Communique from the Round Table/Public hearing on the freedom of Information (FOI) bill, organized by the International Press Center (IPC) Lagos, a project of the Media-for-democracy in Nigeria group, comprising Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Independent Journalism Center (IJC) and Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER) at the University of Ibadan Conference Center, Ibadan, on February 26-27, 2002.
PREAMBLE:The International Press Center, Lagos, in collaboration with the Democracy and Governance (D&G) Program of the US Embassy organized a two-day Roundtable/Public Hearing on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Good Governance at the University of Ibadan Conference Center/Guest Houses from February 26-27, 2002.
The roundtable (held on the first day) was declared open by the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Hon. Asimiyu Alarape, represented by Hon. D.A. Lawal. It drew participants from various professional bodies, interest groups and non-governmental organizations including Labour, the Legal and Medical professions, the Legislature, the Press, the Academia and Students.
Presentations were also made on:
Freedom of Information and the Enhancement of Citizens Participation in Democratic Governance by Professor Ademola Popoola of the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and Access to Information, Human Rights and Government Accountability, Establishing a Relationship by Mr. Mashood Erubami, President, Campaign for Democracy (CD).
Syndicated discussions on the ingredients and promotion of good governance and the role of the Freedom of Information Act followed. Also discussed were strategies and tactics for ensuring speedy passage of the Freedom of Information bill now before the National Assembly.
The Public hearing (held on the second day) was attended by the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon.Olorunnimbe Mamora accompanied by Hon. Jide Omoworare , Chairman Lagos House Committee on Human Rights, the Judiciary and Public Petitions and Hon. Kola Oyewo, Chairman House Committee on Information, Ethics and Strategy. Also present were top journalists including Mr. Femi Abbas and Dipo Onabanjo, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and, Editor, respectively of Monitor newspapers, Ibadan.
At the hearing representatives of the media and civil society groups made presentations on the desirability of the FOI Law and why it should be supported by State legislatures.
OBSERVATIONSAt both the round table and the public hearing participants observed as follows:
That access to information should be guaranteed. This will make democracy thrive by enhancing citizens' involvement in governance and encouraging public institutions to conform to the principles of accountability and transparency.
That access to information will provide a legal framework that prevents government business from being conducted behind closed doors and also foster the Federal Government's policy of transparent and accountable governance.
That access to information will enable the media, civil society and opinion molders open up sources of information to the generality of the citizenry.
That the Freedom of Information Law will promote citizens' confidence in democratic governance by enabling them to obtain useful information on societal and governmental affairs.
That the two chambers of the National Assembly need to attach a sense of urgency to the passage into Law of the Freedom of Information bill.
RECOMMENDATIONSThe Roundtable/Public Hearing also made the following recommendations:
That all organs of mass communication, including the Internet, be deployed to create massive awareness for the FOI bill.
That organizing bodies of the FOI campaign should intensify collaboration with other relevant advocacy groups like the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Center for Free Speech (CFS), etc so as to utilize their collective experience in advocacy .
That organizing bodies should utilize incidents of national and international importance to raise awareness and support for the FOI bill.
That organizing bodies should initiate and sustain efforts to inform, educate and communicate with all layers of the political class and allied professional cadres on the benefits derivable from the FOI bill.
That State Houses of Assembly should enjoin the National Assembly to hasten the passage of the FOI bill while also initiating action to pass a similar bill in their respective states.
CONCLUSIONThe round table constituted a local coordinating committee for the FOI campaign with the mandate to enlist grass root support for the initiative.
Participants expressed sincere gratitude to the resource persons and invited guests as well as the Democracy and Governance (D&G) Program of the US Embassy, sponsors of the round table/public hearing.
Ag.Executive Director, MRA
Letter of support from the IFJ General Secretary Aidan White