Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Nigeria Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) and the National Orientation Agency, have emerged the top three most compliant institutions in terms of the Freedom of Information Act (Fol) in 2023.
Over 175 federal government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) out of the 238 assessed government institutions were found to be flouting the provisions of the FoI by not actively responding to requests made in compliance with the law.
The findings were contained in the National FOI transparency Ranking report released on Tuesday in Abuja.
Whereas the New Partnership For Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Radiographers Registration Council took the rear positions on the ranking chart, others institutions like the Central Bank of Nigeria, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission all took knocks for not responding adequately to requests for information by members of the public.
The 24-page ‘2023 National FOI transparency ranking,’ was jointly produced by the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) BudgiT, Basic Rights Watch (BRW), Right to Know and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and formally presented in Abuja.
In the new report, an analysis of 238 public institutions ranked by their responsiveness, disclosure and proactive disclosure level showed that the National Population Commission (NPC), the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigerian Correctional Services, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 136 other agencies did not attempt a response to FOI requests. The study showed that the ICRC, the NIPC, NOA emerged as the most compliant public institutions with 70.3 points, 64.6 points, and 63 points respectively, ahead of 136 MDAs who scored below 15 points.
According to the FOI ranking, the responsiveness of ministries declined to 47 percent from 70.4 per cent recorded in 2022.
The report showed that only two institutions had full proactive disclosure of public information in 2023.
Among the challenges identified by the study group were resource constraints, inadequate tech-savvy staff, outdated information, and disregard for requests without valid reasons.
It recommended electronic means of communication as a solution.
The National Coordinator, Open Government Partnership (OGP), Gloria Ahmed, in her keynote at the event themed, ‘The importance of the online space for access to information’, stated that the FIOA had kept Nigeria steadily on the path of giving its citizens more access to information despite the prevalent challenges.
She also urged the representatives of agencies to make use of technology to enjoy the benefits that freedom of information brings.
“Over the past 12 years, despite the prevalent challenges, FOI Act has kept Nigeria steadily on the path of giving its citizens, more access to information granting the right to request information and mandating public institutions to make such information readily available, with stipulated sanctions for erring institutions.
“While citizens can walk into an office or any public institution to request access to information of interest, it is worthy to mention that it is a lot easier to get this information online and for the institutions to publish information about their institutions online, so as to reduce the traffic of people who come into their offices ask for information,” Ahmed said.
Also, the Head of Investigations at the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Olugbenga Adanikin, charged all MDAs to proactively disclose and disseminate information to Nigerians on their portals or websites.
He said this was to promote a more transparent and accountable government, increase citizen participation and improve public service delivery.
“Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders in the media space including journalists have had reasons to utilise the FOI Act to demand information of public interests, such as road contract details, loan agreements, and budget releases to public institutions to mention but few. Agencies of government can proactively disclose information to Nigerians through their respective websites.
“Today’s event represents another opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to nation-building through the effective use of different art, and also an avenue to recognise relevant agencies of government that have either been proactively disseminating information to Nigerians or swiftly responding to Freedom of Information requests as required by law,” Adanikin said.