Lagos High Court Rules FOI Act Applicable to Lagos State

justiceLAGOS, November 29, 2017: A Lagos High Court, sitting in the Ikeja Judicial Division, ruled on November 28, 2017 that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 is applicable to the Government of Lagos State and does not require “domestication” by the State to have effect.

Dismissing a preliminary objection raised by the Lagos State Ministry of Health in a suit instituted against the Ministry and the Lagos State Government by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) over its failure to disclose records and information requested by the organization under the FOI Act, Justice Beatrice Oke-Lawal held that the Act was validly enacted by the National Assembly and applicable to the Government of the Federation as well as State Governments.

The suit arose from a Freedom of Information request made by MRA in November 2016 to the Ministry, asking for:

  • Details and copies of plans put in place by the institution to provide the Araromi Zion Estate located in Akiode Area of Ojodu Local Council Development Area (LCDA) with health care services;
  • Details and copies of plans put in place to provide the Araromi Zion Estate with health care services taking into consideration the peculiar needs and circumstances of the community;
  • Details of any research or assessment carried out on the needs of the community and its residents as well as copies of relevant research or assessments report or reports;
  • An outline of the timeframe for the implementation of the plans, if there are plans to provide the Estate with primary health care facilities, and
  • Details of the budgets and costs estimates for the implementation of the plans, if any.

 Following the failure of the Ministry to respond to MRA’s request despite a reminder issued to it, the organization, through its lawyer, Mrs. Mosunmola Olanrewaju, filed a suit against the Ministry and the Attorney-General of the Federation asking the Court to declare that the Ministry’s refusal to provide it with the requested information is wrongful and to compel the disclosure of the records and information to the organization in accordance with the FOI Act.

However, the Ministry filed a notice of preliminary objection to the suit in which it contended that the court had no jurisdiction to determine the suit and asked that the suit be struck out on the grounds that:

  • The substance of MRA’s case is not contained in the Exclusive Legislative List under the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution to confer exclusive power on the Federal Government to make the FOI Act for the Federation;
  • MRA’s grievance is against the Lagos State Government which is not an agency of the Federal Government;
  • Even if the FOI Act is applicable to Lagos State, MRA’s application for judicial review was filed outside the 30-day time limit stipulated by section 20 of the Act; and
  • The Lagos State Ministry of Health is not a juristic person that can sue or be sued.

Ruling on the Ministry’s preliminary objection on November 28, 2017, Justice Oke-Lawal noted that three issues arose for determination in the matter namely, whether the FOI Act is applicable to Lagos State, whether MRA was out of time in filing the suit and whether the Lagos state Ministry of Health is a juristic person.

On whether the FOI Act is applicable to Lagos State, after an analysis of Section 4(5) and (6) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the judge ruled that the National Assembly has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation on any matter included in the Concurrent Legislative List, adding that if any Law enacted by a State House of Assembly is inconsistent with any law made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly would prevail.

She said based on the provisions of these sections of the Constitution, she was of the opinion that the wordings of the Constitution are clear as to the powers of the National Assembly to make laws for the Federation as long as the issue is within the Concurrent and Exclusive Legislative lists.

The judge upheld Mrs. Olanrewaju’s argument that the FOI Act was validly enacted by the National Assembly and as such applicable to the Federation and that it is not dependent on States adopting it for it to become applicable in such States.

She cited, in support of her position, the decisions of the Supreme Court dismissing similar challenges made to the validity and applicability of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act to the States.

Justice Oke-Lawal therefore held that the FOI Act applies to the Government of the Federation as well as to State Governments.

On whether MRA was out of time when the organization filed its suit against the Ministry and the State Government, the judge said having critically examined the processes filed by the parties to the suit, going by the date MRA’s freedom of information request was made and the date the originating processes were filed by MRA, it was clear that when it filed the suit, the organization was within the time stipulated by the FOI Act for filing an application for a review of the decision of any public institution not to disclose requested information.

