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EVALUATION OF AWARENESS AND UTILIZATION OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, 2011, BY BROADCAST JOURNALISTS’ IN KOGI STATE

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

Free access to relevant information is central to effective journalism practice globally. Information is to journalism what raw products are to manufacturers. Journalists need information from the society to enable them refine it and return same to the society with the ultimate aim of making the society a better place. The right to information has been given a boost by the United Nations Universal Declaration of

Human Rights (1948) article 19 which states “Everyone has the right to Freedom of opinion and expression: this rights includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria equally empowers the press in section 22 when it states ‘‘The press, radio television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people’’ Also, section 39 of the same constitution equally states ‘‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.’ However, what the constitution gave in section 39, it took in section 45 when it writes ‘‘Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.’ This means, the government can bring up any law and claim it is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. Gever and Tyegyu (2015,p.33) corroboratively writes “One of the challenges confronting the practice of journalism globally is the issue of access to information. Journalism is founded on information gathering, processing and dissemination” It was in an attempt to promote access to information that the freedom of information bill (as it was known then) was initiated. The bill was initiated in 1993 by three different organisations, working independently of each other. They are Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), which agreed to work together on a campaign for the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act (Freedom of Information Coalition 2015). Members of the setup by the different bodies met with the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, to secure his support for the enactment of the draft into law. Although he was in principle supportive of the idea, it was clear that he lacked the political influence within the Abacha regime to push the draft through. The political situation in Nigeria deteriorated shortly afterwards as the Abacha regime became more repressive and brutal and the law was never passed. The objective of the campaign was to lay down as a legal principle, the right of access to documents and information in the custody of the government or its officials and agencies as a necessary corollary to the guarantee of freedom of expression. It was also aimed at creating mechanisms for the effective exercise of this right.

The consultations among the initial partner organisations were geared, among other things, towards determining the various interest groups likely to be affected by the legislation; those who should have a right or standing to request information under a freedom of information regime and under what circumstances information may be denied those seeking them; what departments or organs of government would be responsible for releasing information and documents to those seeking them; and determining the agencies and arms of government to which the legislation would extend. Media Rights Agenda was designated the technical partner in the project under the arrangement agreed upon for taking the project forward. After many years of struggles and consultations, the bill was first passed into law in 2007 but President Obasanjo on April 27, 2007 refused to assent to it which was presented to him on March 23, 2007 (Abati, 2007). He was quoted as saying the bill should have been called the “Right to Information Bill” and that he had told members of the National

Assembly but they refused to change the title and, instead, chose to retain the

“Freedom of Information Bill.” However, President GoodLuck Jonathan on Tuesday 24th May, 2011, signed the Freedom of Information Act into law. The ultimate aim of the law is to enhance access to information as expressed in section 1, which states:

Notwithstanding 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

Although the above provision appears to be comprehensive, the provisions of section 12,13,14,15 16 and 17 make it sceptical for one to believe the sincerity of the

Act. It should be noted that a member of the House of Representatives from Lagos State Hon, Abike Dabiri Arewa is often credited as one of the foremost lawmakers who stood firm to ensure the passage of the FoI Act. Other countries with freedom of information laws are Indonesia which was enacted in 2010, United States of America, enacted as far back as 1967, Yemen 2012, Australian enacted in 1982 among several others (http://home.broadpark.no/~wkeim/foi-list.htm). A global survey of press freedom of countries conducted by Reporters Without Borders (2013), lists the first ten countries with a vibrant press law as, Finland, Netherland, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Denmark, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden. Nigeria was ranked 115 out of 179 countries studied. This goes to show the country (Nigeria) has a long way to go with regards to press freedom.

Apart from the limitations of the provision of the Act, it is desirous to determine the level of awareness of the contents of the Act by broadcast journalists in Kogi state. This is more so that literature on the level of awareness of the Acts is considerably low and for a state that has up to five broadcast stations-Radio Kogi Lokoja, Grace FM Lokoja, NTA Lokoja, Confluence TV Lokoja and Precious FM Lokoja- such an understanding is very necessary. The extent of utilization of the Act in that is not clear as even the state government has not domesticated the Act. This is more so that a Federal High Court in Lagos had on Friday 31st October 2014 ruled that the 36 states of the federation could not be made to provide any information based on the Freedom of Information Act. Justice Okon Abang in a judgment he delivered pursuant to a suit filed by The Legal Defence and Assistance Project against some states of the federation ruled that the FOI Act, being an enactment of the National Assembly, was only binding on the Federal Government and its agencies. He also held that the Act was neither a residual law nor was it on the concurrent list of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).The Attorney General and Commissioners for Finance of the states were sued by the applicant over their refusal to provide an information requested under the FOI Act. The states are Lagos, Imo, Rivers, Abia, Akwa-Ibom and Delta. The applicant had written a letter to the states requesting information on the bond raised by the states in the capital market. With this judgment, it becomes relevant to also examine the obstacles to the implementation of the Act in Kogi State as well as explore ways of making the act more effective.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

One of the major problems to effective journalism practice globally is that of access to information. The situation in Nigeria is further made complex with the existence of laws like the Official Secret Act and the provision of section 45 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended.). The passage of the freedom of information bill into law to be known as Freedom of Information Act, 2011 was hailed as a welcome development. The excitement that greeted this move was predicated on the fact that the Act will aid journalism practice in Nigeria. But whether this goal has been achieved is subject to empirical proof. For instance, it is also not clear the extent journalists’ are aware and demand for information relying on the FOI Act. Equally worrisome is the obstacles that hinder the implementation of the Act using Kogi State as a case Study. The problem of this study posed as a question is, to what extent are broadcast journalists’ in Kogi state aware of and utilize the FOI Law in their journalistic exploits?

 

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