Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was signed into law on 28th May, 2011. The Act was to promote transparency, openness and accountability in Public Offices. The underlying philosophy of the Act is that Public Officers are custodians of a public trust hence the public have the right to know what the Officers do.
Section 1 (1) of the Act says:
“The right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written from which is in the custody or possession of any Public Official, Agency or Institution, however described.”
The right granted by the FOIA can be exercised by anyone irrespective of age, race or gender. Citizens have the right to public records and documents held in the custody of Public and Private Institutions and Services.
Sections 4 and 5 provide that response to access request should be given within seven (7) days. A Public Institution must grant access to a request for records or information within a time limit of seven (7) days.
It is worthy to note that, there are Penalties for destruction of records. Section 10 of the Act provides sanctions against the destruction or falsification of records and documents.
Section 8 of the FOIA provides that fees shall be limited to standard charges for document duplication and transcription where necessary. Therefore, access to information is free.
Also, Public Institutions must keep proper records. The FOIA places responsibilities on Public Institutions to ensure that they keep records and information about their activities, operation and businesses. It also requires them to maintain properly organized information and records to facilitate easy access to such information, in addition to proactively publishing information about the institution by print, electronic and online sources. The Act also makes it mandatory that public institutions must train public officers on the provisions of the Act and the proper implementation of the Act.
Section 27 of the FOIA provides immunity for Public Officers against any form of Civil or Criminal Proceeding/disclosure in good faith of any information pursuant to the FOIA. Thus, Public Officials who blow the whistle of failure of public duty, abuse of power, mismanagement of resources or corruption are entitled to be protected against legal proceedings and from reprisals.
Section 11-17 exempts certain information/records from public access. Such information include the disclosure of which could damage the conduct of international affairs and defense of Nigeria; information on administrative law enforcement proceedings and investigation, personal information, third party information such as trade secrets and commercial or financial information, information and records pertaining to professional privileges, journalism confidentiality, legal practitioner and health worker privileges and course materials are similarly exempted.
There is a Right of access to Remedies, including Judicial Review. The Act allows everyone the right to initiate proceedings in court to compel any Public Institution to comply with the provisions of the Act. It also provides a thirty-day window within which anyone who has been denied access by any Public Institution can bring the matter to court for a judicial review. The National Human Rights Commission would also, under the laws applicable to it, have a role in ensuring proper implementation of the rights in the FOIA.
Lastly, the FOI Act places ultimate responsibility and obligation for implementation of its provisions on the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation. By the first day of February of each year, all Public Institutions must submit to the Attorney-General an Annual Compliance Report. The INEC FOIA Desk at present is manned by a Deputy Director (GL.16). In keeping with the rules of FOIA, 2011, the Commission on 18th November, 2017 had conducted Customized Training for Directing Cadre with Resource Persons from Ministry of Justice to enlighten the officers on the ‘’ Effective Implementation of FOIA.’’
The Commission has been implementing the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to ensure compliance and promote accountability in public service.