COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF THE CAPACITY ENHANCEMENT WORKSHOP ON ADVOCACY SKILLS FOR CSOs AND THE MEDIA ON FOI ACT IMPLEMENTATION IN THE SOUTHWEST AT RICHTON HOTEL & SUITES, ABEOKUTA FROM 11TH TO 12TH SEPTEMBER 2013
The Capacity Enhancement Workshop on Advocacy Skills for CSOs and Media on FOI Act Implementation in the South West was organized by the South West FOIA Network and supported by the Democratic Governance for Development (DGD-II) Project and its international partners – the EU, DFID, CIDA and UNDP. A total of 43 organizations from all the states of the region participated in the workshop.
The objectives of the workshop were to:
Strengthen the advocacy skills of the CSOs to engage the leadership of the three arms of government in the Southwest States in pressing them to concretely implement the provisions of the FOIA in their respective states, in line with the age-long progressive leaning of the region.
- Provide a platform for generating discussions and relevant actions around FOIA implementation.
- Devise strategies that the Network could deploy to engage the law-makers in the respective states in the region in drafting and passing acceptable state FOI laws consistent with the FOIA at the national level.
- Identify with a view to partnering with relevant MDAs, the institutional bodies affected by the FOIA and development partners in ensuring unfettered FOIA implementation.
Increase the capacity and skills of CSOs and the Media to embark on relevant activities to increase the level of awareness on the FOIA among members of the public including those at the grassroots.
The workshop was attended by representatives of CSOs and Media in the South West geo-political zone. The keynote address was delivered by Mrs. Abimbola Ibironke Akeredolu, the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice for Ogun State ably represented by the Director, Legal Drafting, Barrister Lanre Iyanda.
There were also lead presentations on: ‘Understanding the Role of Public Officials and CSOs in the Successful Implementation of the FOIA in Nigeria’; ‘Community Mobilisation for Development: Strategies for CSOs Use of FOI Act in Making Requests’; ‘Traditional and Social Media as Watchdogs of FOIA implementation’; ‘Understanding Essential Elements of Advocacy in Engaging the Authorities on FOI Act: Some Critical Tools for CSOs’; ‘Methods and Strategies for Monitoring the Implementation of Freedom of Information Act’ and ‘The Imperative of the Rule of Law as a Fulcrum for Promoting, Accessing, and Upholding the FOI Act within the Nigeria Context’
In addition, there were plenary and group discussions on: ‘Practical Application of Freedom of Information Act for CSOs/Media: The Right to Ask;’ ‘Tackling the Challenges of Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria’; ‘Producing a position paper or a briefing note;’ ‘Carrying out a media interview’ and ‘Organizing a press conference.’
After comprehensive discussions of the keynote address and the lead presentations, the participants observed that:
If information is the oxygen of democracy, we find it objectionable that 27 months after the enactment of the FOIA, save for Ekiti State which enacted its FOI Law on 4th July 2011 and is currently in the final stage of passing a more robust amended version, other states in the southwest region i.e. Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Oyo and Lagos are yet to either enact State Level FOI Laws or concretely implement the FOIA.
- Many public institutions in the region and across the Federation are yet to deliver on their obligations under the Act, including the all important duty to proactively disclose certain categories of information stipulated under Section 2 (3) of the Act.
- There is also persisting low level awareness on the detailed provisions of the legislation amongst public officials and members of the public, which is militating against robust usage of the law by various stakeholders.
- We are concerned that despite the plethora of binding judicial decisions from several superior courts of record, including the apex court in the country, which establish amongst others, the legal doctrine of covering the field, while state like Oyo in the region still insist that the FOIA does not apply to them.
- Despite the fact that the 7th Assembly of the Lagos State Parliament, recently revived the process of enacting a State level FOI Law, in a process that dates back to the 6th Assembly, we are concerned about reports of what appears to be an official policy that gags public officials in the state from responding to FOI requests received from members of the public.
- While the Act requires private institutions, including CSOs providing public services, performing public functions or utilizing public funds to be proactive in their duty of disclosure in accordance with the provisions of FOIA, we are concerned that this is not being done currently, due largely to a lack of proper understanding of the provisions of the Act.
- There is growing concern that journalists in some states in the region, especially those in government owned media houses exhibit tendencies depicting bias, partisanship and lack of professionalism in their work, which negatively affects the FOI compliance process, especially since they are major stakeholders in the FOI project in these States.
- In consonance with the letters and spirit of the FOIA, it is believed that proactively disclosing publicly details of the agreement reached in 2009 between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government would have gone a long way to compel the Federal Government to comply with the said agreement and avert the current strike action that has resulted in the over two months closure of Federal and State Universities nationwide.
