Quite often one feels overwhelmed by the doom and gloom and we don’t take time to celebrate our success stories. Last week our union member in Nigeria, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, achieved a remarkable milestone. Their House of Representatives passed the Freedom of Information Bill after a long campaign involving the NUJ and other press freedom advocates, lasting eleven years since it was first introduced to the National Assembly,
As well as breaking an all-time record of the longest gestation period the bill, which contains 34 clauses, may have also broken the record of the longest title “An Act to make public records and information more freely available, provide for public access to 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 for disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorisation and establish procedures for the achievement of those purposes and related purposes thereof."
Although the bill is still to be endorsed by the Senate, this is deemed to be a mere formality as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised to sign the bill into law immediately it comes before him.
It took one long slog but the NUJ has achieved what many of our unions are still dreaming of, a tool to open the door for openness and transparency, accountability in our public life, and responsibility in governance.
More needs to be done to bring other laws to be fully consistent with the FOI Act. The NUJ is now focusing on amending or repealing all existing laws such as the Secrecy Act, the Federal Commissions (Privileges and Immunities) Act, the Public Complaints Commission Act, the Evidence Act and the Criminal Code, which contain clauses forbidding the disclosure of official information by public officials.
Well done NUJ.