On the argument of the Lagos State Ministry of Health that it is not a juristic person that can sue or be sued, Justice Oke-Lawal said there was no evidence to support the claim that the Ministry is not a juristic person and upheld the submission of Mrs. Olanrewaju that the creation of Lagos State by the State (Creation and Transitional Provisions) Decree No. 14 of 1967,  on May 27, 1967 automatically conferred legal status on the Ministry as one of the institutions that took off with the State.

She ruled that the preliminary objection raised by the Ministry lacked merit and accordingly dismissed it.

The judged fixed hearing in the substantive suit for December 20, 2017.

For further information, please contact:

Mrs. Mosunmola Olanrewaju
Programme Manager (Legal)
Email: mosun@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Inducts Bureau of Public Enterprises into ‘FOI Hall of Shame’

Mr. Alex A. Okoh
Mr. Alex A. Okoh, Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE)

LAGOS, Monday, 27 November 2017: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today inducted the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame, citing the violation of various provisions of the FOI Act, 2011 by the Bureau, including its failure to submit any annual report of its implementation of the Act to the Attorney-General of the Federation over the last six years.

In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Programme Officer, Mr. John Gbadamosi, said although the Bureau proactively published on its website a description of the organization and its responsibilities, including details of the programmes and functions of each of its departments, it nonetheless failed to publish 15 other classes of information that it is required to proactive disclose by section 2(3) (b-f) of the FOI Act.

According to Mr. Gbadamosi, “there is also no indication whatsoever that the Bureau has provided the appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information or records held by the Bureau or trained them to effectively implement the Act, as it is required to do by section 13 of the FOI Act”.

Established by Section 12 of the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act of 1999, the BPE is charged with the overall responsibility of implementing the policy on privatization and commercialization.

The BPE says its mission is to be the key driver of the Government’s economic reform programme; to be the resource centre for capacity building and sustenance of reforms through: promoting a competitive economy and enfranchising Nigerians; enthronement of effective corporate governance and financial discipline in the public and private sectors; as well as institutionalising social accountability and efficient deployment of public resources.

Mr. Gbadamosi said the Bureau has consistently failed to proactively disclose information relating to its receipt or expenditure of public or other funds, as required by section 2 (3) (d) (v) of the Act.

He noted that BPE also failed to disclose other categories of records under its control in sufficient detail to facilitate the exercise of the right to information under the Act as well as the manuals used by its employees in administering or carrying out any of its programmes or activities in accordance with section 2(3) (b) of the FOI Act.

MRA also cited the failure of the Bureau to publish on its website or any other public platform the title and address of the appropriate officer to whom applications for information under the FOI Act should be made, as required by Section 2(3) (f) of the Act.

Mr. Gbadamosi said: “one of the functions of the Bureau, as stated by section 13(i) of the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act, is to ensure the success of the privatisation exercise taking into account the need for balance and meaningful participation by Nigerians and foreigners in accordance with relevant laws of Nigeria. Yet, the Bureau has repeatedly disregarded the FOI Act which is one of the laws that enables citizen participation in governance”.

He also noted that there is little or no information available on its handling of FOI requests, making it is difficult to determine the extent of the Bureau’s responsiveness to requests for information made to it by members of the public under the FOI Act.

Launched by MRA on July 3, 2017, the “FOI Hall of Shame” highlights public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.

For further information, please contact:

Ridwan Sulaimon
Programme Manager, Freedom of Information
Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
E-mail: sulaimon@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Inducts TETFund into ‘FOI Hall of Shame’, Says It Demonstrates Contempt for the Law

Dr. Abdullahi B. Baffa
Dr. Abdullahi B. Baffa, Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund)

Lagos, Monday, November 20, 2017: Media Rights Agenda today inducted the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame for the institution’s failure to comply with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act, 2011 and its repeated refusal to honour numerous applications for information made to it under the Act by several organizations over the last six years.

Announcing TETFund’s selection as this week’s inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame, MRA’s Programme Officer, Mr. Idowu Adewale, explained that TETFund had exhibited an inexplicable disregard for the rights of citizens to seek and obtain information from public institutions while also demonstrating a near absolute contempt for the Law.

According to Mr Adewale, multiple requests made by various non-governmental organizations to TETFund were either completely ignored without even an acknowledgment, contrary to the provisions of the FOI Act, or where it responded at all, it refused to provide any of the requested information or, as it did on one occasion, provided only part of the information sought.

Describing its attitude as a complete breach of the institution’s obligations under the FOI Act, Mr. Adewale said: “In its short years of existence, TETFund has consistently exhibited an inexcusable intolerance for the rights of citizens and civic groups to hold public institutions accountable in accordance with the FOI Act while at the same time betraying an unmistakable disdain for the duties imposed on it by Law.”

TETFund was established by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Establishment, etc) Act of 2011 as an intervention agency charged with managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria. To enable TETFund achieve these objectives, the TETFund Act, 2011 imposed a two percent Education Tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria.

The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is empowered by the TETFund Act to assess and collect the Education Tax while TETFund administers the tax and disburses various amounts to tertiary educational institutions at Federal and State levels. It also monitors the projects executed with the funds allocated to the beneficiary institutions.

The mandate of the Fund, as provided in Section 7(1)(a) to (e) of the TETFund Act, is to administer and disburse the amount in the Fund to Federal and State tertiary educational institutions and ensure that funds generated from education tax are utilized to improve the quality of education in Nigeria without direct contract awarding.

Mr. Adewale noted that “TETFund is uniquely positioned to have begun operations on the right footing, having been established the same year the FOI Act was passed. The institution, unlike many other public institutions, had the opportunity to kick off its operations by implementing the FOI Act which would have gone a long way to ensure transparency and accessibility to citizens as well as the proper keeping and management of its records. Instead, TETFund which ought to have submitted six annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act since it was passed into law in 2011, has not submitted a single report.”

He said as a result of the failure of the body to submit its annual implementation reports over the last six years, vital statistical information which the reports are supposed to provide to the public, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly are not available, including information which would have shown how many requests for information the institution has received annually since 2011, how many of these it has processed and granted and how many of the requests it denied each year, among others.

Mr. Adewale said, however, that information obtained from various organizations that have submitted FOI requests to TETFund reveal its poor level of responsiveness to such requests.

For instance, BudgIT, a civic organization based in Lagos, wrote to TETFund in January 2017 pursuant to the FOI Act, seeking information on TETFund’s total cash inflow for 2014 and 2015  as well as a list of its 2014/2015 reconciled projects and the location of each of those projects, but received no response.

BudgIT sent TETFund a reminder to the request in February 2017 but the institution again not respond.  BudgIT sent another reminder to TETFund on September 25, 2017 and yet another on November 15, 2017 but still did not receive any response from the institution.

The findings of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) in its 2017 FOI ranking of 166 public institutions based on an assessment of the levels of public access to procurement related records and information, such as information on procurement plans, procurement processes and capital expenditure, which was released on September 28, 2017, put TETFund amongst the worst performing set of institutions. TETFund did not respond to PPDC’s January 27, 2017 request for information and has not proactively published any of the procurement records and information that it is required by Law to publish proactively, despite having an active website.

Mr. Adewale pointed out that TETFund has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the FOI Act as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that the FOI Act requires all public institutions to proactively publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.

According to information available from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), TETFund’s Accountant as well as two other individuals and two companies were charged before a Gombe State High Court in May, 2017, accused of various fraudulent and corrupt practices.

The trio of Auwal Ibrahim, principal accountant of TETFund in Abuja; Wali Muktar Usman, the Director of Works at the Federal College of Education in Gombe, as well as Architect Yunusa Yakubu and his companies, Lubell Nigeria Limited and Archfirst Nigeria limited, were arraigned before Justice Sa’ad Muhammad on a 17 count charge of conspiracy, contract scam, abuse of office and diversion of public funds. The accused persons were alleged to have abused their positions by awarding inflated TETFund contracts to companies in which they had interest or which belong to their cronies.  They were also accused of receiving gratification from contractors.

Mr. Adewale said it was not surprising that the institution’s staff was facing such charges, given the obvious lack of transparency in its operations, adding: “as an institution which collects, manages, monitors and disburses public funds, TETFund should understand the importance of accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility. TETFund should therefore make the required effort to provide the public with information on its activities and operations, especially as it is obliged by law to do so, and in the face of the possibility of the involvement of its staff in such nefarious activities.”

According to Mr. Adewale, “TETFund ought to disclose information on the monies it receives from FIRS and other sources, its disbursements as well as its operations in line with its proactive disclosure obligations. It is unacceptable that the institution is refusing to disclose information, including part of other organization’s profits that it collects, manages and disburses, even when such information has been specifically requested, when the information ought to have been proactively published in the first instance without the need for anyone to make a formal request for it.”

MRA endorsed BudgIT’s observation that TETFund “keeps allocating public funds to public tertiary institutions without publishing how the money was spent to the public” and echoed BudgIT question: “How transparent is TETFund when they don’t publish reports of how money was spent since 2013?”

Another organization, the Human Rights Agenda Network (HRAN), which has also made an FOI request to TETFund, recently reported that the institution finally responded to it by a letter dated November 9, 2017 but which was served on the Network on Tuesday, November 15, 2017, after it had sent a reminder to TETFund in an effort to ensure that the institution was given ample opportunity to forestall legal action against it.

In response to HRAN’s request for information, TETFund disclosed its financial statements in respect of the Administration Fund Account and Project Fund Account for the years 2011 to 2014, but claimed that although its audited annual statements for 2015 and 2016 were ready, there was no existing Board of Trustees to sign and approve them.

This puts the institution’s responsiveness at best as partial. Although some of the information sought were provided, the response was far from satisfactory as TETFund failed to provide HRAN with a comprehensive list of beneficiaries of the Fund from 2011 till date, as requested by the network.

Mr. Adewale said: “This situation portrays a high level of sloppiness in the record keeping and management of TETFund and indeed a violation of Section 2(1) and (2) of the Act, which requires TETFund, as a public institution, to ensure that it records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and businesses and to similarly ensure the proper organization and maintenance of all information in its custody in a manner that facilitates public access to such information.”

MRA also accused TETFund of disregarding other aspects of the FOI Act including Section 2(3)(f), which mandates every public institution to publish the title and address of an appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent; and Section 13 of the Act which requires the institution to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act.

MRA stressed that TETFund’s persistent denial of requests for information was inconsistent with its role as a body which deals with public funds at such a high level. It therefore called on the institution to take necessary steps to change its negative culture and to comply with the provisions of the Act.

MRA launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.

 For further information, please contact:

Ridwan Sulaimon
Programme Manager, Freedom of Information
Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
E-mail: sulaimon@mediarightsagenda.org

2017 IGF to Hold at United Nations Office in Geneva

The 12th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will take place at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, between December 18 and 21, 2017, with the overarching theme: “Shape your digital future!”.

The Forum will look at some of the most pertinent issues in Internet Governance, including matters related to Connectivity and Access; Impact of the Internet on Sustainable Development and Economic Growth; Human Rights Online; Gender Issues; Cybersecurity; Multi-stakeholder Collaboration at National, Regional and Global Levels; Emerging Technologies; and many others.

The outcome of the discussions will serve as additional input towards the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which relies on robust and strategic use of ICTs and sound Internet policies.

Although, there is no negotiated outcome from the annual Internet Governance Forum, it informs and inspires those with policy-making powers in both the public and private sectors.

Delegates hold discussions, exchange information and share good practices with each other in view of the Forum’s aim of discussing Internet Governance issues in a bottom-up, open and inclusive manner.

The IGF is a global multi-stakeholder forum that promotes discussions and dialogue about public policy issues related to the Internet.

With this year’s Forum taking place in the heart of international Geneva, a base for the United Nations, international organizations and permanent missions, the setting is expected to create an opportunity both for strengthening engagement between the IGF’s multi-stakeholder participants and the international community.

The IGF was first convened in 2006 by the UN Secretary-General and the4 renewal of its mandate by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 consolidated its position as a platform for bringing together members of various stakeholder groups as equals.

The IGF facilitates a common understanding as to how Internet opportunities can be maximized and addresses risks and challenges that arise.

