As the world marks the International Day for Universal Access to Information, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has urged governments – at all levels to expand the nation’s democratic space by guaranteeing the right to access public information – in line with the Freedom of Information Act and other international instruments.
The professional group of all the editors in Nigeria noted that the International Day for Universal Access to Information was proclaimed on October 15 2019 at the 74th UN General Assembly to be held on September 28.
In a statement by the its President, Mustpha Isah and the General Sceretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, on Tuesday, the NGE said that the right to access public information is an indispensable element of a democratic space, which enables citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they make and the ways in which they spend public fund.
The editors expressed concern that 12 years after former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Freedom of Information Act, which empowers citizens to obtain information held by public bodies – with limited exceptions; and encompasses a right to request and receive information, as well as an obligation for governments to publish information proactively, the federal government agencies and ministries have continued to deny citizens access to information.
The NGE argued that if the government at all levels are truly serious in fighting corruption, then, access to information is an essential tool – in the ‘’war’’ against corruption.
‘’It enhances democratic accountability and transparency, detecting corrupt practices and enabling participation in the development of anti-corruption policy and law; and deepen trust among citizens and their governments.
‘’Citizens access to government-held information enables individuals to understand the role of government better and its decisions. With an informed citizenry, governments can be held accountable for their policies, and citizens can more effectively choose their representatives, especially as we approach 2023 general elections’’, the NGE added.
The editors explained that with few months to the 2023 general election, the citizens at this trying moment of the nation, require access to information in order to make useful decisions, regarding their civil obligations.
For example, the NGE said that the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) tasks nation to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public offices, and where applicable, the funding of political parties, and make efforts to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest.
The editors identify high administrative cultures of secrecy in the system of the federal government, coupled with a lack of citizen awareness as responsible for the low response rates to access to information requests.