Communication experts have urged Nigerians to use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in tackling the nation’s perennial corruption debacle and entrench good governance in the polity.
Speaking on Thursday at the end of a two-day capacity building workshop on the FOI Act for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and media practitioners in Lagos, they called on Nigerians to fight corruption and electoral fraud by using the Act to demand for accountability and transparency in all tiers of government.
In his presentation titled: “Relevance of the FOI Act to anti-corruption in Nigeria/Lagos State”, the Chairman, Board of Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria, Dr. Walter Duru, advised the media and civil society to engage the public constructively to instigate grassroots’ demand for good governance and usage of the FOI Act across the country.
He attributed the increase in corruption nationwide to poor public awareness on the usage of the Act.
He said: “Clearly, the FOI Act has not achieved the expected level of implementation both in terms of demand and supply since it was signed into law in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Between 2011 and 2017, compliance level by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government has been poor. You cannot blame those in government for getting involved in corruption when nobody is challenging them to be accountable. How many Nigerians know how much their lawmakers earn? How many Nigerians ask their lawmakers how much they collect as constituency allowances and what they spent it on?”
Duru noted that if Nigerians were asking public officials questions and demanding for good governance from political office holders, corruption would have reduced drastically in the society.
Also speaking at the event, the Programme Director at Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Ayo Longe, said corruption would reduce in Nigeria if there is increase in awareness on the usage of the FOI Act to hold government accountable.
He added that using the Act will encourage public dialogue, boost citizens’ engagement with the government as well as help cultivate the culture of good and open governance.
In her remarks, Mrs. Hannatu Essien, Programme Officer, Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (ROLAC), said that the programme was organised to build the capacity of CSOs and media on the FOI Act.
She said: “The survey conducted by ROLAC revealed a huge knowledge gap among citizens on the provisions and application of the FOI Act. Analysis of the report also indicates low level of compliance in Lagos State especially.
“This training will help participants understand how to use and apply key provisions of the FOI Act as a tool for entrenching the tenets of transparency and accountability in governance in the state.”
She added that the workshop was sponsored by the British Council and the European Union (EU) to combat the low level of awareness and implementation of the FOI Act in Nigeria and Lagos State in particular.
It will be recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the FOI Act into law on May 28, 2011. The Act confers on Nigerians the legal rights to access certain information, records and documents held by government and private bodies bound by law.