A training workshop for investigative journalists and the press on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011 was organised from May 20 to 22, 2012, at the Asaa Pyramid Hotel, Kaduna, Nigeria. The training organised by the Right to Information Initiative (R2K), Nigeria, the Forum of African Investigative Reporters (FAIR), and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), was supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
In attendance at the program were editors and reporters from radio, television, and print media organisations from the 19 northern states of Nigeria. The participants were drawn from both private and public media institutions.
The main objectives of the training were to familiarise journalists with the essential elements of the FOI Act and how they can use the Act to conduct investigative reporting in Nigeria. The workshop was also meant to demonstrate the importance of the FOI Act to general media reportage.
Six papers were presented at the workshop, including: “The History/ Evolution of the Right to Freedom of Information and the Emerging Global and Regional Best Practice Standards” by Mr Saka Azimazi, Executive Director of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions in West Africa (NNHRI-WA); “Essential Elements of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011” by Ms Ene Enonche, National Coordinator, Right to Information Initiative (R2K), Nigeria; and “Social Media and the Freedom of Information Act: Evolving Role of Journalists in the Era of Citizen Journalism” by Odoh Diego Okenyodo, Managing Director, Isu Media Ltd, Abuja.
Veteran journalist and columnist, Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf, the Executive Director of Advocacy Nigeria facilitated a participatory session on “Investigative Reporting: Aim and Methodology” while Mr. Dayo Aiyetan of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, (ICIR) presented a paper on the “Practical Application of Freedom of Information Act for Journalists.” Also, Mr Tobi Soniyi of ThisDay Newspapers spoke on “Preserving Media Integrity and Ethics in the Practice of Investigative Journalism.” The workshop proceedings were moderated by Mr Theophilus Abbah, the Editor of Sunday Trust and board member of FAIR.
Following the presentations and group works, intense deliberations led to the following observations:
1. That a dearth of thorough and in-depth investigative journalism is glaring in the Nigerian media landscape.
2. That the FOI Act is laudable because it has broken down the wall around government records, such that Nigerians can now access what was previously considered as secret documents of government and public organizations, even when the nature of their content may not necessarily be secret, or may be information already in the public domain. With the FOI Act, everyone, including those with disability, can have access to information. This law, therefore, facilitates investigative reporting by the media.
3. That public interest takes precedence over secrecy, according to the FOI Act.
4. That the FOI Act supersedes the Official Secrets Act, in respect of access to information.
5. That the FOI Act creates an obligation on government and public institutions to address the problem of improper recordkeeping by government institutions.
6. That many journalists have not read the FOI Act.
7. That Journalism should be a tool for development; so the role of the investigative journalists is to contribute to developmental processes by highlighting areas where government fails in its responsibility; and where rules are violated by government officials. This is enshrined in the Constitution.
8. That social media is a cheap and effective way of receiving and processing FOIA requests and public institutions must endeavour to deploy social media tools in the implementation of the FOI Act.
9. That the ethics of Journalism are not being observed by many journalists in the course of their practice.
1. Every journalist should become acquainted with the provisions of the FOIA.
2. Journalists have the responsibility to test the FOIA by making requests demanding for access to public information. This will help ensure implementation by public institutions.
3. Journalists should engage more in thorough and in-depth investigative journalism aimed at contributing to significant and positive social development.
4. Systems and processes should be put in place by Public Institutions to facilitate access to information.
5. Public institutions should address the problem of inadequate record keeping at all tiers, in compliance with the FOI Act.
6. The principle of maximum disclosure should be adopted by public institutions in their proactive disclosure mandate. