Cynicisms, hope trail non passage of FOI Bill



September 5, 2009


The continued delay in the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill by the National Assembly has continued to attract mixed reactions from stakeholders.


In separate interviews in Abuja, a cross section of the stakeholders gave knocks to the lawmakers for the delay in the passage of the bill.


But some civil society groups and concerned lawmakers said that hope was not lost on the bill, as it was a case of “no retreat, no surrender”.


Hon.  Abike Dabiri-Erewa

Rep. Abike Dabiri-Erewa (AC-Lagos), a strong backer for the FOI, said that the House of Representatives would soon revisit the now controversial bill.


Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman of the House Committee on Diaspora, and one of the sponsors of the bill, said that more members are now convinced on the need for the bill as they were being sensitised.


“The bill will come up again, more members are now committed to passing it as the whole world is sensitised on the need for its passage,” she said.


The law maker said that the bill was not about media, but an effort at deepening democracy, assuring that the proponents of the bill will not give up until it is passed.


“We will keep trying to make sure that our colleagues are convinced. I am telling them that the house will make history by passing it,” she stressed.


On comments that Nigeria is not ripe for the bill, Dabiri-Erewa said that meant that the country too was not ripe for democracy as the bill was geared toward deepening democracy.


“If a member or anyone tells you we are not ripe for FOI bill, then we are not also not ripe for democracy as the bill is for sustainability of our nascent democracy, transparency and accountability and good governance in the polity,” she added.


On his part, Rep. Dino Melaye (PDP-Kogi), said that the bill would soon be represented to the house for consideration.


Hon. Dino Melaye

Melaye said in Abuja that the sponsors of the bill, of which he is a member, were lobbying their colleagues in the house to support it.


“We are talking to our colleagues, I do believe that we are going to represent the bill and at the end of the day, it will see the light of the day,” he said.


Melaye also said that the sponsors were putting everything in place and educating other members of the house on the need for it.


“For me, the bid to pass the bill is a battle of no retreat, no surrender,” he said.


Melaye said that there was a need for a public hearing to get contributions from all stakeholders before the bill would be passed.


“Some members are skeptical because the Nigerian constitution makes provisions for the freedom of the press and human rights,” he said.


Melaye said that the passage of the bill would help in checking corruption in the country as there would be easy access to information by members of the public.


Also reacting, Mr Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), an NGO, urged the stakeholders to investigate why members of the House of Representatives developed apathy toward the draft law.


“Similarly, there is the need to get the Senate to understand that the FOIB is a part of the sets of principles required to attain international best practices,” he said.


Ojo, who coordinates more than 100 civil society organisations working on the bill under the “Freedom of Information Coalition,” argued that the government needed to be more committed to the issue.


“We all now understand that the matter has been subjected to triviality by the lawmakers because of the fear of their shadows, but President Umaru Yar’Adua can cause a change by declaring an interest in the bill,” he said.

Mr Ibrahim Musa-Rafsanjani

Mr Ibrahim Musa-Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), said that the passage of the FOIB would give the lawmakers greater posture before the international community.


“The whole world is watching events at the National Assembly, like most Nigerians, but the legislators can make history by passing the FOIB as one of the laws that enhance transparency and accountability,” he said.


He argued that the FOIB would give support to other transparency laws like the EFCC, ICPC, Fiscal Responsibility and Public Procurement Acts.


But while the affected legislators and civil society groups continue with the campaign and lobby to get the bill passed, some individuals and political parties are also leaving no stone unturned to draw attention to the delay.


A one-man protest in the National Assembly by Mr Ikechukwu Udeh added a new twist to the public awareness campaign for the bill.


Udeh of the African Zero Poverty Association dressed himself up with placards and stationed himself at the main entrance to the National Assembly complex.


He said that he decided to stage a one-man protest at the National Assembly to call the attention of the lawmakers to the need for the quick passage of the bill.


Udeh, whose placards read “Pass FOI Bill Now and No More Corruption in Nigeria,” said that he was worried about the non-passage of the bill, which, if passed, would minimise corruption in the country.


He said that his mission was equally to raise public consciousness about the FOI and other anti corruption bills, which have been pending before the lawmakers.


Udeh vowed to continue to stage his one-man protest every Tuesday and Thursday until the bills were passed by National Assembly.


“I will continue to do this protest every Tuesday and Thursday until the bill is passed,” he insisted.


Speaking on the importance of the bill, the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) said that it was very essential for Nigeria to move forward.


Mr. Damian Ogbonna, National Chairman of the party, said that Nigerians by now should be able to work into any organisation to ask and get information on issues bothering them.


“If there is work being done in my local government and it is a Federal Government contract, and I feel that I need information about it, I can simply work into the relevant ministry and demand for that information and under the FOI, I should get it, how much it cost and who is doing it,” he said.


“So it opens up the government and makes the government transparent,” he added.


“The chairman noted that more than 50 per cent of the money budgeted for the country’s development over the years was stolen because of the non-passage of the bill, adding that if it is passed, it will checkmate such looting.


Ogbonna alleged that why the National Assembly had failed to pass the bill was because its members had “some skeleton in their cupboard”.


“Corruption thrives in secrecy,” he said.


He explained that one could not just work into any organisation to get information because information was currently shrouded in secrecy.


“So you have a combination of the legislature, the ruling party and the civil service stifling that bill,” he alleged.


Also speaking, the Deputy National Chairman of the Michael Koleoso-led faction of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Alhaji Umar Musa, said that he was sure that the lawmakers would not pass the bill.


“I know from the bottom of my heart that they will not pass the bill because that will look like imprisoning themselves,” he said.


He noted that the information that the masses wanted to know was being held by either the executive branch or the legislators, adding that such information concerns the well-being of the citizens.


“So if this bill is passed, it will be easier for Nigerians to know what is happening but these people will not allow it.


“In their own interest, I will say that they will not be legislators forever, they will also leave that position and come back home to join us as ordinary people and we will then ask the question “what has happened with the FOI bill.


“So I will advise that they pass the bill so that Nigeria will be a better place for every body,” he added.


NAN recalls that the bill suffered a setback when members of the House of Representatives voted against the motion calling for the debate on its report.

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