NIGERIA AND THE RIGHT TO KNOW
Information is the oxygen of democracy.
Today is the International Right to Know Day (IRKD) and for a nascent democracy like Nigeria there is much to celebrate just as there are much more to be concerned about.
On this day the world shines its spotlight on the legal principle that citizens have the right to access and utilize relevant public information that can enhance their lives and the common good of the society.
The right to information is imperative in any democratic setting for socioeconomic development hinged on transparency and accountability in government. It lends possibility to public involvement in formulating social policies and decision-making processes of governance.
Democracy does not thrive on propaganda and secrecy, rather, on pragmatic legal doctrines one of which is the free flow of information between the governed and the government.
In May 28, 2011 Nigeria got her Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) after years of tortuous politicking by successive governments of the country. The FoIA is a piece of legislation aimed at making public records and information more freely available to citizens hence promoting public accountability and transparency.
So far, some appreciable successes have been recorded through the act, however, the path to tour towards public transparency and accountability through the free flow of relevant information is undoubtedly long for Nigeria, given the decades of unchecked corruption, malfeasance, looting and gross misconduct in public institutions.
It is however bothersome that a good number of Nigerians do not have a lucid understanding of the value of information in societal advancement, otherwise, there ought to be a broad interest and relative action in questioning and demanding relevant issues from public office holders and those who utilize public funds.
Suffice to say, the FoIA is not solely meant for journalists, lawyers and media practitioners but for all Nigerians to effectively engage public institutions and make relevant demands that are pivotal to developments. The act encourages both learned and unlearned citizens to approach public institutions with their demands either verbally or in writing.
It is also disturbing that against the proactive disclosure mandate of the act, vast number of public institutions in the country do not make or publish relevant information available to the public even without the public making such demands, a justification of our legal arbitrariness as a nation.
If this country must free itself from the hands of shenanigans who have continually denied the citizenry of basic social amenities and public good, then citizens must begin to ask germane questions, demand vital information, utilize the acquired pieces of information to drive home the long awaited change of a great and flourishing nation.
The Right to Know of Nigerians must be protected and promoted by all workings of the law. Public institutions must abide by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and the Judiciary must be strengthened to take disciplinary measures against defaulter of this act.
At the federal level, public institutions should abide by the provisions of the 1999 constitution which states that "the people shall be part of their own government"-democracy, hence there must be proactive disclosure of data and information thereby allowing the public engage the government, if indeed we want to nourish this nascent democracy of ours.
State governments should act democratically by either enacting or adopting this act in order to ensure and strengthen institutional transparency and accountability in their states.
Public awareness efforts must be intensified by Civil Society Organizations(CSOs) and the National Orientation Agency(NOA).
Citizens must show keen interest in public information by engaging institutions through the Freedom of Information Act.
The future of this country is based on the information disseminated and utilized.
Elegbede Tayo JET, is a freelance journalist and mediapreneur.
Follow on twitter: @tayojet1