The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act is an entrenchment that gives every citizen the right to request public records or information within the custody of a public institution. Signed into law in 2011, the Act’s grand motive is to enable unhindered access to public documents or information to ensure transparency and accountability across all levels of governance.
Before enacting the FOI act, Nigeria had no legal provision that guarantees public access to records and information of public institutions.
Sections 1 and 2 of the FOI Act established the six rights provided by the Act as follows:
According to the Act, anyone using the provision of the Act to request public information is not obliged to express any particular interest or reason for the information requested. The Act also sets a seven-day limit for the information requested to be made available and provides judicial proceedings in instances where access is denied. Any public servant or institution guilty of wrongful denial of information is liable for a 500,000 Naira fine after a judicial establishment.
While no payment is expected to be made for access to information, the FOI act allows for an access fee when copies of information need to be duplicated or transcribed for a fee.
As freedom is never absolute, the FOI Act’s application is not without exemptions, which include issues of national security and international relations, law enforcement records and court enforcement.
All in all, the Freedom Of Information Act’s enactment was no doubt a right step in the right direction, which signals progress in the Nigerian democratic system. The judicious use of this Act will trigger transparency and accountability across all sectors of the government and foster economic and social development in the country at large.