For its relentless dedication to secrecy and attendant disregard for the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) yesterday inducted the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), into its “FOI Hall of Shame.”
MRA’s FOI Programme Manager, Mr Ridwan Sulaimon, noted in a statement in Lagos that “the induction of the DPR into the FOI Hall of Shame evidences a rot in the oil and gas sector that is pervasive, deep-seated and apparently intractable, as it is the fourth public institution in the sector to be awarded this badge of dishonour within a period of one year for lack of transparency and accountability arising from the flagrant violation of the FOI Act.”
He recalled that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the state oil company, was earlier inducted into the Hall of Shame in July 2017, followed by the Petroleum Equalisation Fund in March 2018 and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in June 2018, saying “It is a matter of concern that despite these revelations about the opaque practices of these institutions, no significant steps have been taken to make them open up or comply with their statutory obligations.”
Sulaimon said: “Clearly, despite the attention drawn to the unlawful actions of its sister public institutions in the oil and gas sector over the last year, the DPR is undaunted in pursuing a path of secrecy and shielding its activities and operations from public scrutiny.”
According to him, “It is repugnant to imagine that a public institution with such a culture of disrespect and disobedience of an existing Law has the responsibility of ensuring compliance with petroleum laws, regulations and guidelines in the Oil and Gas Industry even while it is persisting in its failure to comply with the Law.”
Sulaimon explained that the DPR was assessed on its level of compliance with various obligations of public institutions under the FOI Act including: the submission of annual implementation reports, the proactive publication of certain categories of information, the training of the institution’s staff on the public’s right of access to information, the designation of an FOI Desk Officer and publication of contact details of such an official as well as responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public.
He said the DPR failed in all the indicators.
He noted that: “since 2011 when the Act was passed into Law until now, the DPR ought to have submitted seven annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act, but the institution has not submitted a single report over the period, thereby repeatedly breaching the provisions of Section 29 of the Act.”
Sulaimon said there was no indication that the DPR has ever granted any request for information, attributing the problem of ascertaining this precisely to the institution’s failure to submit its annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation, which would have provided the requisite information about a series of facts and figures relevant to the its implementation of the Act.
According to him, “As a direct result of DPR’s failure to submit its annual implementation reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation, we are unable to determine the number of applications for information that it received and number of such applications that it processed. We also do not know how many requests for information the DPR has granted or denied over the years or if at all, the institution has ever at least received and/or acknowledged any request from members of the public”
In addition, Sulaimon said, the DPR has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the Act as it has not published on its websites or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that it is required by the FOI Act to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
He alleged that the DPR has also failed to comply with Section 13 of the FOI Act, which requires every public institution to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by the government or public institution for the effective implementation of the Act.
Citing the Database of FOI Desk Officers compiled by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the oversight institution for the implementation of the FOI Act, Mr. Sulaimon said the DPR had not designated any official to whom requests for information should be made and has not published the name of any such official as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the Act and despite repeated requests and reminders issued by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to all public institutions to immediately designate such officials and submit their details to the Office for inclusion in the Database.
He therefore called on Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to take urgent measures to ensure that the DPR and other public institutions in the oil and gas sector comply with their duties and obligations under the FOI Act and as part of the efforts of the Federal government to rid the sector of its plaguing corruption.
The FOI Hall of Shame is an initiative of MRA, launched in July 2017, to name and shame public institutions or officials that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act.