Workshop for Grassroots and Civil Society Organizations on the Freedom of Information Act
Media Rights Agenda
At Ta’al Conference Hotels, Lafia, Nassarawa State
On Thursday, December 6, 2012
On Thursday, December 6, 2012, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) held a one-day sensitisation workshop for representatives of grassroots and civil society organizations in Lafia, Nassarawa State, on the Freedom of Information Act 2011. The workshop which took place at Ta’al Conference Hotel in Lafia and was attended by 49 participants. It was organized with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Pact Nigeria.
The workshop was aimed at improving the understanding of representatives of participating grassroots and civil society organizations of the Freedom of Information Act. It was also meant to build their capacity to effectively make use of the Act to obtain information of interest to them or that is relevant to their thematic areas of work from public institutions and private entities as well as to monitor the effective implementation of the Law.
The workshop is one of the activities being carried out by MRA to ensure the achievement of the broad objective of a project to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act is effectively implemented.
The workshop sessions comprised presentations in plenary sessions and practical exercises in break-out sessions as well as the viewing of a documentary showing how the rural poor in India used their Freedom of Information Law to obtain information about development projects in their communities that were mismanaged.
At the end of the workshop, participants unanimously adopted this communiqué with the following observations, recommendations and commitments to ensure the effective implementation of the law.
The participants observed that:
- Civil society organizations in Nassarawa State and in other parts of the country remained largely ignorant about the provisions of the FOI Act and its benefit, which is largely responsible for the relatively low level of usage of the Act about 18 months after it was passed.
- The high number of FOI cases currently pending before various courts is indicative of a reluctance on the part of public institutions to disclose information under the FOI Act and expressed the hope that the outcomes of the cases would clarify and set precedents on the scope and application of the Act in the country.
- Public institutions are yet to take advantage of the rapid development and growth of Information and Communications Technologies, which can significantly aid the implementation of the FOI Act.
- The FOI Act is a potent tool that can be used to engage government at all levels: federal, state and local governments, as well as private institutions covered by the law.
- The engagement of the Nassarawa state budget by civil society organizations in the State has been too feeble and inadequate in the light of a tool like the FOI Act. Such engagement ought to be deepened, professionalized and sustained if the budget is to make any meaningful difference in the lives of citizens in the state.
- A broad-based and sustained programme of sensitization of grassroots communities in Nasarawa state about the national Freedom of Information Act as well as a proposed bill on access to information for the State is imperative. Such sensitization should ideally be well under way before a bill is sent to the state House of Assembly for consideration so that the communities and other stakeholders to engage in the necessary advocacy activities to secure its passage.
- The Freedom of Information Law will promote citizens’ confidence in democratic governance by enabling them to obtain useful information on the governance process in both the state and at the Federal level.
- An administrative sanctions regime should be put in place by the designated oversight bodies in the FOI Act, particularly the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly, to enforce compliance by public institutions with the provisions of Section 2 of the Act which requires all public institutions to proactively publish certain types of information.
- Civil society organizations in Nasarawa state should, either through their CSO Network or through any other platform, work collaboratively to engage the Nassarawa State House of Assembly to initiate a process of passing an access to information law for the State as a strategy for strengthening to the right to information in the State.
- Similarly, civil society organizations in Nassarawa State should work together and in collaboration with the National Judicial Council to implement a range of activities aimed at sensitizing and raising awareness among judges in the State about the FOI Act.
- The Federal Government and all agencies of government should ensure the effective implementation of the FOI Act as there is clear evidence that a regime of access to information fosters transparency and accountability in government, which can reduce corruption, and bring about good governance that engenders sustainable development.
- Government agencies should take advantage of the availability and adaptability of ICTs to enhance the effective implementation of the FOI Act, both through proactive disclosures and in dealing with requests for information made under the Act.
- Public institutions should adopt a holistic approach towards the implementation of the FOI Act, including by establishing common platforms and networks through which they can share information, share best practice experiences and coordinate the resolution of common challenges.
- Civil society organizations and community based organizations in Nassarawa state should take up the challenge of initiating and sustaining efforts to inform, educate and enlighten all layers of stakeholders in the state in a coordinated manner about the FOI Act, how to use it and its potential benefits to them, their communities and the country as a whole.
Participants made a commitment to become agents of change in the state by mainstreaming the FOI Act into their work and using it to engage public institutions and private institutions covered by the law, as part of a broader strategy of enthroning transparency and accountability in governance at the State and local government levels.
The participants also resolved to conduct “step-down” training workshops on the FOI Act in their localities so that their colleagues, partners, beneficiaries and other stakeholders in their communities will also be better enlightened about the Act.
Adopted in Lafia, Nassarawa State, this 6th Day of December, 2012