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Media Rights Agenda - Promoting and Protecting Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Nigeria

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About MRA

The Campaign for a Freedom of Information Act

In 1993, the Civil Liberties Organisation, Media Rights Agenda and the Nigerian Union of Journalists agreed to work together to campaign for the introduction of freedom of information legislation in Nigeria.

The objective of the campaign was to lay down as a legal principle the right to be informed about administrative documents as a necessary corollary to the guarantee of freedom of expression and to prescribe rules for the exercise of this right.

In 1994, Media Rights Agenda produced a draft bill entitled the Access to Official Information Act. The content of the draft was based on consultations among the three groups, the experience of other countries operating freedom of information legislation and suggestions made by practising Nigerian journalists in the questionnaires administered by Media Rights Agenda. The draft became the basis for further discussions and debates on the issue.

On March 10 and 11, 1995, the three participating organisations jointly organized a two-day technical workshop to examine and revise the draft, taking into consideration the views of other interest groups, which might use the proposed legislation. Participants in the workshop included human rights workers, journalists, lawyers, university lecturers and representatives of the National Broadcasting Commission and the Federal Ministry of Information.

The thrust of the debate at the workshop was aimed at achieving a consensus among the various interest groups that are affected by the availability or otherwise of a legally protected right of access to government held information.

Based on discussions at the workshop, Media Rights Agenda produced a revised second draft of the proposed legislation later that year.

The Civil Liberties Organisation, Media Rights Agenda and the Nigerian Union of Journalists continued to invite views from concerned parties within Nigeria and in the international arena on the draft legislation.

From March 16 to 18, 1999, Media Rights Agenda, working with ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship, in London; and the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, organized a Workshop on Media Law Reform in Nigeria at Ota in Ogun State. The workshop was attended by 61 representatives of the media, both independent and state controlled; regulatory bodies; the legal profession; international institutions, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Dr. Abid Hussain; local and international non-governmental organizations; and other interest groups.

A substantial part of the workshop was devoted to discussion of the draft Freedom of Information legislation, which was further reviewed. In The Ota Platform of Action on Media Law Reform in Nigeria, a consensus document which emerged at the end of that workshop, further recommendations were made on the content of the draft legislation.

The recommendations contained in that document were effected in the revised draft of the proposed legislation.

Shortly after the inauguration of the new civilian government, President Olusegun Obasanjo announced his plan to present to the National Assembly for consideration and enactment into law an anti-corruption Bill. On June 10, 1999, Media Rights Agenda wrote to President Obasanjo expressing support for his avowed commitment to fight corruption in Nigeria and his plan to present an anti-corruption Bill to the National Assembly.

MRA, however, observed that accountability and transparency in Government were crucial to any meaningful anti-corruption crusade, arguing that accountability and transparency could not be possible if citizens have no right of access to information held by the State or its agencies or if no mechanism exists for giving practical effect to the right to freedom of information.

It therefore requested President Obasanjo to also present the draft Freedom of Information Bill to the National Assembly for consideration and support efforts to secure its enactment.

However, by a letter dated July 19, 1999, signed by his personal assistant, Mr. Ojo A. Taiwo, President Obasanjo advised Media Rights Agenda to send the draft directly to the National Assembly.

Prior to the receipt of the letter from President Obasanjo, Media Rights Agenda, representing the sponsoring organizations for the Bill, met with members of the National Assembly with the objective of identifying possible arrowheads for the campaign efforts and to secure their support for the Bill.

The Bill was subsequently sponsored in the House of Representatives by Dr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe, Honourable Tony Anyanwu, and Honourable Nduka Irabor and published in the Federal Governmentís Official Gazette.

The Bill has now gone through two readings on the floor of the House of Representatives where it received widespread support with no opposition. It was then consigned to the House Committee on Information.

The Bill is due to come before the House of Representatives for the third and final reading and possibly, passage, when its resumes from its present vacation.

Freedom of Information Act, draft

Freedom of Information Act, with Committee comments