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FOI: No Public Official Has A Right To Argue Against Act – PROFESSOR ATSENUWA


BY FRANCIS IWUCHUKWU, LAGOS

A declaration has been made by the Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, UNILAG, Professor Ayo Atsenuwa, that no public official has a right to argue against the Freedom of Information, FOI, Act.

The legal giant stated this in her presentation at a public hearing on Building the Capacity of Citizens on the use of the FOI Act as a Tool for Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the Education Sector in Nigeria.

It would be recalled that the public hearing was put together by a Lagos-based human rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and was supported by the Omidyar Network.

The Dean further pointed out the imperative of putting up trainings for Directors of government institutions on the knowledge of the FOI Act. 

Professor Atsenuwa argued that Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gave recognition to the right to freedom of expression, adding that the FOI Act was enacted by the government in furtherance of that Section of the Constitution. 

The Professor specifically stated that, “No public official has a right to argue against the FOI Act, there should be a training for directors in government institutions and a debriefing. 

"A debriefing is necessary because most of them were brought up on a diet of official secrets. 

"Now any person can request for information under the FOI Act,  such application for information can be written or oral. 

"There is now a paradigm shift, those who want to keep  information must now show cause why they wanted to withhold information."

The Dean insisted that, “The FOI Act is hinged on the availability of timely access to accurate non-prejudicial information from authentic sources which is critical to citizen participation in governance. 

“The government has a duty to ensure press freedom and assure the citizenry of access to information held by government officials and institutions. 

“However, information may be refused if it will be injurious,  affect public interest or interfere with law enforcement proceedings.”

Earlier in his welcome address, the Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, explained that the intention of the public hearing was to bring together citizens who are affected by the poor delivery of public services particularly in the education sector in Nigeria. 

Mumuni said, "The public hearing also aims to encourage and sensitize the citizens on how they can deploy the FOI Act as a tool for promoting transparency and accountability in the education sector. 

"It is also to encourage them to participate in the fight against corruption in the sector.

"The complaints received at the public hearing as well as the conclusions and recommendations will be sent to anti-corruption agencies and other appropriate agencies and authorities."

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