LAGOS, Monday, September 18, 2017: The Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) was today named into the Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) for “egregious acts of non-compliance with the FOI Act” over the last six years, joining 11 other previous recipients of the “award” launched in July this year.
Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, MRA’s Freedom of Information Programme Manager, who announced the induction of NIS in Lagos, noted that as an agency that has firsthand experience of the devastating consequences of lack of transparency and accountability in its practices and operations, the Immigration Service ought not to require any convincing to mend its ways.
He said: “The management of the Nigerian Immigration Service, an institution whose questionable recruitment process led to an avoidable tragedy in March 2014, should be eager to do more to ensure transparency and accountability in the institution rather than shrouding its activities in secrecy. Such an institution should make the extra effort to provide the public with information on its activities and operations, especially as it is required by law and in the face of its involvement in a tragedy arising from allegations of job racketeering and fraud, which led to arrests, dismissals and court cases.”
Mr. Sulaimon observed that despite having a functioning website and other resources at its disposal, the NIS failed to comply with its obligation to proactively disclose some classes of information in accordance with Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act in what appears to be a deliberate decision to disregard or violate the provisions of the Act.
According to him, “There is no discernible reason why the institution has not been able to proactively publish the various categories of information required and ensure that the information is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means as required by the Act or at the very least, at its offices across the country and on its website.”
Mr. Sulaimon also noted that “In the six years since the enactment of the FOI Act, the Immigration Service has not submitted any annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29(1) of the Act. The institution’s failure to submit its annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation does it no good. Besides being a violation of the law in itself, this also makes it difficult to ascertain how responsive the institution has been to requests for information from members of the public. These reports would have provided the relevant information about the number of applications for information that it has received annually over the last six years and the number of such applications that it processed, granted or refused, alongside other details that it is required by the Act to provide in its report to the Attorney-General. Instead, there is no information available on its handling of FOI requests including those sent to it in the wake of the aforementioned tragedy.”
Mr. Sulaimon contended that the position of the NIS was made even more untenable by the fact of its non-compliance with Section 2(3)(f) of the Act which requires the agency to designate an appropriate officer to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent and to proactively publish the title and address of the officer.
In addition, he said, “despite the provisions of Section 13 of the Act, there is also no indication that the Immigration Service has provided the required training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information at any time in the last six years.”
MRA explained that these egregious acts of non-compliance with the FOI Act over the last six years, which amount to a flagrant disregard for the law, demonstrated by the NIS has earned it a place in the FOI Hall of Shame and urged the NIS and other public institutions like it, to urgently take necessary steps to ensure the implementation of the FOI Act not only to ensure public access to information but also to improve their image, ensure transparency and accountability of their institutions, and contribute to creating public confidence in them.
MRA launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.