Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) have expressed worry over the consequences of poor response to Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests by government institutions in Nigeria’s anti-corruption fight.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, and Osaretin Osadebamwen, Vice Chairman NUJ Abuja Council both expressed their concerns during a radio program, PUBLIC CONSCIENCE on RADIO, produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG, Wednesday in Abuja.
The NUJ, FCT Council had in February 2021, requested, using the FOI, for details of public procurement, tenders, and payments of millions of Naira spent by the Federal Ministry of Education, but there has not been any response.
Speaking on the lack of response to the FOI request written by the NUJ FCT Council to the Federal Ministry of Education, Oluwadare disclosed that SERAP is not new to such experience with government institutions, adding that few of their FOI requests they sent were attended to in the past, while more of the requests have been challenged in court.
He noted that the danger of non-compliance to FOI requests by Government Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) is that corruption is enabled because transparency and accountability are limited.
“If MDAs cease to obey the law and operate in opacity it only gives us corruption and also enables impunity at its very best which is why I think the freedom of information act was passed in 2011.”
“We (SERAP) had asked specific details of how much Abacha loot have been recovered and how it has been spent, we didn’t get any response and ended up in court; we requested for COVID-19 spending’s and home school feeding details by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and many others.
“We’ve had successes, either by way of information or by the judgment of court but looking at it, there is always that part of resistance by the public officers against our request for information,” Oluwadare said.
He urged citizens and organizations not to relent in suing public institutions to court to seek redress when fail to give the information requested using FOI law.
On his part, Osadebamwen stated that the aim of the NUJ, FCT in demanding accountability was not intended to criminalize anybody or government institutions but to encourage accountability and transparency in the public sector.
He however, disclosed that questionable payments made by the Federal Ministry of Education which the journalists body is requesting details include: “ over N35 million paid to Alawani, Odion Edwin for quarterly monitoring of Education for Change and another N40 million for Popularization and Strengthening of Technical and Science Education; over N7 million paid to Anyasodor, Ijeoma Catherine allegedly for report writing publication and dissemination of 2019 Nigeria Digest of Education Statistics; N15 million to Maimuna Tasalla Abdullahi for welfare incentives to staff of the ministry for 2019 Christmas and another balance payment of welfare for staff amounting N15 million; Again, Alawani Odion Edwin was paid over N75 million for verification of 86 EX- Corper in various institutions in UK, USA and AUSTRALIA; while, Danjuma Bawa Abdullahi and Peter Larai got over N8 million and N13 million payments for conduct of 2019 promotion, conversion, upgrading interview for 06-13 and for Re-skilling of 74 EMIS Staff in 6 Geo-political Zones respectively.”
Osadebamwen stated that NUJ, FCT will not relent in taking legal actions if the Ministry of Education and other government institutions that are yet to respond to their FOI requests fail.
He alluded that the media space in Nigeria is being undermined by the neglect or failure of MDAs to respond to FOI requests made by organizations and regretted that non-compliance can discourage citizens from invoking the FOI Act when needed.
“The media is shortchanged in short term but in the long run things will change, the media may be undermined temporarily but over time the media will come on top,” Osadebamwen stated.
Public Conscience is a syndicated weekly anti-corruption radio program used by PRIMORG to draw government and citizens’ attention to corruption and integrity issues in Nigeria.
The program is supported by the MacArthur Foundation.