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Senate Passes FOI Bill, Defers PIB Till Post Election

Source: THEWILL. - thewillnigeria.com
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ABUJA, March 16, (THEWILL) - The Senate finally passed the Freedom of Information Bill (FOIB) today barely 24 hours after majority of members voiced objections to some defective clauses.

It was a landmark effort that was preceded by anxiety and fears of a possible deadlock particularly with some other senators including its leadership insisting that passage of the bill would amount to a ‘surplusage’ since the provisions are already contained in the Constitution.

On the flip side, the Senate dropped the contentious Petroleum Industry Bill sine die, promising though; “If we return we might consider the bill.” The Senate thereafter adjourned till April 19, 2011 for election. However a 5-man committee under the leadership of the Senate Committee Chairman on Media and Communication, Senator Ayogu Eze was constituted to harmonize the bill with the version earlier passed by the House of Representatives.

Highpoint of the bill is the provision that makes it mandatory for every government or public institution to ensure proper maintenance of all information or records in its custody, in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record under this Act.

In his remark however, Senate President David Mark, hoped that media workers and Nigerians will utilize information and records to their benefit and that of the country.

He believes that the passage of the FOI Bill will enhance the development of democracy in Nigeria and strengthen information dissemination and urged media practitioners to be more responsible in carrying out their jobs.

Consideration of the Freedom of Information Bill began in the Senate on Tuesday. The

House of Representatives had passed its own version of the bill about two weeks ago.

Recall that Senators had raised objections and tabled allegations ranging from adulteration to deliberate weakening of the bill on Tuesday. Particularly the Senate version in clause 2 seems to have rendered the bill impotent, some Senators had said.

Clause 2 of the Bill which deals with the right of access to records stipulates that, "Every citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a legally enforceable right to, and shall, on application be given access to any information or record under the control of a government or public institution or private companies performing public functions, provided the disclosure of such information or release of such record(s) shall not compromise national security.”

Senators pointedly questioned what constituted national security in the course of asking for public records and who would define whether information sought breaches national security.

Senator Smart Adeyemi had said, “This Bill will not meet with the concept of freedom of information that we want in Nigeria. What we have here is different from the one that was submitted. They have watered down the Bill so much that it cannot bite!

“If we bring the original Bill and place it side by side with what we have here, we’ll see that it’s different in concept and content.”

In the same vein, Senator Lee Meaba (PDP, Rivers), warned that unless section 39(3) of the constitution is amended, the FOI would not be operative.

Section 39((3) states; Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society -

(a) For the purpose of preventing the disclosure. of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or

(b) Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law”.

Meanwhile, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which was stood down in reaction to a protest by civil societies against its continuous delay was again stood down today after the first clause was considered and approved.

The Senate had on Tuesday threatened that it would delay the consideration of the bill owing to what it called threats by some civil society organizations and members of the public.

Senate President Mark noted that a lot of work needed to be done on the Bill, which he described as very important, and one that must be passed before the end of the life of this administration.

He said the conclusion work and passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill will now take place after the general election in Nigeria scheduled for the 2nd, 9th and 16th of April.