The Nigerian Press Council and the Nigeria Union of Journalists with the support of the Rivers State Government, held a two-day workshop to sensitize journalists in the South-East and South-South zones on the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). The workshop, held at Songhai Farms, Bunu Tai, Rivers State, is the third leg of capacity building fora on the FoIA by the Nigerian Press Council. The first of these programmes was held for journalists at Abuja, while the second was for journalists in the South-West zone at Otta, Ogun State.
The workshop provided a brainstorming forum that examined the provisions of the FoIA, discussed the effect of the law on investigative journalism, its impact on anti-corruption campaign and how it should stimulate access to information on public records.
Participants were divided into four syndicate groups that discussed the various papers presented and aggregated perspectives on using the law in mapping out workable strategies for transparency and systemic accountability.
- That most public institutions do not have a tradition of proper record keeping.
- That the Office of the Attorney-General, under the Act, is not empowered to make regulations to enhance the implementation of the law.
- That most state governments are not showing sufficient commitment to the implementation/ utilisation of the Act because it is viewed as a federal law.
- That there are impediments to investigative journalism. These include lack of editors’ support; proprietary interests; politicisation of issues; deficiency in training of journalists and quackery in the profession.
- That the lack of budget in media houses impedes investigative journalism and the engagement of free lancers.
- That rather than see the social media as a palpable threat, the print media should embrace its usage especially for research.
- That the greatest challenge facing journalists in a liberal democracy is how to balance the ethical dilemma of being a free and responsible press.
- That journalists should take full advantage and benefit of the Insurance scheme instituted by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Participants recommended that:
- Public institutions should improve record keeping to meet the requirements of the FoIA.
- Governments or public agencies need to protect and manage information they hold in trust and provide such on demand in a manner consistent with public interest.
- Public officers and private organisations that render public service should grant journalists unfettered access to official information as a matter of obligation.
- As vibrant as the Nigerian Press has become, caution should be exercised not to abuse the use of the FoIA for blackmail and political end so as not to compromise the ethics of the profession.
- Adequate budgetary provision should be made for public institutions to establish functional and updated websites.
- The Public Complaints Commission and the Human Rights Commission should be empowered and re-structured to handle complaints pertaining to denial of access to information by public agencies.
- The Official Secrets Act should be reviewed to bring it in tandem with the FoIA
- Journalists should broaden their intellectual horizon by reading widely to be effective.
- Journalists should always place moral values such as credibility and integrity over monetary values.
- Journalists should be very adept in the use of the social media as an invaluable tool to be explored to further journalistic objectives.
- Journalists should scrutinize the three arms of government and not just the executive. In this regard, their searchlight should be beamed on court proceedings to ensure the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man.
- Journalists should strive to cover rather than cover up issues.
- An investigative journalist must have sound knowledge of the FoIA as the foundation for elevating information from hearsay to one that is credible and accurate.
- Journalists must cover their beats effectively to attain mastery of issues concerning the beats.
- The NUJ should commence an aggressive enlightenment campaign through its various councils and chapels on the provisions of the Act and implementation modalities.
- The FoIA, though a federal legislation, is enforceable at the state and local government levels. States should adapt the legislation.
- The NUJ should negotiate an employment scale and welfare scheme for journalists to enhance professionalism.
- Casual employment of journalists should be prohibited as it negates the development of professionalism.
- The Nigerian Press Council should serve as a buffer between information seekers and givers in the context of implementation of the FoIA.
- The media should defend public interest through forensic monitoring and reporting of Budgetary processes, procurement processes, corporate finance, revenue flow in the extractive industries and other sectors of the economy prone to corruption.
- There is need for anti-graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau as well as Civil Society and Non-governmental organisations, to put their finance and donations in public domain to ensure transparency.
The workshop was attended by 105 participants drawn from federal and state governments, academia, Civil Society advocates and journalists from the South-South and South-East zones.
Participants expressed appreciation to the government of Rivers State for facilitating the workshop at its modern integrated Songhai Farms, Bunu, Tai Local Government Area.