MRA Calls on Federal Government to Ensure Safety, Release of Kidnapped Radio Presenter

Chinenye Iwuoha,  Pacesetter FM Radio Presenter
Chinenye Iwuoha, Pacesetter FM Radio Presenter

Lagos, Wednesday, May 6, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned Monday’s abduction of Ms Chinenye Iwuoha, a presenter with the Pacesetter FM station of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in Umuahia, Abia State, by gunmen and called on the Federal Government and its law enforcement agencies to take urgent action to ensure the safety of the journalist and secure her release.

Ms. Iwuoha was reportedly kidnapped by gunmen at about 7pm on May 4 on her way home from work. She was reported to have been traveling in a vehicle with the station’s general manager and the other employees when they were attacked by the gunmen who then abducted Ms Iwuoha. The gunmen are reported to have later made a ransom demand to the station for the payment of N20 million for the release of the presenter.

In a statement in Lagos, Mr Ayode Longe, MRA’s Director of Programmes, reminded the Federal Government that although it had a duty to ensure the security of all citizens, where media practitioners are concerned, it has a heightened responsibility to protect them as they are performing an essential function in the interest of the society as mandated by the Constitution.

Besides, Mr. Longe said, the Government also has an obligation under international instruments which it has voluntarily acceded to, to provide a safe and conducive environment for journalists and other media workers to carry out their work as well as to ensure their safety.

He noted that there has been a recent upsurge in attacks against journalists and other media workers in Nigeria by public office holders, law enforcement and security agents as well as non-state actors, saying that any failure on the part of the Government to act decisively in the case of Ms Iwuoha would likely embolden other groups and individuals who would thereby be tempted to think that they can get away with such attacks.

Mr. Longe asked the Government to ensure that perpetrators of the attack on Ms Iwouha are apprehended and brought to justice in order to send a strong message to criminal elements in the society as well as other actors who seek to harm journalists as a means of silencing them that there will be no impunity for such acts.

For further information, please contact:

Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
E-mail: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA, IPC Petition Code of Conduct Bureau over Violation of Journalists Rights, Seek Removal of Ebonyi State Governor from Office for Abuse of Office

Governor David Umahi
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and its partner organization, the International Press Centre (IPC), have petitioned the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) asking it to sanction Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi for allegedly misconducting himself, breaching his oath of office and the Code of Conduct for Public Officers following  attacks he launched against journalists in the State

In a complaint addressed to the Chairman of the Bureau pursuant to Paragraph 3(e) of Part One to the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the organizations contended that Mr. Umahi is unfit to continue to hold the office of Governor and requested the Bureau to investigate the matter and invoke the provisions of Paragraph 18(2)(a) and (b) of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained in the Constitution to secure his removal from office and disqualification from holding any public office in Nigeria for the next 10 years.

Signed by MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo; and the Director of the IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, the petition recounted the April 18 arrest of Mr. Chijioke Agwu, a reporter with the “Daily Sun” newspaper, on the instructions of the Governor. They also recalled the April 22 state-wide radio and television broadcast by the Governor in which he banned for life Mr. Agwu and Mr. Peter Okutu, a correspondent of the “Vanguard” newspaper, from entering the State Government House or any other Government facility in the State and from covering any government or official functions in the State.

The organizations attached an audio recording of the Governor’s broadcast to the petition, saying it contained inciting statements against the two journalists whom he banned, thereby putting their lives at risk, as well as threats to other journalists in the State whom he said would face dire consequences should they publish any negative story about his Government.

They noted that the actions and conduct of the Governor constitute an abuse of office in that he improperly and illegally used his position and power as Governor in an abusive way to oppress and violate the rights of citizens of Nigeria and put their lives at risk.

The organizations argued that the Governor has no authority under the Constitution or any other Law, whether as Governor or in any other capacity, to take the actions he took, particularly to impose a life ban on journalists or on any other citizen, who have not been charged with or convicted of any offence known to Law.

