Lagos Government Sets Agenda Right, Plans to Pass FOI bill in January 2010

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Inspite of the failure of the Federal Lawmakers of Nigeria both at the Senate and House of Representatives to consider the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, which is a virile step to make governance in Nigeria more transparent and for the benefit of people practicing journalism and ultimately in the overall interest of Nigerians; the Lagos State House of Assembly has on Tuesday (Dec 22) decided to break the jinx, and also to set another precedent by earmarking FoI bill as one of the first bills for quick passage in January, 2010.Already, the bill, which is a prototype of the one before the National Assembly, gathered that it has sailed through first reading at the Assembly last Monday.Sequel to this huge step taken by Lagos State Assembly, a lot of applause had been given to the current administration of the state. The bill was sponsored by the House Majority Leader, Hon. Kolawole Taiwo. Speaking on the issue, the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji said democracy and freedom of information is expected to work in tandem. “We are not serious about democracy or the entrenchment of sound democratic principles if we do not take the freedom of information serious. If the government continues to hide necessary information that can aid development from the people, then we can not say we are in a democratic setting,”Reacting further, the Speaker of the state Assembly had decided to show the light to other assemblies across the country by passing the bill into law and garnering support for it.Ikuforiji said, “It is only when we have that law in place that we can claim to have democracy at work. When we return in January, we will take up that bill and pass it into law within the first few days of the New Year.”Still on this landmark development, the Chairman of the House Committee on Information and Strategy, Mr. Ipoola Omisore, said with the FOI bill, the Assembly would set the pace for other state assemblies, maintaining that it's a veritable tool for purposeful governance. He said, “The bill is popular among the lawmakers in the Lagos Assembly. As progressive lawmakers, we want Nigeria to be free of fraud; championing the freedom of information is a good way to do this and to entrench good governance.“The National Assembly should have passed the bill a long time ago; its members are foot-dragging, the same way they have refused to list in the Constitution the additional 37 local government councils created by the Lagos State Government. Passing the bill into law will serve as a catalyst to other state assemblies; we expect them to follow suit. By the time two-thirds of the state assemblies in Nigeria pass the bill, we hope the National Assembly will feel challenged.” While explaining more about the matter, Omisore said the bill had been neglected for too long by the National Assembly, an arm of government, which people expect to stand for things that encourage good checks have it that the Freedom of Information Bill was sponsored in 1999 by the Coalition for the Freedom of Information Bill, it has become the longest bill that has suffered the harshest persecution at the National Assembly. If the bill passed into law, it will provide for the declassification of and public right of access to information. At the twilight of his tenure, former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign the bill into law. Since it was re-presented in the House of Representatives in 2008, lawmakers have refused to pass it. Some of the parliamentarians have also blamed the non implementation of the bill on lack of real practice of journalism in Nigeria. After a detailed appraisal of journalism practice in Nigeria today as opposed to yesteryear, the Chairman Senate Committee on Aviation, Sen. Anyim Ude, has concluded that the large dose of indiscipline, lack of social responsibility and sundry unethical practices characterize the profession today, and to him that contributed in making the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill unpassable over 10 years.

It would be recalled that Deputy speaker, Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada, had, earlier in the fourth quarter of 2009, while trying to save the face of his fellow ''honourables'' declared that the leadership of the House had stepped up efforts in educating members and ensured that the bill was passed into law while receiving a coalition of civil society stakeholders. Also in form of solidarity for the support over the passage of the bill, journalists covering the House have condemned the position of the chamber over the long delay in the passage of the bill, they however threatened to stay away from covering house activities, if the FOIB is not considered within a reasonable time to facilitate its passage.

However, some distinguished lawmakers have distanced themselves from this long delay by repudiating their colleagues over what they call ''foot-dragging''. Some of them are Abike Dabiri, Femi Gbajabiamili etc. They said the delay is all about the fear of the media, and that the bill will help to promote transparency. But there is a misconception that it is a bill that will make the media so powerful, they however affirmed that they will give up, but continue to talk to their colleagues that it is not a media bill and there is nothing to be afraid about. Lagos has set the ball rolling it is left for the federal legislature to make so that part of the ingredients to sustain our democracy would not be downplayed.

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