The Nigerian Press Council, in continuation of its sensitization of journalists and the general public on the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, 2011 organised a two day workshop at the Mokland Hotel in Otta, Ogun State from February 1, – 2, 2012.
The keynote address was delivered by the Ogun State governor, His Excellency, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, represented by the State Attorney-General, Mr. Wemimo Ogunde (SAN). The governor said that the opportunity afforded by the workshop would engender frank and co-ordinated debates, not just between the State and the citizenry but also between the institutions established for information management.
The Chief Host, the Honourable Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, represented by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Kingsley Osadolor, said that the Ministry, in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation, the Head of Service of the Federation as well as the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, are working out modalities for government institutions to meet the demands of the FoI Act. He noted that the act is an aid to better journalistic performance, in furtherance of transparency and good governance.
The workshop whose theme was FoI Act : Implementation and Challenges to Journalists, had the objectives to sensitize journalists, public institutions and the general public on the relevance and challenges of the FoI Act; stimulate greater demand for public information under the FoI Act; especially by journalists, and provide suggestions for effective implementation of the FoI Act for enhanced democratic governance and accountability.
The following observations were made:
(i) That the enactment of the FoI Law has reduced the risk of obtaining information.
(ii) The FoI Law is not restricted to the Federal institutions alone but also those of States, local governments as well as the private sector that provide public service.
(iii) For a law to be meaningful, it must be tested. Journalists, while applauding the passage of the FoI Law after many years of clamouring for it, have not sufficiently tested it.
(iv) The FoI Law is, however, not the solution to all the problems of transparency and good governance but is rather one of the tools that can be used to effectively provide good governance to our land.
(v) The FoI Law should have fixed a minimum term of one year for institutions or persons found guilty under section 10 rather than leave sanctions to the discretion of the presiding judge.
(vi) For journalists to hold those in government accountable, they themselves must be accountable. There is a need for media professionals/practitioners to study and apprise themselves of the provisions of the FoI Act and the Code of Ethics of Journalism.
(vii) Nigerian journalists, oftentimes tend to over censor themselves for fear of reprisals, particularly with public media.
(viii) The public and the authorities, particularly the courts are, now, less likely to be tolerant with inaccuracies and other such factual lapses especially now that there exists a framework through which the media can access authentic information and verify facts.
(ix) That journalism as a profession must be properly regulated to sustain high professional standards amongst practitioners with enhanced adherence to the Code of Ethics.
(x) The Nigerian Press Council should seek collaboration with other industry stakeholders to function like its counterparts in other parts of the world.
(xi) That there is a general misconception that the newspaper industry is declining the world over but the problem in Nigeria is that most print publications strive fruitlessly to be national rather than be localised and this affects readership.
Some of the challenges identified as possible hindrances to the effective implementation of the Law are:
(i) Problem of poor and irregular remuneration within the industry which undermines employment security and compromises professionalism;
(ii) Declining readership culture among the general public and journalists as well as the nonchalance to get informed about the provisions of the Act;
(iii) Absence of public records archives for centralised keeping, retrieval and access;
(iv) Problems of obtaining information from a place other than the station where the applicant for such information resides;
(v) Likely influx of frivolous requests;
(vi) The limited time frame of seven days provided in the law for information to be provided upon request for access which, when compared to other nations with similar acts, is grossly inadequate;
(vii) The low co-operation between stakeholders and the Nigerian Press Council to function in unison to enforce discipline and high professional standards.
In view of some of the administrative, financial and educational challenges identified, it was recommended that:
(i) Media professionals should make conscious efforts to deepen their capacity to perform their role of holding government accountable by first making themselves accountable through ensuring that their reports are factual, balanced and accurate with strict adherence to the professional provisions of the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists;
(ii) There is the urgent need for all media professionals to carry out an in-depth study of the provisions of the FoI Law in order to get better acquainted with it with a view to putting it to test for proper implementation;
(iii) There may be a need to review the Code of Ethics for Journalists to reflect the expectations of the FoI Law;
(iv) Journalists should, by their conduct in utilising this Law, allay any fears of abuse away from the intent of the Law;
(v) There is a need for the newspaper industry to put their business models in order and localise publications for wider readership and to engender more economic values;
(vi) There should be constant training and re-training of journalists to enhance their information role to society;
(vii) Stakeholders should ensure that the FoI Law can be accessed with little or no resources and tested to its limits;
(viii) Stakeholders should strive to ensure that the differences that hamstring the industry are amicably identified and resolved to move the industry firmly on the path of high professionalism;
(ix) Journalists’ remunerations are a subject of negotiation by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and their employers;
(x) It should be made a media event whenever there is any request for information;
(xi) The law should have national application;
(xii) The workshop endorses the pledge by the NUJ President to collaborate with the NPC and other stakeholders in enhancing the implementation of the FoI Act.
80 journalists from the South West states of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Lagos, and Kwara participated. Resource persons comprised the President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lawyers, Civil Society Rights Groups as well as senior serving and veteran journalists.