It is a forum which gives developing countries the same opportunity as wealthier nations to engage in the debate on Internet governance and facilitates their participation in existing institutions and arrangements.

The underlying philosophy is that ultimately, the involvement of all stakeholders, from developed as well as developing countries, is necessary for the future development of the Internet.

Centre to Hold Conference on Transparency, Accountability

The Centre for Public and Non-profit Management (CPNM) at the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) School of Public Administration is scheduled to host its annual Public Administration Research Conference (PARC) from April 12 to 14, 2018.

The Theme of the Conference is “A Return to ‘Governance in Dark Times’? Creating Spaces for Citizen Dialogue, Encouraging Engagement in Public Life, and Ensuring Government Transparency and Accountability”.

Being the 12th of its kind, the conference will be held at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Centre on the UCF campus in Orlando, Florida.

Continuing to focus on important public administration issues in the face of myriad of challenges bedevilling the American society, the conference theme is divided along political and social issues – like healthcare, immigration, freedom of expression and silent protest considering the low level of trust among one another and in government.

The conference organizers are calling for presentations from scholars and practitioners to help guide public and non-profit servants to create spaces for citizen dialogue, encourage engagement in public life, and ensure government transparency and accountability.

According to information available to the Media Rights Monitor, “Proposals may address the profound challenges of public service in a wide range of public management and policy domains, including, but not limited to: human and social services, non-profit management, budgeting and financial management, emergency management, and planning and economic development.

Presentations may be research papers, case studies, best practices, etc. that highlight authentic models of citizen involvement and engagement in building public trust.”

Interested authors are to submit proposals by sending an abstract not to exceed 500 words, indicating a title and the author(s) contact information to cpnm@ucf.edu.

Questions relating to conference logistics are to be directed to the CPNM Assistant Director, Ms. Maria-Elena Augustin at: Maria.Augustin@ucf.edu while enquiries relating to conference theme are to be sent to the Conference Committee Chair, Dr. Deborah A. Carroll at: Deborah.Carroll@ucf.edu.

The deadline for the submission of proposals is December 15, 2017.

More information about the conference can be found on: https://www.cohpa.ucf.edu.

UNESCO Calls for Justice for Killed Journalists

Irina Bokova Former UNESCO DG
Irina Bokova
Former UNESCO DG

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Ms Irina Bokova, called on nations of the world to ensure that justice is done for every journalist killed, as she prepared to leave office. She noted that “Justice is a cornerstone of a free society. It dissuades those who threaten freedom of expression and emboldens those who stand to defend it.”

Ms Bokova made this call in her message to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity (IDEI) for Crimes Against Journalist observed annually on November 2.

She noted that in the last decade, from 2006 to 2016, at least 930 journalists were killed; that in 2016 alone, some 102 journalists were killed in the line of duty. In more than nine out of 10 cases, the perpetrators are never brought to justice, she lamented.

She therefore enjoined Stakeholders; Governments, supported by the UN, working with all relevant actors, from international regional organizations, judiciaries and media to private companies, academia and civil society to join in the fight to ensure justice is done for every journalist killed through their concerted efforts.

Supporting Bokova’s call, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said that when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole also pay the price, adding “Indeed, the kind of news that gets silenced – corruption, conflicts of interest, illegal trafficking – is exactly the kind of information the public needs to know.

Amplifying these calls, the UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary, summary and extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, pointed out that when authorities fail to follow up such attacks with independent and impartial investigations, the killers and their allies achieve their objectives.

On November 2, 2017, UNESCO also released the report of its flagship analysis of new trends in media freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists covering the period 2012 to 2017 which notes that the media industry, which remains the primary source of news and information in the digital age, faces both vast opportunities and steep challenges.

The report, she said “provides a unique reference point for Member States, intergovernmental organizations, civil society groups, academia, journalists and media professionals, and all those who wish to understand the fundamentals of press freedom in a changing world.”

It highlights positive developments that include civil society mobilizing to push for greater access to information, media houses cooperating with fact-checking services to push back against a torrent of disinformation, as well as more governments adopting freedom of information laws.

It says that in the digital age, women journalists are able to develop online presence, liberated from newsroom hierarchies, and that citizen journalists and activists have access to mediums of mass communication that were previously unthinkable.

