FOI Law, An Affirmation Of Church's Teachings —CAN

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The signing of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill into law is an affirmation of the church’s teachings on distributive justice, fairness, accountability in public office and security.

Rev. Fr. Willy Ojukwu, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday in Abuja.

Ojukwu noted that the law would help to curb some of the vices which the church condemned a nd put the country on the path of prosperity and progress.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that President Goodluck Jonathan signed the harmonised version of the bill on the FOI by the National Assembly into law on Saturday, a day before his inauguration.

NAN also reported that the law, among other things, guarantees right of access to information held by public institutions, irrespective of the form in which it is kept.

It is applicable to private institutions where they utilise public funds, perform public functions or provide public services.

The law also requires all institutions to proactively disclose basic information about their structure and processes, and mandates them to build the capacity of their members of staff to effectively implement and comply with the provisions of the Act.

The Freedom of Information Act further provides protection for whistleblowers and makes adequate provision for the information needs of illiterate and disabled applicants.

However, it recognises a range of legitimate exemptions and limitations to the public’s right to know but makes these exemptions subject to a public interest test that, in deserving cases, may override such exemptions.

NAN reported that the Federal Attorney-General is required to oversee the effective implementation of the Act and report on execution of this duty to Parliament annually.

Ojukwu said: “The signing of this law is a right step by Mr. President; it is in consonance with what we have been preaching in the church.

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“We believe in the system of Justice because God himself is just; He has given us this country with abundant resources for everyone to benefit from, so the FOI law will help in fighting corruption, insecurity, and make governance more open and accountable,” he said.

The cleric said he celebrated the signing of the bill by the president with his friends because it was long over due.

“Last night was one of my happiest days, I called my friends after the news and gave them wine in celebration of this new law because we have waited too long for it.”

The NUJ President, Malam Garba Mohammed, praised the signing of the law, noting that it would improve media practice in the country and challenge public office holdersto be more accountable and transparent.

Mohammed allayed fears that journalists would abuse the law, noting that it had adequate provisions that would make it less prone to abuse by all Nigerians.

He said that the NUJ would endeavour to sensitise its members to the application of the law to check unprofessional practices.

The bill on the FOI was first submitted to Nigeria’s 4th National Assembly in 1999 when the country returned to democracy but the NASS did not make much progress on it.

It was returned to the 5th NASS in 2003 and was passed by both chambers in the first quarter of 2007 but ended up not being signed by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The bill was, however, returned to the 6th National Assembly in 2007 and was passed on May 24, 2011.