State House Fails Freedom of Information Compliance Rating

· NERC, Fire Service are top ranking institutions

Gboyega Akinsanmi

A coalition of civil society organisations yesterday released a survey of 191 public institutions and 12 security agencies, rating the State House, Abuja among most non-transparent government establishments.

The coalition, in its seventh survey on the compliance of public institution, said the State House is the third least responsive among the public institutions rated in the 2019 Freedom of Information and Compliance ranking.

The survey was conducted by the Public and Private Development Centre [PPDC] in collaboration with BudgIT Information Technology Network, Media Rights Agenda, Connected Development (CODE) and the Basic Rights Watch.

The survey measured the compliance of public institutions and security agencies with the Freedom of Information Act based on their level of disclosure of public finance.

The survey ranked the State House 189 out of 191. Only the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) and the Federal Ministry of Transportation ranked lower on the table of all public agencies.

It revealed that the Federal Ministry of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Service, and Nigeria Immigration Service were the three most unresponsive security agencies, according to the FOI ranking.

It added that while the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) emerged the most compliant public institution, the Federal Fire Service came tops in the security agency category.

In an interview with Premium Times, an anti-corruption campaigner, Mr. Lanre Suraj said the development “is setting a bad precedent for other lower office holders and ministries.”

According to him, when the head which is the State House that is directly involved with the fund usage on behalf of the president is unwilling to volunteer information then it is already setting bad precedence.

He explained that non-compliance with the FoI Act “is a major blight to whatever achievement in the fight against corruption the government can make claim to.”

He disclosed that the State House failed in the five indices of the 2019 ranking, saying it did not have FOI desk officers or conduct FOI trainings for staff, the survey indicated.

Premium Times reported that the president’s office neither published or submitted its annual FOI report to the Attorney General of the Federation’s office in the year under review as required by law.

It added that State House was equally flagged for ‘no disclosure’, ‘no proactive disclosure’ and ‘no response’ in the level of responsiveness to requests for information.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Freedom of Information Act in 2011 after it had been stalled in the National Assembly for 12 years.

Buhari has since committed to transparency and accountability in government, and has pledged to full implementation of the principles of the open government.

His office, however, is one of the most non-compliant public institutions since the maiden edition of the FOI ranking in 2013.

The State House was inducted into the ‘FOI Hall of Shame’, an initiative of Media Rights Agenda launched in July 2017 to shine a spotlight on public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act.

Suraj, also Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) commended the National Electrical Regulation Commission (NERC) and the Nigerian Fire Service for their outstanding performance respectively in their categories – public intuition and security agency.

“Those living by the law should be encouraged but it is important we enforce a sanction on those falling to adhere to the law,” he said.

He decried the fact that financial dealings of most public institutions are still shrouded in secrecy.

“It is the institutions dealing with huge money with potentials of abusing power and resources that will give least responses,” said Mr Tietie, the executive director of Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER).

“The transport ministry is the second least responsive institution because it controls a lot of resources. Anywhere you find resources been controlled which is supposed to be used in the interest of the people; you will find the least responses.

“It is a direct conspiracy by the government against the people,” the media rights activist noted.

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