- Unless there is a subsisting appeal by the defendants in the case, the continuing disobedience of the order of mandamus made by the Federal High Court on the 10th of July 2013 directing the Clerks of the Senate and House of Representatives to furnish the plaintiff, with the salaries, allowances and Constituency funds of Senator Ehigie Uzamere representing Edo South Senatorial District and the member representing Ovia Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives Nosakhare Osahon, is symptomatic of the culture of gross impunity and flagrant disregard for the rule of law and court orders by public officials which should attract immediate punitive consequences for all such offenders.
- Strong concern was expressed by participants on the call by some serving public officials that the FOIA be amended even though empirical evidence shows that the Law has hardly been significantly implemented by all tiers of government in the country.
The workshop also resolved/recommended as follows:
- Members of this Network, CSOs and other stakeholders in the region should be mobilised to sustain focused advocacy with the three arms of government in their respective States to ensure compliance with the FOIA and where desired, enactment of the state level FoI Laws that meet the minimum benchmarks established in the FOIA.
- Public institutions in the region and the nation at large should, as a matter of urgency put in place the requisite framework and machinery for delivering on their obligations under the Act, including the all important duty to proactively disclose certain categories of information stipulated under Section 2 (3) of the Act.
- In line with the provisions of Section 13 of the FOIA, governments in the region should immediately embark on robust capacity building programmes aimed at deepening the understanding of public officials on the provisions of the FOIA. Furthermore, such capacity building and sensitization programs should also be extended to members of the public resident in the region.
- Following existing judicial decisions from several superior courts of record, including the apex court in the country, establishing the legal doctrine of ‘covering the field,’ members of the Network call on state governments in the region to as a matter of urgency, uphold these existing judicial precedents by implementing the provisions of the FOIA forthwith in their respective states.
- The Network commends the 7th Assembly of the Lagos State Parliament for reviving the process of enacting a State level FOI Law in Lagos State and hopes that the process would be completed speedily. In furtherance to this positive development the Network also calls on the executive arm of government in the state to, as a matter of urgency clarify the allegation making the rounds of the existence of an official policy that prevents public officials in the state from responding to FOI requests received from members of the public. The Network also urges all arms of government in the state to commence the process of putting the requisite machinery in place for promoting the public’s right to know as enshrined in the FOIA.
- The Network will partner with other stakeholders in the region to carry out capacity building and sensitization programmes for private institutions, including CSOs who provide public services, perform public functions or utilize public funds to be proactive in their duty of disclosure in accordance with the provisions of FOIA.
- Members of the Network will carry out advocacy with journalists in some states in the region, especially those in government owned media houses to be unbiased, non-partisan and professional in their work, which also aids the process of FOI compliance in their respective states.
- The Network calls on the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government to proactively and urgently disclose publicly details of the agreement reached in 2009 as part of the process of resolving once and for all the issues implicated in the current crises.
- There should be immediate punitive consequences for all public officials who disregard court orders enforcing compliance with FOIA.
- Participants distance themselves from the call by some serving public officials that the FOIA be amended despite the fact that it has not been substantially implemented in any shape or form. We reiterate that at this point in time, emphasis should be on implementing the FOIA, so that its benefits can be enjoyed by all and sundry, including government itself rather than a premature amendment that does no good to the legislation.
- In view of the growing recourse to the courts as the most viable forum for resolving FOIA disputes the Network calls on the National Judicial Institute as a matter of urgency and necessity to organise capacity building training programmes on FOIA for the judiciary at all levels. Furthermore, the Network also urges the judiciary as a key arm of government to immediately kick-start the process of complying with the FOIA in all ramifications.
- The Network will seek partnership with the Human Rights Committees of the branches of the Nigeria Bar Associations (NBA) in their respective states to provide pro bono services for resolving FOIA disputes.
The participants appreciate the support provided by the UNDP’s Democratic Governance for Development (DGD-II) and its international partners, the EC, DFID, CIDA to the Southwest FOIA Network for the success of the workshop and calls on them to kindly provide additional support to the Network as it embarks on the process of taking the FOIA implementation campaign in the Southwest zone further.
Signed on behalf of the participating Southwest CSOs:
- Ayo Adebusoye ………………………………………………………………………….
- Rita Ilevbare ………………………………………………………………………….
- Ebofin Michael ………………………………………………………………………….
- Gbenga Ganzallo ………………………………………………………………………….
- Jide Bamgbose …………………………………………………………………………..
- Moji Akinsanya ………………………………………………………………………….
- Tola Winjobi ……………………………………………………………………………….(Zonal Coordinator)