A ONE DAY ENGAGEMENT WITH FOIA DESK OFFICERS OF MINISTRIES, DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES (MDAs) ON “REVIEW OF APPLICATION OF THE FOI ACT 2011”, HELD AT NOA CONFERENCE HALL ON THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2021.
The National Orientation Agency is in the forefront in the area of promoting understanding of the provision of the FOI Act. The Act gives right to anyone who seeks clarification, information and accountability in Ministries, Department and Agencies.
To this end, and in continuation of its sensitization/enlightenment campaign, the National Orientation Agency organised a One-Day Online and Onsite Engagement with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Desk Officers of Ministries, Department and Agencies on the Review of the Application of the Act at the National Headquarters.
(i) To adopt a periodic review approach towards raising public sensitization and deepening the implementation of the FOIA as part of the Permanent Dialogue Mechanism between the citizens and government.
(ii) Promote openness, accountability and good governance in Nigeria
(iii)Galvanise feedback from officers will hand-on-experience in the implementation of FOIA.
(iv) Gain insight into the success and challenges of public institutions in applying the Act.
(v) Provide clue for possible aids to the implementation of the Act.
The DG, represented – Mrs. Mette Edekobi (Director SDSO)
Barrister Juliet Achebe -Resource
Person/Moderator (FOIA certified practitioner)
Mrs. Remi Afolabi -Director (Procurement)
Mrs. Ruth Ogun -Director (Public Enlightenment & Mass Mobilization)
Mrs. Mope Hammed -Director (General Services)
Mrs. Tessy Nnalue -Director (Orientation and Behavioural Modification).
Hajia Ahmed Elelu -Director (Legal)
Mrs. Margret Lawrence-Representative of CEO, Public & Private Development Centre (PPDC)
Barrister Charles Uche -Representative of Connected Development (CODE)
Mr. Sam Attah -Head (Reform Coordination & Service Improvement)
Online participants also took active role during the peer
The event came up Onsite and Online.
The welcome was read by the Deputy Director Reform Coordination and Service Improvement (RCSI) Mr. Sam Attah. He welcomed all the participants to the occasion and expressed hope that the engagement will further equip the Desk Officers for better discharge of their duties in the spirit and letters of the FOI Act. He made us to understand that prior to this engagement, the Agency had interrogated some MDAs on the subject matter using questionnaire and that the MDAs that responded are the ones physically represented in this engagement.
He recalled that on 3rd March, 2020, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) held a similar engagement for Desk Officers of different Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) where the application and experiences on the FOI Act were shared. As a follow up, NOA is holding this virtual forum to review experiences and consolidate the successes recorded regarding the FOIA in the various MDAs since the previous engagements.
He informed the participants that the programme was aimed at further updating their knowledge of the Act as well as enhancing competence of Desk Officers and that it was expected that after the engagement, participants will be better equipped and able to improve their relationship between organisations and the public.
He ended by saying that the programme will afford us the opportunity to know whether or not there has been a tilt from the former focus which had in many instances, led to confrontations. He was optimistic of cordial relationship between members of the public and public institutions as partners in progress in the much needed transparency, accountability and stewardship in governance.
The Goodwill message was presented by the CEO Connected Development (CODE) who was represented by Barrister Charles Uche. He said that CODE is a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) which was founded in 2013 and drives Open Government Partnership (OGP). According to him, they engage potential beneficiaries of projects/contracts domiciled in their respective communities across Nigeria. They are involved in building stronger institutions by collaborating with government institutions to deliver on improved public services, creating access to information through dialogue, enabling informed debate between people and government and building the capacity of citizens on how to hold their elected representatives and government accountable. He commended the programme and the organisers saying that the event is crucial and the awareness is key for the capacity enhancement of the participants.
NOA DG’s Opening Remarks
The opening remark by the Director-General of NOA, Dr. Garba Abari was read on his behalf by the Director, Special Duties and States Operation (SD/SO). He addressed the participants on the occasion of the peer review of the application of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2011, geared towards ensuring active citizens participation and promotion of transparency and accountability.
According to him, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law on the 28th of May, 2011, and it became the first law to empower Nigerians with the right to access the records of public institutions, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as the private sector institutions which perform responsibilities of public nature. The Act which is a codification of the right to know and also a fundamental human right of every Nigerian citizen grants all persons the legally enforceable right to access public held records.
He affirmed that since the act was signed into law, there has been relatively low level of awareness of it among members of the public and that it is to close this gap, that the NOA which is an instrument of government saddled with the responsibility of mobilizing and enlightening the public on government policies, programme and activities has continued to carry out awareness programmes to targeted audience on the FOI Act and its provisions.
He also informed participants that NOA has Desk officers in the 36 states directorates of Agency, and the FCT, who are working assiduously at the grassroots by carrying out sensitization programmes in States, wards and communities on the FOIA so that the people are well informed and know their rights as enshrined in the Act.
In addition, the Agency has repeatedly trained and retrained its staff and the general public on the FOI Act which are all geared towards positioning them for responsiveness to the demands which the Act places on them as public officers.
