The Reason Freedom of Information has not worked in Nigeria (I)

by Tayo Fasuan

According to a study conducted in 2010 before the passage of the FOI bill into law, many factors were identified as the stumbling blocks to its highly anticipated effectiveness in tackling corruption in the country. These are discussed in a series of write-ups in the following months.

In 2010, a research was conducted at the International Institute of Journalism, Abuja, about the effectiveness of freedom of information in tackling and eradicating corruption in Nigeria. During the course of the study, which spanned over six states across South-Western Nigeria and five media houses, both print and broadcast, over 80 journalists and media practitioners, including veteran journalists and advocates of FOI were interviewed.

The result gotten from the research was massive, but the impact wasn’t relevant then because of the anticipated success most people thought would accompany the passage of the bill a year after. However, three years after the passage of the bill into law, the ineffectiveness of the law is now very obvious.

Problem 1: Knowledge of FOI The first significant problem identified was a lack of significant knowledge about the law among the legislators who were debating its passage then, the public and the media practitioners themselves. 27% of the journalists questioned lacked significant knowledge about the bill/law, 20% had partial knowledge, while 53% had in-depth of FOI.

Many people, especially the federal legislators, thought, and are still thinking, that the FOI bill was a media bill to be passed into law that would empower the mass media to terrorise them and make their lives miserable. However, this was a gross misunderstanding, as the FOI bill was a public bill that was intended to make public service holders more accountable to the public they are supposedly serving.

Even the media practitioners themselves didn’t fare better in this respect as about 28% of those questioned also thought it was a media bill, while 35% has no idea whether it is a public or media bill. Only a meagre 37% could affirm that it was public bill. These general and specific knowledge about FOI is perhaps the major difficulty in the effective using of the law when it was eventually passed.

The recommended solution was to properly conduct a orientation about the law to people so they would know exactly what it stands for. Based on this, the next write-up in this series would feature the basic information that are essential about FOI. This would give people an idea about what FOI means.