Nigerian House Passes FOI Bill
The Nigerian House of Representatives passed the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, on February 24, 2011, ending a seven-year debate on the matter. Now, the FOI is ready for transmission to the Senate for concurrence.
The bill seeks to increase the availability of governmental records and information to the public. It also intends to protect the public records and information, which is consistent with the public interest and protection of personal privacy. Most importantly, it grants public officers the discretion to disclose certain official information without prior authorization of hierarchical authorities. In addition, the bill establishes necessary procedures for its implementation.
The bill requires that public institutions shall, upon requests made under the act, make the information available to the applicant within seven days after receipt of the application. In case of denial, citizens may apply to the review court for a review of the matter within 30 days of the denial notice, and the public officer may be liable to a three-year imprisonment if he or she deliberately withheld information.
The Chairman of the house Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, said that the bill is expected to improve accountability and responsibility in governance, ushering an era for a responsible administrative state in Nigeria.
The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, also showed his support for the bill. His spokesperson, Ima Niboro, said the bill is of historic implication and profound significance to deepening Nigerian democracy. “The president will not hesitate to sign the bill when it gets to his desk,” he said.
This is the second time Nigerian legislation voted on the FOI bill. The first time was in 2004, when it failed because former president Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign, even though it passed in both Chambers, citing national security reasons. He also held that the bill would be potential blackmailing tool of public administrators. This time, however, the FOI bill is likely to pass into law as it has garnered support from both the legislature and the president.
For a further reading of the FOI bill, go to http://www.nass.gov.ng/nass2/legislation.php?id=38
By Shuoran Li Mar 19, 2011