’s statement on its website, which spells out its mandate as: “Management of the image, reputation and the promotion of the culture of the people and Government of Nigeria through a dynamic public information system that facilitates access by the citizens and the global community to credible and timely information about our nation,” Mr. Longe described its performance of these tasks as a woeful failure.
He said: “It is ironic that the Ministry, which describes itself as the Federal outfit responsible for the dissemination of essential and vital information which will enhance and facilitate democratic governance of Nigeria, is unable to publish and disseminate information about itself and its activities, which the FOI Act mandates it to publish and which should have contributed to advancing the fulfilment of its mandate.
Elaborating, Mr. Longe said of the 16 categories of information that the FOI Act in Section 2(3) and (4) requires all public institutions to proactively publish and disseminate, the Ministry has only complied with one of these categories by publishing on its website, the list, description and responsibilities of its departments.
He noted that Section 29 (1) and (2) of the FOI Act obligates the Ministry to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation its annual implementation report of the Act on or before February 1 of each year, observing that “for the past nine years since the Act was enacted, available records show that the Ministry has submitted just one report, for 2012. Thereafter, it has neither submitted any implementation report nor has it published and made any such report available to the public.”
Mr. Longe said MRA was not aware of any single request for information that the Ministry has granted over the last nine years, and that on the contrary, several applications to it for information have simply been ignored, contrary to the provisions of section 4(b) of the Act, which makes it mandatory for a public institution to give a written notice to an applicant for information if it intends to deny access to all or part of the information requested with reasons for the denial.
He said although the Ministry has apparently designated an FOI Desk Officer to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent, it has however not published the title and address of the officer, as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the Act.
According to him, there is also no indication that the Ministry has provided appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act, as it is obliged to do under Section 13 of the FOI Act.
Mr. Longe described the Ministry’s performance of its duties and obligations under the FOI Act as appalling and pledged that MRA would institute legal proceedings against the Ministry in the appropriate court to compel it to implement the Act.