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Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act


Media on the spot!

Ronald Kayanja speaks

By Sheriff Olwole Olusanya

“On this World Press Freedom Day, I urge all Governments, politicians, businesses and citizens to commit to nurturing and protecting an independent, free media. Without this fundamental right, people are less free and less empowered. With it, we can work together for a world of dignity and opportunity for all.” – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.


World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations’ General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation at UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3rd May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty. (Source:

Interestingly, this year’s World Press Freedom day which co-incidentally fell on the first working day of the month (3rd May, 2016), collided with three important milestones: The 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law – covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland; the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration of press freedom principle and this year was also the first year of the 15 year life-cycle of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year’s theme; “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms – This Is Your Right” focuses on three different aspects of press freedom: freedom of information as a fundamental freedom; as a human right – protecting press freedom from censorship and surveillance overreach – ensuring safety for journalism online and offline.


Freedom Of Information Act, 2011

The FOI Bill spent over 11 years in the legislative process before it was finally signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on the 28th of May, 2011. A seminal paper titled; “FOI ACT: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES FOR JOURNALISTS” examined the advantages and the limitations of the FOI and offers ways it can be amended to meet the realities of the present day. In some parts of the article, the author noted that; “the Nigeria’s version of FOIA did not differ much from the ones in other countries. According to its preamble, the act is – to make public records and information more freely available, provide for public access to public records and information, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy, protect serving public officers from adverse consequences in disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization and establish procedures for the achievement of those purposes and; for related matters.”

However, the Act indicated that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to have access to any records under the control of the government or public institution provided he applies for and has no specific interest to the information being applied for. But, one has to analyse the right of access to records as there is no way one apply for information without having personal interest.                                                                                  

Similarly, it did not specify who is eligible to get records from public institution or government. Does it mean, a man on the street can just apply for information from government or public institution and get it easily and free from interference?                                                                                              

Investigative Journalism

According to the English dictionary, to investigate means to carry out a detailed examination or inquiry, especially officially, in order to find out about something or somebody. The same dictionary defines Journalism as the profession of gathering, editing, and publishing news reports and related articles for newspapers, magazines, television or radio.

Deductively, The Encarta Encyclopaedia defines Investigative Journalism which it dubbed “Investigative Reporting” as newspaper or broadcast journalism that focuses on long-term efforts to uncover corruption or misconduct, especially by public institutions and government.

Journalism here was defined as the gathering, evaluating, and distributing facts of current interest. In journalism, reporters research and write stories for print and electronic distribution, often with the guidance of editors or producers. The earliest journalists produced their stories for news sheets, circulars, newspapers, and periodicals. With technological advances, journalism came to include other media, such as radio, documentary or newsreel films, television, and the Internet. However, we should not forget that the main focus of this article is to examine critically the correlation between access to information and unhindered news reporting.

Access to Information

In October 2015, I got my first diploma in Investigative Journalism from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland in an online program from a United Kingdom based study-website. During the course of the six weeks program, one of the important topics discussed was ‘News Values’ which offers to validate the importance of just and fair reportage and the essence of information disseminated to the listening/viewing/reading public. I believe that the importance of unhindered access to information to investigative journalism cannot be over-emphasized and this is one of the justifications for the promulgation of the Freedom of Information law.

As a freelancer, one of the challenges I am facing in the cause of my job which is getting updates and my personal opinion on recent happenings across to my readers is – Access to Information. I can state unequivocally that most Nigerians are reluctant to give information, I have been researching Euthanasia for over a year and I have not been able to gather enough research materials on the subject because I have not been fortunate enough to meet any legal and medical practitioner that is willing to be interviewed on the topic. In the same vein, countless reminders and visits were made to the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs’ and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA) in January when I was working on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) all to no avail. I had to rely on the internet, questionnaires and personal interviews to get my research documents. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this.                                                      


Honestly, I believe that for the fourth estate to successfully deliver on its mandate, more has to be done to empower journalists and other players in the media. The Freedom of Information Act is a step in the right direction but its success depends largely on implementation and this is directly comparative to enlightenment and re-orientation of Nigerians especially those in positions of authority. However, I also like to use this opportunity to implore journalists to ensure that they are vanguards of truths and information fed to the public are genuine and without fear and favour. This year’s theme reassures us that the access to information and fundamental freedoms are our rights and with them, “we can work together for a world of dignity and opportunity for all”, like the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said.  

God bless us all.


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