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FOI Bill Moves Ahead in the Senate

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill scaled through its second reading at the Senate on January 30, 2008 with most Senators expressing their support for the proposed Law.

At the commencement of proceedings, Senator Teslim Folarin, the Senate Leader, introduced the Bill on the floor of the Senate and asked that Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), the lead sponsor of the Bill be allowed to lead the debates on the Bill.

Senate President,  David Mark

In his presentation Senator Ndoma-Egba pointed out that the FOI Bill is now entering its third legislative session as it was first introduced into the 4th Parliament of the National Assembly in December 1999. He recounted the Bills long legislative history and pointed out that the FOI bill was the only bill in the legislative history of this country that would undergo three public hearings.


He stated that the main purpose of the Bill is to guarantee members of the public a right of access to information held by government institutions and stressed the benefits of the bill, one of which was to enable the active participation of members of the public in public discourse on issues of governance. He also listed a few of the bills exemptions and called on his colleagues to ensure the bill gets an accelerated hearing as millions of Nigerians are watching and are anxious to see the bill become law.

Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba,  Arrowhead of the FOI Bill

Among contributors to the debates were Senator Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya (Kano South); Senator Uche Chukwumerije (Abia North); Senator Ganiyu Solomon (Lagos West); Senator Andrew Abidemi Babalola (Oyo North); Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South); Senator Nimi Barigha Amange (Bayelsa East); Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West); Senator Patrick Osakwe (Delta North); and Senator Adeleke Mamora.


Each of the contributors spoke on the importance of the bill to Nigeria, noting that rather than the lip service being given to the fight against corruption, having a law such as this will help in such crusade.  They appealed that the bill be given an accelerated hearing.


Senator Uche Chukwumeriji pointed out that "the freedom of Information will help remove all traces of colonial policies in our Constitution particularly the Official Secrets Act; it will help widen our democratic space for everyone." He however stated that having trade secrets as exempted information was worrisome and that billons of naira were been siphoned under the guise of trade secrets. 


Senator Patricia Noami Akwashiki, in her contribution, pointed out that the bill should not be looked at as being to the benefit of journalists alone and that all Nigerians will reap the benefits of this law. She also noted that as legislators they knew how difficult it gets to source information, adding that the law will enhance their work.


Senator Akwashiki said:  "people die due to the lack of knowledge, not poverty itself.  People want to know how monies appropriated to their local and state governments are spent."


She observed that until recently a lot of the accounts held by government were not known to anyone. But she suggested that the title of the bill should be changed from Freedom of Information to Right or Access to Information, an opinion which was shared by Senator Lee Ladogo Maebe.


Senator Patrick Osakwe asked that the Information and Media Committee should investigate why the bill was not signed by the former President, if the provisions of the bill had a human face and if the bill will create a problem for those who will implement it. He also stated that cognizance must be taken of the Official Secrets Act and that the FOI Bill must not be seen to be in conflict with that Act as it was still operational.


Senator Mamora in his own contribution appealed to his colleagues to appreciate the long history of this bill as it had gone through multiple fractures and that all of the issues raised on the Bill has been dealt with extensively.  He noted that Media Rights Agenda had sent text messages to clarify a lot of the issues being raised today.


He also noted that the Nigerian Constitution provides that the Press must be free at all times to uphold the accountability of the government to the people and quoted from the bible by saying "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."


He said it is because the Nigeria Press is not free and does not have access to information or to verify information that the media publishes all sorts of stories. He concluded his debates by praying for the Bill thus:  "that no weapon fashioned against this Bill shall prosper."


Rounding up the debates Senator Osita Izunaso noted that it was very unfortunate that eight years after it was originally presented to the National Assembly, they were still debating and talking about the FOI Bill.


He argued that the bill is the most important legislative document and that it was due to insincerity that it did not become law in the last administration, pointing out that it is very important that Nigeria joins the league of countries that are already enjoying the benefits of such a law.  He urged the Senate to ensure that the provisions of the bill were not watered down.


The Senate President subsequently put the bill to a voice vote and the senators overwhelmingly voted for it, resulting in its passage through the second reading.


The Bill is being jointly sponsored at the Upper Chamber by 25 Senators cutting across all the political parties out of the Senate’s 109 members. The sponsors of the Bill are the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN); Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekeremadu; the Senate Leader Senator Teslim Folarin; the Chariman of the Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ayogu Eze; the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Senator Uche Chukwumerije; the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Jibril Aminu; the Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Defence and Army, Senator Chris Anyanwu; the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Senator Smart Adeyemi, and the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Federal Character, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora.


Others are Senator Effiong Dickson Bob, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Senate Services; Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Water Resources;  Senator Abubakar Sodangi, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory; Senator Mohammed Mana, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Integration/Cooperation; Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports; Senator Sylvester Anyanwu, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Communication; Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Affairs; and Senator James Manager, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta.

The Bill is also being co-sponsored by Senator Ganiyu Solomon, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Capital market; Senator Nimi Barigha-Amange, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee Internal Affairs; Senator Emmanuel Paulker, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Downstream; Senator George Sekibo, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals; Senator Wilson Ake, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Employment and Labour; Senator Lee Maeba, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Upstream Petroleum; Senator Zainab Kure, Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Planning; and Senator Alloysious Etok.




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