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FOI: Media practitioners and the challenges of accessing information in Kwara State 

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Relying on the provision of the Freedom of Information Act, a Kwara based journalist Abdulkareem Ayinde who was writing a report on the school renovation project of the state government, had approached the Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development to provide information on the actual contract sum, identity of contractors, and the funds released for the various renovations. 

The request did not elicit any response from the ministry, despite several follow-ups, reminders, and efforts to remind the ministry of the provision of the Section 39 of the Nigeria Constitution and even Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognize that “Every person shall be entitled to the freedom to receive and impart information without interference. 

For media Practitioners in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, it is easier for a camel to pass through the hole of a needle than for them to get official information or documents from government officials, parastatals and agencies, because the FOI Act according to the state government is yet to be domesticated. 

This omission has not also helped with the non-disclosure policy of the state government initiated early this year which criminalized giving out information by government officials. 

This is despite the fact that the Court of Appeal has ruled that Nigerian states have no powers to deny requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI). 

In a March 27, 2020 decision at the Akure Division, the Court of Appeal ruled that the requests for information, particularly around public expenditure, under the FoI, are made in the public interest and should be honoured by all states. 

This is an appeal case of ALO v. SPEAKER, ONDO STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY & ANOR CITATION: (2018) LPELR-45143. 

The decision was made in an appeal filed by Martins Alo who requested the audited report of Ondo State Government between 2012 and 2014 to properly assess how

public funds are utilised in the state. But their request was rejected,which made him seek judicial redress.

Ten years after the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) was promulgated, concerns are rife over journalists’ frustration to use the act efficiently. 

Specifically, the act, which was signed into law in May 2011 by the country’s immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, was aimed at making public records and information available to whoever needs it as long as it is consistent with public interest. 

Under the act, an organisation must provide the needed information within seven working days and in case of failure to comply; the journalist can approach the court. 

Analysts and stakeholders have argued that COVID-19 pandemic and the corruption in high places that are being unveiled by the day were enough to show that journalists were not doing enough. 

According to Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, Ralph Akinfeleye, who is also a Council member, World Journalism Education Congress, said, “FOI Act prevents hoarding of information and spread of fake news. 

Although the state governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq initiated a policy called the ‘social auditing process’ which he described as the first in Nigeria, the policy allows civic groups and communities to monitor government projects in the state to ensure that quality jobs are done. 

As part of its activities commemorating the 2021 Democracy Day, a Kwara based anti-corruption Civil Society Organization which has been in the forefront of the domestication of the FOI Bill in the state, the Elites Network for Sustainable Development, ENTSUD, reminded the State House of Assembly that the Freedom of Information is part of the gifts and gains of democracy that Nigeria is celebrating that today. 

ENetSuD Coordinator, Dr Abdullateef Alagbonsi, in a statement made available to newsmen, berated the Kwara Assembly for refusing to legalize free access of Kwarans to public information that will lead to a citizen-focused anti-corruption fight in the state. 

The anti-corruption body considered the inaction of the state assembly as a show of legislative rascality, which is anti-democratic, anti-transparency, and anti-accountability. 

The Governor of Kwara State, Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq had requested the assembly on July 23, 2019 to do a minor amendment of the FOI Bill before his assent.

The group wondered why it has taken the legislators about 2 years without changing 7 days to 14 days, and 100,000 naira to 500,000 naira as requested before the Governor’s assent. 

The group had in January this year, while featuring on an Ilorin based radio station SOBI FM programme titled “Rebirth Half Hour,” explained to Kwarans why the 9th Kwara State House of Assembly (KWHA) should be held responsible for the non-domestication of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in Kwara State yet. 

Alagbonsi explained that, though the FOI bill was passed by the Rt. Hon. Ali Ahmad-led 8th KWHA, it remained a bill unless it had the Governor’s assent in accordance with Section 100 of the Nigerian Constitution. 

“Consequently, the Governor requested a minor amendment on the bill before his assent, but the 9th KWHA under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Salihu Yakubu Danladi has refused to act on the bill since July 2019,” he lamented. 

ENetSuD told the House and her members that their attitude on the FOI bill is against the public interest and that their actions and inactions will be counted for or against them alone. The legislature is headed by the Speaker, and the executive is headed by the Governor, while each arm of government should bear its name and be responsible for its actions and inactions. 

The group said “If not that the Governor introduced Social Audit as an executive creation, how could the people have been having access to information on some Kwara state projects that we have audited and are still being audited. 

The researcher produced this fact-check per the 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Fellowship partnership with Sobi 101.9 FM to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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