They accused the Governor of violating his Oath of Office and the Oath of Allegiance, contravening several provisions of the 1999 Constitution, putting Nigeria in a situation of having breached its international treaty obligations, particularly Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, whereas a Member State of the Economic Community of West African States, Nigeria agreed to co-operate with other Member States in the area of information and undertook to “ensure respect for the rights of journalists.”  They cited the provisions of the Constitution which the Governor violated to include Sections 13, 22, 35(1), 35(3) and 39(1).

The organizations contended that by his illegal and unconstitutional actions, the Governor has brought Nigeria to ridicule before the international community and is responsible for Nigeria’s violation of several international instruments. Among these are the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as various resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly on the safety of journalists and actions that should be taken on impunity for crimes against journalists.

According to them, by conducting himself in the manner he did, the Governor acted arbitrarily and in a manner prejudicial to the rights of other persons, particularly media practitioners engaged in the lawful pursuit of their professional duties as journalists. They contend that he thereby violated the provisions of Paragraph 9 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained in the 1999 Constitution, which states that “A public officer shall not do or direct to be done, in abuse of his office, any arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights of any other person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy.” 

Mr. Arogundade said: “We consider the actions of Governor Umahi a grave threat to and assault on our fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens, particularly in the light of his relentless attacks on journalists whose roles are more important now than ever before in the context of a global pandemic that poses an existential threat to humanity. We are motivated to take this step by our conviction that if we in Nigeria are to overcome the current and future challenges, the ability of journalists to be able to continue their professional and constitutionally mandated role of gathering, processing and disseminating information to the public should not be hindered”

His views were echoed by Mr. Ojo, who noted that the Governor had deliberately and unlawfully created a toxic environment for journalists and other media practitioners in Ebonyi State by continually making it impossible for them to carry out their professional duties, recklessly inciting citizens against them and putting their lives and welfare at risk.

Mr. Ojo said: “It is clear to us from the actions and utterances of Governor Umahi that he is lawless and has no regard for the Constitution, his Oath of Office, or common decency. He believes that he is a law unto himself and we have no doubt that such a person is not fit to continue to hold such high office in Nigeria. We therefore intend to use all legal and constitutional means available to us to pursue this matter to its logical conclusion.”

Complaint_Against_Ebonyi_State_Governor_24_April_2020

For further information, please contact:

Stella Nwofia
Programme Manager, International Press Centre
Tel: +234 802 035 9629
E-mail: stellanwofia@ipcng.org

Ayode Longe
Director of Programmes, Media Rights Agenda
Tel: +234 802 329 8628
E-mail: ayode@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Accuses Police Authorities of Encouraging Crimes Against Journalists by Condoning Attacks on Them

Mr. Mohammed Adamu, Inspector General of Police
Mr. Mohammed Adamu,
Inspector General of Police

LAGOS, Monday, April 6, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today accused Police authorities in Adamawa State of condoning and encouraging crimes against journalists following the failure of the State Police Command to arrest and prosecute men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who invaded the State secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Jimeta on April 2, 2020 where they brutalized a dozen journalists, illegally arrested and detained them at the SARS detention facility.

In a statement in Lagos, MRA gave Police authorities 14 days to arrest and initiate criminal proceedings against the SARS agents involved in the incident, failing which, the organization said it would issue a formal report to the United Nations Secretary General and request him to bring the matter to the attention of the UN General Assembly so that appropriate action can be taken against Nigeria for crimes against journalists in violation of several UN instruments.

According to MRA’s programme director, Mr Ayode Longe, at about 6.28pm on April 2, the Officer in Charge of SARS in Adamawa State reportedly went to the state secretariat of the NUJ where he met reporters in the process of filing news reports to their different media organizations, using the internet services at the press centre due to the closure of business centres around the city.

Shortly after arriving at the press centre, the SARS officer started making phone calls and a few minutes later, six Toyota Hilux vans filled with heavily armed police operatives invaded the press centre and started beating and forcing journalists into the vehicles. In all, 12 journalists, including the state chairman of the NUJ, Mr. Ishaku Dedan, and 11 other journalists were taken to SARS’ detention facility where they were detained.

The journalists were, however, released after two hours in custody on the orders of the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Audu Adamu Madaki, who also directed the police officers involved in the arrest to apologize to the NUJ within three days.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the failure of the Police authorities to sanction its officers for their egregious action, Mr. Longe said: “By failing to take any punitive or disciplinary action against the police officers involved in the outrage, the Police authorities have ensured impunity for crimes against journalists in breach of Nigeria’s international commitments and obligations, a situation which is bound to encourage similar action in future as it sends a message to policemen everywhere that there will never be consequences for them for such unacceptable behaviour.”

He noted that there was no justification whatsoever for the Police officers to have gone to the NUJ secretariat because when President Muhammadu Buhari announced the lockdown in response to the Coronavirus on March 30, 2020, he was clear that it would only apply to Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun States and specifically exempted journalists and media workers from the lockdown.

In addition, Mr. Longe said, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, went further to clarify that journalists and media workers only needed to show their identity cards and should be allowed to go about their professional duties freely to access places of work and assignment venues during the Covid-19 lockdown.

He remarked that “It is ironic while SARS operatives were brutalizing and arresting journalists who were apparently engaged in their professional pursuits at the NUJ secretariat, a place of business for media professionals, on a false allegation that they were socializing, a birthday party for one of the police officers was actually going on at about the same time at the police officers mess located on Galadima Aminu Way in the same town with over 100 people in attendance.”

Mr. Longe contended that given the facts and circumstances, it was apparent that the police officer who led the invasion of the NUJ secretariat, was nursing a grudge against journalists and merely used the lockdown as an excuse to launch an unwarranted assault on the NUJ Secretariat and the journalists he met there.

Observing that such attacks on journalists had become too rampant, he re-echoed last month’s joint statement by Mr David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression; Mr Harlem Désir, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and Mr Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; to the effect that “the right of access to information means that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists, as journalism serves a crucial function at a moment of public health emergency, particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information and monitors government actions.”

Mr Longe called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to restore discipline within the Force, saying the constant resort by policemen to brutalizing journalists and other innocent citizens with impunity was no longer acceptable.

For further information, please contact:

Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda
Email: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Inducts Federal Ministry of Information into ‘Enhanced FOI Hall of Shame’, Pledges Legal Action Against It

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

Lagos, Wednesday, April 1, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today 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 fulfillment 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.

 

For further information, please contact:

Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
E-mail: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Condemns Attacks on Journalists Covering COVID-19, Calls on Federal Government to Ensure Respect for Media Freedom

Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA's Programme Director
Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s Programme Director

LAGOS, Monday, March 30, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned the increasing cases of attacks by law enforcement and security agencies on journalists covering the Coronavirus pandemic and other issues and called on the Federal Government to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of journalists and the media.

In a statement issued in Lagos, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, said: “We are constrained to remind the Federal Government that it has obligations under various international instruments which it has voluntarily acceded to, particularly Article 66(c) of the Revised Ecowas Treaty, to ensure respect for the rights of journalists. We are gravely concerned by the rampant cases of attacks by law enforcement and security agents on journalists carrying out their professional duties as well as the obstruction of such duties. This situation is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.”

He cited as one of the latest of such incidents, the attack on March 28, 2020 by an operative of the Department of State Security (DSS) on the Imo State correspondent of Leadership newspaper, Ms Angela Nkwo-Akpolu, while she was taking pictures of a hotel in Owerri where guests were forcibly quarantined by security agents allegedly because the hotel failed to comply with government’s directives on checking the spread of COVID-19.

The DSS operative is reported to have manhandled Ms Nkwo-Akpolu, forcibly seized a pair of prescription eye-glasses belonging to her as well as her ipad and deleted several pictures she had taken. The security agent stopped short of beating her up and smashing her ipad on the ground owing to the intervention of other journalists present at the scene.

In yet another incident, at about 4.00am on March 30, 2020, a group of soldiers manning a checkpoint at Mbiama, a border town between Rivers and Bayelsa States, attacked a circulation vehicle belonging to The Punch newspaper, which was on its way to distribute copies of the newspaper in states in the South-South zone, and damaged the car.

According to the driver of the vehicle, Mr Sunkanmi Olusola, when he got to Mbiama, the soldiers stopped him and the driver of the circulation vehicle of The Nation newspaper and refused to allow them to continue their journey. His appeal to the soldiers to allow them leave apparently angered one of them who brought out a knife and slashed one of the vehicle’s front tyres into shreds. Mr. Olusola said the soldier had initially tried unsuccessfully to smash the windscreen of the Passat Golf 3 car before deciding to use the knife to tear the tyre.

Condemning these incidents, Mr. Longe described as tragic the frequent resort to violence and brutality by law enforcement and security agents in their dealings with members of the public, including journalists, without any civility or respect for the basic constitutional rights of citizens.

He said: “these incidents are doubly tragic because a free press and respect for the rule of law are necessary conditions in a democracy.  Unfortunately, these security agents have consistently demonstrated that they are either not aware of these fundamentals of democratic rule or that they have no regard for them. This cannot be allowed to continue unchecked.”

Mr. Longe noted that at a time such as this when the world is confronting an unprecedented public health challenge in the Coronavirus pandemic, the role of the media is more important than ever before, given the imperative of citizens having access to accurate information about the nature of the threat it poses and the means to combat it, among other issues.

He argued that “In a situation such as this, there can be no justification for these types of actions by the Government or its law enforcement and security agencies. The Government has a heightened responsibility to ensure that journalists and the media are able to perform their duties.  This should necessitate taking extraordinary measures to protect journalists and their work and fully implementing all laws aimed at ensuring that journalists and citizens have uninhibited access to information. Unfortunately, we are constantly faced with a situation where the Government, which should be the protector, is the principal impediment.”

Mr. Longe called on Yusuf Magaji Bichi, the Director General of the DSS, and Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, to call their officers and men to order and provide them with the necessary training about their human rights obligations to citizens and internationally recognized acceptable modes of engagement by law enforcement agents with citizens and civilian populations.

 For further information, please contact:

 Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda
Email: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org

Court Fixes Judgment for May 20 in Journalist’s Bid to Prosecute Sports Ministry, Minister for Wrongful Denial of Access to Information

Mr. Sunday Dare, Hon. Minister, Federal Ministry of Youth  and Sports Development
Mr. Sunday Dare, Hon. Minister, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development

Abuja, Thursday, March 5, 2020:  A Federal High Court in Abuja will deliver judgement on May 20, 2020 in a suit instituted by an Abuja-based journalist, Miss Godsgift Onyedinefu, seeking to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) to prosecute the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports and its Minister for allegedly wrongfully denying her information on the total cost to the Ministry of its participation in the 2018 World Cup.

In the suit filed on her behalf on July 26, 2019 by Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Charles Musa, Miss Onyedinefu is asking the court to direct the Ministry and its Minister to make available to her within seven days of the court’s judgment, the information she requested from them by her letter dated June 3, 2019, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, relating, among other things, to whether there was budgetary allocation for the Ministry’s participation in the Russia 2018 World Cup as well as the participation of those who were sponsored by it and if the allocation was approved in the 2018 Appropriation Act of the Federal Government.

The presiding judge, Justice Okon Abang, adjourned the case for judgment after hearing the final arguments of the lawyers for the parties in which the ministry, its minister and the Attorney-General of the Federation are named as defendants.

In the suit brought by Originating Summons, Miss Onyedinefu is seeking, among other things:

A declaration that she is entitled to receive from the defendants the information she applied for relating to whether there was budgetary allocation for the participation of the ministry and those it sponsored in the Russia 2018 World Cup, which was approved in the 2018 Appropriation Act of the Federal Government and for the defendants to specify the head of expenditure to which the costs were charged and the other requests for information as specified in her letter;

A declaration that the failure, neglect and/or refusal of the defendants to make available to her the information she requested by her letter is wrongful, unlawful and amounts to a gross violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by sections 1(1) and 4 of the FOI Act;

A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the defendants to make available to her the information she applied for amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under section 7(5) of the FOI Act;

An order directing the defendants to make available to her not later than seven days from the court’s judgment the information she applied for relating, among other things, to whether there was budgetary allocation for the participation of the ministry and those it sponsored in the Russia 2018 World Cup, which was approved in the 2018 Appropriation Act of the Federal Government and for the defendants to specify the head of expenditure to which the costs were charged and the other information specified in her letter;

An order compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiative criminal proceedings against the Ministry and its minister for, among other things, the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the FOI Act; and

The sum of N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1) and 4 of the FOI Act and wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(4) of the Act.

However, in a counter-affidavit deposed to by Mr. David Karimu, a litigation clerk in its Legal Unit, the ministry claimed that although it genuinely intended to furnish Miss Onyedinefu with the information, that upon further inquiries from the appropriate department, it discovered that the whole matter is undergoing investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He said the release of the information would be prejudicial to ongoing investigations by the two agencies and that the ministry acted within the Law when it denied Miss Onyedinefu the information.

In a further affidavit, Miss Onyedinefu described the claim by the ministry as a ploy to deny her the information requested, saying the EFCC’s letter, dated June 6, 2018, about 12 months before her application for information, regarding an investigation into corruption in the Nigerian Football Federation, which the ministry tendered, was not connected with the information she requested.

At the hearing of the suit, Mr. Jacob Nambe, lawyer to the Attorney-General of the Federation, asked the court to adjourn the matter to enable the Attorney-General to file his counter-affidavit in the suit.

But Mr. Musa, a member of the Freedom of Information Legal Response Network, established by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), opposed the request on the grounds that he travelled from Lagos to Abuja for the hearing and that the time for filing the defence had lapsed.  Besides, he said, there was no application before the court for an extension of time to file any response.

Justice Abang upheld Mr. Musa’s objection and denied Mr. Nambe’s request for an adjournment. He therefore ordered that final arguments in the matter should proceed.

Mr. Musa urged the court to note the provisions of Section 24 of the FOI Act to the effect that “In any proceedings before the Court arising from an application under section 20, the burden of establishing that the public institution is authorized to deny an application for information or part thereof shall be on the public institution concerned.”

He argued that “The people of this country have a right to know every public act and everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearings.”

According to him, “The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for a transaction which can, at any rate, have no repercussion on public security.”

Justice Abang thereafter adjourned the matter to May 20, 2020 for judgment.

For further information, please contact:

Morisola Alaba (Ms)
Media Rights Agenda
Email: morisola@mediarightsagenda.org

National Commission for Adult Education Inducted into FOI Hall of Shame, to Face Litigation

Mallam Adamu Adamu
Mal. Adamu Adamu,
Honourable Minister of Education

LAGOS, Monday, March 2, 2020: The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) today joined the league of errant public institutions inducted into the “Enhanced Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame” and will now face litigation aimed at compelling it to perform its statutory duties, according to Media Rights Agenda (MRA), which upbraided the Commission for failing to perform its obligations under the FOI Act.

In a statement in Lagos announcing the induction of NMEC into the Hall of Shame, MRA’s Project Director, Mr. Segun Fatuase, described as unfortunate the fact that the institution failed to appreciate the correlation between its principal mandate of eradicating illiteracy and the objectives of the FOI Act, which in part are to facilitate the free flow of information and eliminate ignorance.

He said: “The disposition of the Commission towards the FOI Act has been an unfortunate one, which unwittingly undermines its mandate of eradicating illiteracy to enhance national development. This stance also negates both the requirements of the Law and the expectations of citizens that their public institutions would implement laws and comply with the express provisions of the Law, in accordance with the principles of the rule of law.”

NMEC was established by Law in 1990 as a Federal Government parastatal tasked with making educational opportunities available to nomadic illiterate people, out-of-school youths (Almajiris), street children, women in purdah, migrant fishing folk as well as victims of teenage motherhood, among other disadvantaged people in the society. It was set up to monitor and standardize the implementation of mass literacy delivery in Nigeria.

Mr. Fatuase contended that as an agency that receives funding from the federal budget, local government councils as well as other sundry sources, NMEC has a duty to be transparent and accountable as well as to operate in strict compliance with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act.

He noted that although it is almost nine years since the enactment of the FOI Act into Law in 2011, NMEC has not submitted any implementation report to the Attorney General of the Federation, when it should by now have submitted nine annual reports, as required by Section 29 of the FOI Act.

According to him, “Such level of impunity, as exhibited by NMEC, which has failed in the last nine years to submit even a single annual implementation report to the Attorney-General of the Federation in blatant violation of the mandatory provisions of the FOI Act, should not be tolerated in any decent society. The conspicuous absence of NMEC in the list of public institutions that have submitted Annual Compliance Reports since the enactment of the Act only goes to show the levity that has characterized the attitude of the Commission towards to the implementation of the Act.”

Mr. Fatuase also pointed out the failure of NMEC to proactively publish the 16 categories of information that Section 2(3) and (4) of the FOI Act requires all public institutions, including the Commission, to proactively publish, even without anyone making a formal application for the information, saying it was further evidence of its total disregard for the Law.

In addition, he said, NMEC has not designated an FOI Desk Officer to whom requests for information should be sent by members of the public, as required by the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines for the FOI Act issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation.

Mr. Fatuase argued that this was evident from the fact that the database of FOI Desk Officers for public institutions maintained by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, which has oversight responsibility for the implementation of the FOI Act, does not contain information about any such official of the Commission.

Noting that NMEC does not have a website of its own, besides the webpage dedicated to it on the website of the Federal Ministry of Education, its supervisory ministry, he said: “It is inexcusable that an agency like NMEC, which is expected to play a pivotal role in ending illiteracy in the Nigerian society and whose impact cuts across all sectors, does not have a website of its own. It is quite shocking that an institution whose primary function is in the field of information and knowledge sharing has no platform to which the public can turn for information about the organisation or its activities.”

Mr. Fatuase said since the relevant authorities have failed to act to ensure respect for and the full implementation of the FOI Act, MRA has taken it upon itself to use the judicial process to enforce the provisions of the Act. He said MRA would be taking legal action against NMEC to compel it to comply with its duties and obligations under the Act.

 

For further information, please contact:

Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda
Email: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org

Journalist Scales First Hurdle in N15 Million FOI Suit Against Unilag

Ms Tobore Ovuorie, Multiple award-winning Investigative Journalist
Ms Tobore Ovuorie,
Multiple award-winning Investigative Journalist

Lagos, Monday, February 17, 2020:  Award-winning investigative journalist, Ms Tobore Ovuorie, has won the first round of her N15 million lawsuit against the University of Lagos (Unilag) and its Vice-Chancellor at a Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged unlawful breach of the Freedom of Information Act and her right of access to information. The presiding judge, Justice Maureen Adaobi Onyetenu, who granted her leave to proceed with her action to compel Unilag to obey the Law, fixed March 4, 2020 for further hearing in the matter.

With the court’s decision on the preliminary motion, the stage is now set for the hearing of the substantive suit, initiated on behalf of Ms Ovuorie by Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Agu David Nwaze, a member of the Freedom of Information Legal Response Network, established by Media Rights Agenda (MRA).

In the suit, in which the Attorney-General of the Federation is also joined as a respondent, Ms Ovuorie is seeking:

  • A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Unilag to proactively publish certain information in its custody as specified in Section 2(3) of the FOI Act and widely disseminate the information as required by Section 2(4) of the Act amounts to a violation of her right of access to information, established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 2(4) of the Act;
  • A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Unilag to proactively publish the title and address of its appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act amounts to a violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 2(4) of the Act;
  • A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Unilag to comply with Section 13 of the FOI Act under which it is obliged to train its staff and officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by it for the effective implementation of the Act amounts to a violation of her right of access to information under the Act;
  • A declaration that the failure of Unilag to widely disseminate and make readily available to members of the public information about its activities as required by Sections 2(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) of the Act through print, electronic, online media and at the Head office of the institution amounts to a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Act;
  • A declaration that the failure of Unilag to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation its annual reports on its implementation of the FOI Act amounts to a violation of Section 29(1) and (2) of the Act;
  • An order of mandamus compelling Unilag to comply with the provisions of Section 2(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act by widely disseminating and making readily available to members of the public by print, electronic, online media and at the Head office of Unilag the activities, records and information specified under these provisions of the Act;
  • An order of mandamus compelling Unilag to train its officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by the institution for the effective implementation of the Act as required by Section 13 of the Act;
  • An order compelling Unilag to submit its annual report for the year 2018 and those of previous years, on its implementation of the FOI Act to the Attorney-General of the Federation, as required by Section 29(1) of the Act; and
  • The sum of N15 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1) and 4 of the Act.

At the preliminary hearing, Ms Ovuorie’s lawyer, Mr. Nwaze, moved three separate motions for an extension of the time allowed by Law for her to file her suit; for leave of the court to apply for judicial review of the actions of Unilag; and for an order to abridge the time within which the court should hear and determine all pending applications.

Justice Onyetenu granted the three applications and adjourned the matter to March 4, 2020 for further hearing.

For further information, please contact:

Morisola Alaba (Ms)
Legal Officer
Media Rights Agenda
Email: morisola@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Calls on Government to Take Advantage of Radio to Unite Nigerians

Mr. Ayode Longe, Programme Director, Media  Rights Agenda
Mr. Ayode Longe, Programme Director, Media Rights Agenda

LAGOS, Thursday, February 13, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today called on Federal and State Governments to take full advantage of the attributes of radio in developing a comprehensive strategy for overcoming the religious, ethnic and other differences that have divided Nigerians and impeded the country’s social, economic and political advancement.

In a statement issued in Lagos to commemorate this year’s World Radio Day, the organization noted that in Nigeria and elsewhere, radio remained the most powerful medium for reaching diverse communities and urged Government to invest in and support the sector to enhance its effectiveness as a platform for uniting Nigerians across various divides.

In the statement, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, called on Governments in the country to work with radio stations operating in their areas of authority to promote and uphold diversity, both in their newsroom and on the airwaves, consistent with this year’s World Radio Day focus.

He urged stakeholders, particularly Governments and radio stations, to reflect the three main sub-themes of the 2020 World Radio Day in their commemoration initiatives and activities, by:

  • Ensuring pluralism in the radio sector, by initiating policy interventions and taking other steps that will lead to an adequate and proper mix of public, private and community radio stations in the country;
  • Encouraging representation in the newsroom of the various diverse groups that exist in the wider society; and
  • Promoting a diversity of editorial content and programme types that reflect the variety of audiences in the society and respond to their information needs.

Mr Longe said: “Given the size and population of Nigeria; the social, cultural and linguistic diversity of the country, and the fact that among the three tiers of broadcasters, community radios are closest to the people, the current number of community radio stations licensed to operate in Nigeria is grossly inadequate.  The Federal Government needs to urgently issue more community radio licenses to enable more Nigerians enjoy the benefits of community radios, especially in rural areas and among the urban poor.”

He also called on the Federal Government to use the occasion of World Radio Day to commit itself to promoting, respecting and defending the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, saying that recent attacks on journalists and other media professionals by government officials, law enforcement, security and intelligence agents have not been in the best interest of the Government itself.WRD

According to Mr. Longe, “The recent arrests and detention of journalists for their professional activities and abuse of legislation such as the Cybercrime Act as well as anti-terrorism and treason laws to suppress media freedom and punish citizens who are critical of the Government or government officials have served no useful purpose. Indeed, all they have succeeded in doing is to alienate the citizens from the government and tarnish the image of the country internationally. This would be a good time for the government to announce a departure from such unhelpful behaviour.”

Proclaimed at the 36th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 2011 and unanimously endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly at its 67th session on January 14, 2013 as a UN Day, World Radio Day takes place on February 13 each year. The Day commemorates the establishment of the UN Radio on February 13, 1946 and is now set aside as the day to celebrate radio as a medium to improve international cooperation between broadcasters and to encourage networks and community radios alike to promote access to information, freedom of expression and gender equality over the airwaves.

For further information, please contact:

Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
E-mail: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org

MRA Urges Governments to Make Human Security Focus of Cybersecurity Efforts as World Marks Safer Internet Day

Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim,  Hon. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy
Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim, Hon. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy

Lagos, Tuesday, February 11, 2020:  Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today called on Federal and State Governments in Nigeria to make human security the focus of their cybersecurity initiatives, saying it is only by so doing that they can hope to win the unequivocal support of citizens and other stakeholders for efforts to make the internet safer and secure for all, irrespective of age, gender or social status.

In a statement issued in Lagos by Mr John Gbadamosi, MRA’s Programme Officer, to commemorate this year’s edition of Safer Internet Day, the organization said: “The notion, which has been embraced by many governments, that cybersecurity can only be ensured by repressing or limiting human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and the right to privacy, is an approach that is fundamentally flawed and undermines the very essence of cybersecurity, which is to protect human security.”

He argued that the increasing militarization of cybersecurity strategies and operations are counterproductive as they are contributing to making Internet users feel less safe online.

Safer Internet Day is a day set aside to create both a safer and a better internet, where everyone is empowered to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. The Safer Internet Day 2020 seeks to celebrate the positive power of the Internet, with the theme “Together for a better internet” and encourages everyone to join the movement, to participate, and to make the most of the internet’s potential to bring people together.

Mr Gbadamosi said “the internet has grown over the last few decades and touched millions of lives around the world, making a lot of positive impacts. But we also acknowledge that people have also used the internet to carry out actions that have also impacted a lot of persons negatively. The need for safety, privacy, and security online has, therefore, become imperative and everyone needs to join hands to work together and make the internet safe for all. Stakeholder activities should, therefore, promote the safe and positive use of digital technology right across the nation.”

But he argued that “The activities of governments, security, intelligence and law enforcement officials and agencies which violate human rights online, whether backed by Law or not, end up making people feel insecure and unsafe online and therefore undermine public trust and confidence in the Internet just as much as the activities of criminal elements who carry out various illegal and unwholesome activities on the Internet.”nIieaft7_400x400

Mr. Gbadamosi contended that “It will be difficult, perhaps impossible, for a Government which violates the human rights of its citizens online in the name of protecting them, to mobilize the critically needed public support for its initiatives as the Government is likely to be viewed as part of the problem, perhaps even the biggest challenge to safety and security of Internet users.”

Calling on all stakeholders to create awareness and educational campaigns and work closely with the youth to ensure a better Internet, he encouraged everyone to come together and play their part, adding, “there are many ways to do these, children and young people can help to create a better Internet by being kind and respectful to others online, by protecting their online reputations and by seeking out positive opportunities to create, engage and share online.”

Mr. Gbadamosi noted that “Safer Internet Day 2020 highlights the evolving challenges and opportunities that are presented to young people online by calling attention to how the industry, government and the public can help to provide the critical thinking, knowledge, resilience, and support children need to be safe online.”

He underscored that critical role that parents play in empowering and supporting children to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively, whether by ensuring an open dialogue with their children, educating them to use technology safely and positively, or by acting as digital role models.

Mr Gbadamosi also called on teachers, educators and social workers to help to create a better Internet by equipping the pupils and students with digital literacy skills and by further developing their skills, where such skills already exist.

He said: “As an organization, MRA calls on the Nigerian Government and other stakeholders to ensure that Nigerian citizens, especially the youth, are safe as they explore the online world and maximize all the benefits the internet offers.”

For further information, please contact:

 Idowu Adewale
Communications Officer
Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
E-mail: idowu@mediarightsagenda.org