The Freedom of Information Coalition

The Freedom of Information Coalition (FOIC) is a network of over 150 civil society organizations in Nigeria comprising of civil rights, grassroots, and community-based Non-Governmental Organizations campaigning for the passage  of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Billand eventual implementation when it becomes law in Nigeria.

The FOIC was founded in September 2000 following the very first stakeholders meeting on the Freedom of Information Bill held at Rockview Hotel in Abuja from September 13 to 15, 2000.

The objective of the meeting was to identify various stakeholders in a freedom of information regime, demonstrate how various sectors of the society, including government institutions and agencies, will benefit from a freedom of information legislation, and agree on how the different stakeholders can support the campaign for the enactment of the bill into law.

The meeting was attended and formally declared open by the then Minister of Information and National Orientation, Professor Jerry Gana.  It was attended by 42 persons in all, representing various interest groups, including legislators from the National Assembly, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Nigeria, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the NUJ, the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), human rights NGOs, the media, the legal profession, international organisations and agencies, etc.

Professor Gana made a public declaration on behalf of the Executive to support the bill, the first by any senior member of the Obasanjo administration. In his remarks, he conceded: “No state, especially a democratic state, can achieve any meaningful development if the citizens do not have access to information about matters that affect their everyday lives.  It is, indeed, fundamental in any democratic governance.”

Representatives of various sectors also made brief presentations on how a legal right of access to information would help their work and how they could support the campaigns for the passage of the bill.

It was decided at the meeting that a civil society coalition, known as the Freedom of Information Coalition, be set up to bring collective pressure to bear on the National Assembly to pass the bill and generate public awareness about the principles of access to public information and the need for a legislation giving members of the public a right to government-held information. The meeting also agreed on other proposals for enhancing the campaign for the enactment of the bill.

The member organizations, based in cities, towns and villages, are spread across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) provides the office space and resources for the work of the Coalition’s advocacy work.

A discussion platform and listserv (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FOIcoalition) was created to facilitate exchanges and discussions on issues relating to access to information generally, the Freedom of Information Bill, and transparency and accountability.  Members of the Coalition and other persons who are either journalists or civil society activists, seeking to share information or make inquiries on issues relating to the Bill, simply send an email to FOIcoalition@yahoogroups.com and all members receive it.

Bedsides coordinating freedom of information related activities, the secretariat also embarks on a massive campaign to recruit organizations from all parts of the country into the Freedom of Information Coalition in order to ensure that all the six geo-political zones of the country are represented in the Coalition.