NGE: Access To Information Has Been Undermines By Secrecy In Govt

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Today, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has the world marks the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) expressed worry about the magnitude in which federal government agencies, ministries and other institutions tolerate the deep-rooted order of secrecy in accessing and management of public information.

While accusing federal government agencies and ministries of not living up to their obligations imposed on them by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the NGE expressed sadness over deliberate and sustained efforts on the part of federal government agencies and ministries to undermine the implementation of the legislation.

Identifying the significance of access to information, the 74th UN General Assembly had proclaimed September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) at the UN level in October 2019.

The day, according to the Guild, had been proclaimed by UNESCO General Conference in 2015, following the adoption of the 38 C/Resolution 57 declaring September 28 of every year as International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).

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In a press statement issued on Monday to mark the day and signed by the NGE’s President, Mustapha Isah and General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the editors said the theme of the 2021 International Day for Universal Access to Information is to highlight the role of access to information laws and their implementation in order to “build back strong institutions’’ for the public good and sustainable development, as well as to strengthen the right to information and international cooperation in the field of implementing this human right.

They said in spite of the existence of the Act, which was signed into law 10 years ago by former President Goodluck Jonathan, to ensure that Nigerians have access to public information and hold government accountable, there were still contentious issues over the implementation of the law.

“Many citizens and institutions that have sought public information from public offices, in line with the law, without any positive response, have openly protested about their difficulties.

Many citizens and institutions have also expressed concerns over the issues surrounding the effective implementation of the law.

We wonder why a government that said to be fighting corruption is working very hard to frustrate a law that is designed to stimulate accountability of public officers to the citizenry and transparency in the conduct of public business.’’

Recalling that the demand by citizens for access to information law arose from great instances of public disenchantment with the government at all levels, essentially on the grounds of corruption in the public service, the Guild particularly identified the National Assembly as a major culprit in the frustration of implementation of the Act.

“The National Assembly is a major culprit in frustrating the implementation of FIOA. The institution has consistently failed/refused to comply with FOIA. It has failed to offer any information, as requested by citizens, media houses and members of the civil society organisations.

It has failed to submit an annual report on its implementation of the Act – even for one year, in line with the provisions of the Act.

The National Assembly has not taken its responsibilities as provided for under the Act, more earnestly and has failed to work towards compliance with the Act, including reporting on its implementation.”

The Guild also said the Oath of Secrecy being administered on public servants by the presidency, as seen recently, has become a strong factor against the implementation of FOI Act.

The professional group said forcing public servants to take an oath of allegiance and secrecy before assumption of office, with the sole purpose of securing loyalty from them, had led to headstrong darkness in the administration of government as virtually all expenditures, procurement’s and other activities are carried out in highest secrecy.

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