……..Jimmy Tor Esq
The general notion in the country is that corruption is the foremost challenge hindering the development of the country. The general disdain of the Nigerian populace for corruption was exhibited as they voted for the president elect who ran on a platform of fighting corruption. The fight against corruption if it is going to succeed requires a collective effort by Nigerians. In this regards it is important for individuals and groups to know the tools available to them if they are to effectively play their own role in the coming war against corruption. An important tool is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The Freedom of Information act is probably one of the biggest legacies of the Jonathan administration and he needs to be commended for that and posterity would definitely be kind to him on that score. If used properly, the FOI Act can be used as one of the lethal weapons in the looming war against corruption.
Section 1(1) provides
Not withstanding anything contained in any other act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form which is in the custody or possession of any public official agency or institution howsoever described, is established.
By this section, it is now the right of Nigeria to have access to information in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution.
Section 1(2) Provides
An applicant under this act needs not demonstrate any specific interest in the information being applied for
What this means is that an applicant can even ask for information in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institutions just for knowing sake. It is pertinent to state here that a letter delivered to the public official, agency or institution would suffice as an application.
Section 1(3) provides
Any person entitled to the right to information under this act, shall have the right to institute proceedings in the court to compel any public institution to comply with the provisions of this Act.
The implication of the above is that whenever a public official, agency or institution unjustly refuses to accede to the request of an applicant for information, she can access the courts to enforce her rights.
Section 7(5) provides:
Where a case of wrongful denial of access is established, the defaulting officer or institution commits an offence and is liable to conviction to a fine of N500, 000.00
The implication of the above is that it is a criminal offence for either a public officer or institution to wrongfully deny an applicant’s right to access information which is in their custody or possession.
Finally it is not in doubt that there seems to be a wind of change blowing across the country. Most Nigerians now dare to have hopes for their country. It is pertinent to note that Nigerians have had an rich experience of their hopes being dashed by the ruling elites. The Nigerian civil war civil war, the coups and counter coups and protracted military dictatorship are a testament to this. It may be true that we have a lot to be proud and grateful for. However if we continue to sleep over our rights, we shall continue to have our hopes dashed by history. And with the rate at which politicians are changing party allegiance, we need no prophet of doom to tell us that if we do not rise up to enforce our rights, history would not fail in disappointing us in repeating itself. Nigeria is not only for the politicians. It belongs to us all and we must all be vigilant so that we do not once again fall victim to the craftiness of some corrupt officials.