Finally, he expressed his expectation that the participants would share their experiences and come up with ways that can lead to the realization of the purpose of the Act which will also go a long way towards improving their performance as schedule officers and also boost the speed of response to requests.
Representative of the Director-General of NOA; Mrs. Mette Edekobi delivering DG’s Opening address
Vote of Thanks
The Assistant Director Reform Coordination and Service Improvement (RCSI), Mrs. Helen Nkemakolam Ekeh gave the vote of thanks to end the first session of the programme. She expressed the Agency’s gratitude to the CEO Public and Private Development Center (PPDC) Mrs. Nkem Ilo and her team for their continuous support. She also appreciated the CEO Connected Development (CODE).
She thanked the distinguished moderator Barr. Juliet Achebe who with her in depth knowledge of the subject matter and eloquence ensured good delivery of the papers.
She also thanked the FOI Act Desk officers from selected MDAs who were in attendance virtually and physically and the gentlemen of the press for their immense contribution in the course of the programme.
In her final statement, she appreciated the FOI committee members, the entire members of staff of the Reform Coordination and Service Improvement Department (RCSI) for their various contributions in making the event a success.
Barrister Juliet started her FOIA review by thanking the DG and the Management team, FOI Desk officers of selected MDA’s in attendance virtually and physically, Reform Coordination and Service Improvement Department, the Invited Guests and the members of the press.
According to her, FOI Act is one of the best tools for fighting corruption in Nigeria as it supersedes the Official Secret ACT. FOIA gives authority to every human being to ask questions and to receive answers within 7days of request. She added that for the Freedom of Information Act to be effective, you must have adequate record keeping process.
She moderated the paper presentation highlighting the following topics;
Fundamental Principles of Disclosure.
Obligations of Public Officers/Institutions.
Proactive Disclosure of Information.
Exceptions to Disclosure of Information.
Application for Information/Right to Information under the FOI ACT.
Sharing of Experiences (Peer Review)
At the end of the paper presentations, questions, interactions and sharing of experiences were done by the participants as follows:
(a) While sharing their experiences so far, the NYSC Desk Officer Mr. Okwor Evans said that the National Youth Service Corp has been receiving requests and responding appropriately through their various public domains and the social media. He also said that they have Vanguards in all the States that are carrying out the message to the general public on the need for them to explore their rights using the FOI Act.
(b) Barrister Charles Uche, the representative of the CEO Connected Development (CODE) asked to know what grade level qualifies an officer to be appointed as an FOIA Desk Officer?
In response, one of the participants from Voice of Nigeria Mr. Orijiya Samson said that his organisation appointed a level 15 officer as the FOI Desk Officer.
© Mr. Victor Aladu from Nigerian Press Council in his submission said that his organisation has an 8-member committee and that they have Desk Officers from Grade level 15 and above for better access to information. He concluded by saying that Ministry of Justice should be given more power to bite on the FOI Act.
In her view, the Resource Person suggested that a recommendation can be made to the Ministry of Justice since it is the one authorised by the Act to give a benchmark on what level is most appropriate to be occupied as FOI Desk officers from Grade level 13 and above.
(d) Mr. Ademola O. Bello from Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). According to him, Citizens should be informed on the application of FOIA to seek information on beneficial ownership of corporate entities.
(e) Mr. Ayobamidele Bakare from the Ministry of Justice said that FOI Desk Officers should be selected from Grade level 15 and above in order to have easier access to the Chief Executive Officers of the Organisations. He also said that requests to MDA’s on financial and procurements matters by the public is expected to be made available by the Organisation in their public domains in order to avoid duplication of requests.
(f) Dr. Ikechukwu, a Director of Public Affairs in National Communication Commission (NCC) said he was impressed with the quality of the contributions and thanked NOA for the engagement exercise. He added that NOA needs to do more in the enlightenment of the general public and stakeholders on the category of people who should actually seek information.
In response, the Moderator reiterated that according to the law “any category of persons can seek information. That is, anyone who can pick up the pen has the right to make requests for information or can use his/her thumb to sign.
(g) In his comment, Mr. Dave Offurum from NOA observed that the NNPC does not have any FOI Desk Officer and no information on FOI Act is found on their website.
In response, Barrister Juliet said that the Ministry of Justice is the one empowered to ensure compliance by all MDAs.
In conclusion, Barrister Juliet suggested that the Ministry of Justice should ensure that in the next amendment of FOIA, more powers should be given to the Ministry of Justice for enforcement rather than just supervisory roles. She also said that the conflicting judgment of the Court of Appeal on whether the states should apply FOIA or not, the Ministry of Justice should approach the Supreme Court to obtain the final judgment on the issue in order to make records freely accessible to the general public across the Nation.
R-L Mr Okwor Evans (FOI Desk Officer), Director PEMM, Moderator/Anchor Barrister Juliet Achebe, Director General Services Mrs Mope Hammed, Director (Legal) Hajiya Amina Elelu-Ahmed, Head (RC&SI Department) Mr Sam Attah, Director SDSO (Representative of NOA DG) Mrs Mette Edekobi, representative of CEO Connected Development (CODE) Barrister Charles Uche, Director (PEMM) Mrs Ruth Ogun, Director (OBM) Mrs Nnnalue Theresa.