By NBF News

To fast-track the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan last May, the House of Representatives said it would constitute a Committee on Reform of Government Institutions and Process as provided for in Section 29, Sub-section 4 of the Act.

Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, who gave the hint yesterday while hosting the National Executive of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) also assured that the House would commence without delay, the review of critical legislations like the Official Secrets Act, which could hamper the implementation of the FoI act.

Tambuwal told the NUJ, led by its President, Mohammed Garuba, that the Official Secrets Act was in conflict with the FoI Act, noting that 'this is very important because Section 28 of the FoI Act provides for an implied amendment or repeal of conflicting provisions in the Official Secrets Act. For the purpose of clarity, it is imperative that this Act and others like it be either amended or expressly repealed.'

The speaker therefore urged the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federation to constitute a presidential task force on the speedy and effective implementation of the FoI Act.

He stated that Section 29 (4) of the FoI Act provides that the attorney general of the federation shall notify the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee on Government Reform Oversight of the House of Representatives and the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs and the Judiciary of the Senate, not later than April of the year in which each such report is issued, of the existence of such report, make it available to them in hard copies, as well as by electronic means.

The speaker declared that such provision was ambiguous and that it would be better for the committee when established to complement the work of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Government Affairs in relation to overseeing the work of the attorney general's office in ensuring the effective implementation of the FoI Act.

Tambuwal noted that the committee would also be mandated to speedily engage with whoever assumed the position of attorney general in the new cabinet to map out processes for ensuring compliance with the law by public and relevant private institutions.

Apart from expanding the responsibility of the proposed House of Representatives CSOs Liaison Unit to complement work of the committee, Tambuwal assured that the House would make the reporting on compliance with the provisions of the Act a critical issue during budgetary proposals of all public institutions.

He admonished journalists in the country to handle the FOI law with utmost sense of responsibility, adding that 'it must not be a license to impugn the integrity of public officers.'

Again, he urged the media to return to its strategic role of agenda setting and era of constructive engagement of the House on policy and legislative matters. The NUJ president had earlier praised the election of Tambuwal as speaker and urged him not to disappoint the people, adding that the union had embarked on training and retraining of its members for the challenges ahead. He invited the speaker to the fund raising ceremony for the construction of the union's national secretariat and later presented copies of publications by the union to the speaker.