Echoing Bokova’s call to governments, the report warns that “across the world, journalism is under fire,” citing the rise of ‘fake news’ stories that veil the truth etc. It also notes that governments have shut down the internet, notably before elections and that journalists continue to come under wide-ranging attacks and still facing rising violence.

Guy Berger, Director of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development presented the key findings at an event, held alongside the Communication and Information Commission of UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris.

The report is available for download at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002597/259756e.pdf.

Minister Affirms Government’s Commitment to Freedom of Expression

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has affirmed the commitment of the Buhari administration to freedom of expression and press freedom as well as to rule of law and the protection of human rights in the Nigeria.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed The Minister of Information and Culture
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
The Minister of Information and Culture

Contributing to a debate on “UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity” during the 39th Session of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in Paris on November 7, 2017, the Minister highlighted the role played by journalists towards the development of the country.

He said the Federal Government was committed to ensuring that journalists experience no official hindrance in the course of their legitimate work.

The Minister also noted that the Nigeria media is acknowledged as one of the freest in the world, and that the Nigeria government does not engage in impunities against journalists and will never tolerate such.

In addition, he described the Freedom of Information Act as a law that enhances media freedom and stated that the government would continue to make efforts to further enable the media to serve the people better.

Alhaji Mohammed said: “This effort is intended not only to produce a robust and healthy media, but for the journalism profession to continue to thrive under a conducive environment.”

“The right to Freedom of Information, commonly understood as the right to access information held by public offices, is now widely recognised in Nigeria as a fundamental human right.

“By this act, the Nigerian Government is doing its utmost best to ensure accountability, transparency and openness.”

The Minster further explained that government had responded to allegations from international organisations, such as UNESCO, on cases relating to acts of violence against journalists, clarifying its position on them.

He reassured the global community that the Nigerian government would remain responsive to the issues of journalists’ safety.

Reporter Barred from Covering Charles Okah Trial

On November 1, 2017, men of the State Security Service (SSS) prevented Basil Abia, a reporter with ‘Next Editions’ newspaper, from covering the trial of a terror suspect, Charles Okah, at a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.

Just before the cross-examination of Charles Okah, the alleged mastermind of the 2010 Independence Day bombing, began an SSS operative who may have been monitoring the reporter stood up and ordered him to leave the courtroom.

Outside the courtroom, Basil was interrogated by the SSS operative who asked him what he was doing in Court.

Basil recounted: “He took me aside and asked what I was doing in the courtroom and I told him I was covering the case for The NEXT EDITION newspaper, not satisfied, he asked me to produce my identity card and I did and he insisted that I was not authorized to cover the case. He told me that he had been monitoring me throughout the resumed trial”.

The SSS operative reportedly threatened to take the reporter to the “Yellow House” if he remained in the Court premises, this was after the reporter challenged him to tell him why he was singled out and thrown out of the courtroom.

After the interrogation, Basil was taken to the media room within the court premises apparently to be identified by some officials, he was nonetheless not allowed to get back to the courtroom to continue covering the trial of Mr. Okah.

France’s Audrey Azoulay Appointed Director-General of UNESCO

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has appointed 45-year old former Minister of Culture and Communication of France, Ms Audrey Azoulay, as the new Director-General.

Audrey Azoulay Director General The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Audrey Azoulay
Director General
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

She formally assumed office on November 15, 2017 as the 11th Director-General of UNESCO and the second woman to occupy the position, taking over from the outgoing Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova of Bulgaria.

Ms Azoulay was nominated for the position by UNESCO’s Executive Board on October 13, 2017 and endorsed by the 39th session of UNESCO’s General Conference on November 10, 2017, after a vote.

In a message to the media after her confirmation by UNESCO General Conference, Ms Azoulay praised her predecessor, saying she commended “the leadership of Irina Bokova who served with determination in times of crisis and difficulties.”

