by Chi Ibe
It’s been a year since the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in Nigeria. But, there is no evidence that any request for ‘classified information’ made to any government body has been granted to any media house.
According to The Punch, this was the high point of a digital video conference organised by the Public Affairs Section of the United States Consulate General for print and broadcast media houses in Lagos on Thursday.
15 participants were picked from different media houses, and all of them claimed that they had not been granted access to such information, recounting their frustrations in the process of requesting for official documents meant to add credibility to their public-interest reports.
The act was signed into law on May 28, 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The law guarantees the right of access to information held by public institutions, irrespective of the form in which it is kept and is applicable to private institutions where they utilise public funds, perform public functions, or provide public services.
According to Lisa Bryant, an American journalist who addressed the forum on the topic, ‘The Effective Use of FOIA,’ government agencies could be hesitant toward requests for public documents, but tasked Nigerian journalists to insist on FOIA requests until granted.
The Paris-based American instructor thus tasked Nigerian journalists to stop relying on sources without real evidence and statistics to back up their investigations.
“Sources are important but we must realise that many of them have selfish motives for giving you a story. So, you need documents to back up your story and protect yourself in the event of a court case.”
“In the US, every state has a variation of the FOIA and 90 countries of the world have their variations of it too. But now that Nigeria has the law, what are you doing with it? It may be delayed but don’t stop asking for it; public documents are powerful weapons.”
“If you ask for information and it becomes obvious that you are being denied, publish a report on it. Every member of the public should demand for information when required and government agencies should respond. The public should be the boss.”
Source: The Punch