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JONATHAN'S AIDE, ABBA-AJI, VOWS TO SCUTTLE FOI BILL

By NBF News
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By BEN AGANDE & NDAHI MARAMA
ABUJA - Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba Aji, vowed yesterday to ensure that the president does not sign the Freedom of Information, FoI, Bill into law even as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media, Senator Ayogu Eze assured that the Senate will pass the Bill, in accordance with the yearnings of Nigerians

The Presidential aide, who told newsmen in Maiduguri that he was disappointed in the House of Representatives for passing the bill, declared that he expected the upper chamber of the National Assembly to throw it out, stressing that the Bill was against the nation's constitution.

Abba-Aji said if the Senate fails in its duties to Nigeria, he would be left with no option but to advise the president not to assent to the bill.

It would be recalled that the 34-clause piece of legislation was passed by the House of Representatives last week.

With the Senate expected to follow suit this week, Abba Aji dropped the bombshell that he will work against the passage of the bill which if finally passed into law will give Nigerians access to information unimpeded.

Abba Aji while revealing that he led the group that opposed the passage of the bill on the floor of the National Assembly during the Obasanjo's reign said he had not regretted his action and was ready to fight the Bill to a standstill.

He said it was regrettable that this Bill continues to drag for long. He queried the support for the bill, stressing that no government or organisation will offer its official secret to members of the public or the press.

The former senator insisted that all public institutions had information that must be closely guided for the benefit of peace, progress and development of the society.

He said Nigerians should be wary of opening the nation's secret to the rest of the world through this unpatriotic FoI Bill, insisting that instead of the Bill what needs to be promoted is the freedom of the press.

Abba Aji who claimed that the Nigerian press remained the freest, said even in the United States of America, USA, information still gets classified, noting that once information gets classified in the US, it is after 30 years that it gets declassified.

On the unconstitutionality of the FoI, the aide to the president argued that every public officer, including the president, was under oath of secrecy that is in the constitution and this is what this new bill is trying to oust.

Senate 'll pass the Bill
Meanwhile, in an interview with Vanguard yesterday, Senator Eze said the Senate was not averse to the passage of the Bill as it had already undergone second reading and is awaiting the third and final passage.

The passage of the Bill by the House of Representatives last week has turned the pressure on the Senate from Nigerians who believe that the upper legislative chamber should accelerate the passage of same.

But speaking with Vanguard yesterday, Senator Eze said the Bill would be passed 'as soon as the Senate leadership meets and decides on its passage. I cannot give a definite date for now but it is not going to be delayed further than necessary.'

The House of Representatives penultimate week passed the Bill with amendments to some of the critical provisions contained in the original bill.

Areas that were waived in the Act were International Affairs and Defence in which case the head of government or public institution may refuse to disclose any record which may be 'injurious to the conduct of International Affairs and the Defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria'

One of the key sponsors of the Bill, Hon. Abike Dabiri expressed delight with the passage of the bill saying that 'with the passage of this bill, we have taken a major step and I am happy that the bill has been passed under the leadership of Dimeji Bankole'.