She noted that the task of running UNESCO is “a very demanding agenda”, adding that: “We must be clear-sighted. The organisation needs to constantly renew its pact of confidence with the world, with the member states. It has to stay and remain in the avant-garde of all the challenges by being open: open to young people, open to artists, to scientists, to civil society. It also needs to keep the path of reform that has been started so that it is more fit for purpose, transparent and accountable and so that we all understand the added value that it brings to the collective agenda.”

Expressing her pride at joining UNESCO’s team, she said: “Nothing in the future will be possible without the commitment and the confidence of the staff and of the member states. We all have to be united by the strength of the mandate of UNESCO and it is in the spirit of dialogue and cooperation that I will start my mandate.”

Born in 1972, Ms Azoulay was France’s Minister of Culture and Communication from February 2016 to May 2017. She has occupied senior positions in France’s public broadcasting sector and served as rapporteur to France’s public auditing authority, the Cour des comptes, and as a European Commission legislative expert on issues of culture and the media.

Ms Azoulay served France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC), first as Deputy Audiovisual Director, then as Director of Financial and Legal Affairs, and finally as Deputy Director-General.

She is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and the Paris Institut d’études politiques.

Ms Azoulay also holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom.

Congratulating Ms Azoulay on her appointment, the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said he and his colleagues in the African freedom of expression community were looking forward to working with her to continue the “eventful and impactful” relationship that existed between them and UNESCO during the tenure of Ms Bokova.

Mr. Ojo who is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of African freedom of expression organizations, and a member of the Working Group of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), commended Ms Bokova for her service to UNESCO, to Africa and the global freedom of expression community.

He said: “As Ms Irina Bokova bows out gracefully from office, we are reminded of the vigour and commitment that she brought to the office, her accessibility to stakeholders within UNESCO’s mandate areas, and the many impressive achievements that UNESCO recorded under her leadership, including the proclamation by UNESCO in November 2015, at the instance of the African Platform on Access to Information, of September 28 of every year as the International Day for Universal Access to Information; its leadership in the development of and shepherding of the UN Plan of Action and the Issue of Impunity; its positive role in the inclusion of the issue of public access to information in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among many other positive developments.”

Centre Presents Media Resources to Commemorate IDEI against Journalists

The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) on November 2, 2017 presented a book and unveiled two online resources on media freedom and whistleblower protection to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity (IDEI) for Crimes against Journalists.

These activities took place in Abuja during an interactive roundtable dialogue organized by PTCIJ which brought together journalists, Journalists’ Unions, media freedom organisations, lawyers and government agencies to brainstorm on subject Stakeholder Dialogue on Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection in Nigeria.

Dapo Olorunyomi, Executive Director of PTCIJ unveiled the book: The Media, The Bumps and Democracy in Nigeria which takes a look at the Nigerian media environment and the continuing issue of impunity.

The book explores the legal environment as well as documents various forms of attacks against journalists and media houses, the majority of which have gone unpunished.

In addition, PTCIJ also unveiled two websites: one to monitor, track and analyse attacks on journalists and the media in Nigeria and the other, an independent whistleblowing platform for revealing information in the public interest in Nigeria.

The PTCIJ site that is meant to monitor, track and anlyse attacks on journalists is called Press Attack Tracker  and it is part of its strategic vision of ensuring freedom of expression and its fight against press gagging. It is a crowdsourcing site where victims or witnesses to attacks on journalists and the media can post such information. The site is www.pressattackng.crowdmap.com. She gave a detailed explanation of how the tracker works and how to post attacks. Ms Aisha Hashim, PTCIJ programme officer, gave a brief of how the site works and the compilation of attacks so far posted on the site.

The whistleblowing platform is portal meant for individuals to anonymously post documents that reveal wrongdoings that was also unveiled is www.leaks.ng. It is an independent platform where citizens can upload documents anonymously which are then sent to various media houses partnering in the project. It is modeled after the modelled after the wikileaks and Panama papers websites. Mrs. Tosin Alagbe, another PTCIJ Programme Officer explained the various aspects of the site and how members of the public can post documents on the site as well as what the PTCIJ does before the documents are sent to the media houses collaborating on the project. It is a project of the Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom and is not affiliated with the Government of Nigeria. The site does not provide monetary reward for whistleblowing.