The National Orientation Agency (NOA) has engaged stakeholders on the effective application of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) even beyond the frontiers of accounting and contract.
Speaking during a stakeholders’ dialogue on Understanding the Application of the Freedom of Information Act Beyond the Frontiers of Accounting and Contract, the Director General of NOA, Dr Garba Abari said the dialogue is targeted at widening public sensitization and deepening the implementation of the FOIA since its enactment in 2011.
He said the stakeholders dialogue is part of the Permanent Dialogue Mechanism (PDM) adopted by the NOA to be implemented between citizens and government to promote openness, accountability and good governance in Nigeria.
“This periodic review became imperative against the backdrop of efforts by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other stakeholders in widening public sensitization and deepening the implementation of the FOIA since its enactment in 2011.
“The four pillars around which PDM is built are Local Government Assembly; Peace and Security Platform; Town Hall Meetings and; Civil Society Organizations/Media Roundtable.
“The FOIA grants Nigerian citizens unfettered access to information required from any public institution”, Dr Abari said.
He said the rationale is to, among others, ensure that “there is public participation in governance; the business of governance is open to public scrutiny; laid down procedures in the conduct of public affairs are adhered to; transparency and accountability in governance are institutionalized; corruption is stemmed and; scarce resources are judiciously deployed for the well-being of citizens”.
Dr Abari further said the Open Government Partnership (OGP), on the other hand, which Nigeria subscribed to in 2016, is predicated on the need to promote transparency and accountability in governance with NOA driving Commitment 12 (Citizen Engagement) of this partnership in Nigeria.
“The OGP National Action Plan has 14 Commitments by thematic areas with various MDAS leading each Commitment.
“These Commitments include: Fiscal Transparency (1-5), Anti-corruption (6-9), Access to Information (10 & 11) and Citizen Engagement and Empowerment (12 & 14)”, he added.
He said through the operationalization of the PDM, NOA has synthesized the FOIA and the OGP to facilitate robust engagement with civil Society groups, the media and the public together with the Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD).
Also, the Director Reforms, Coordination and Service Improvement of the NOA, Mr Elisha Sabo explained that FOIA demands that requests for records be granted and disclosed whenever possible with associated timeliness.
“However, the Act recognised that there are instances where disclosure of information is inappropriate.
“For instance, citizens are conscious to know more about counter-intelligence reports in the field operations of the military against terrorists and bandits. Thus, the Act contains issue-based exemptions that may apply to justify refusal of a request.
“Similarly, feelers from the roundtable engagement with Freedom of Information Act Desk Officers held by the Agency on the 3 March, 2020 expressed the fact that citizens mostly utilise the Act to demand for financial and contract award records from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS)”, he added.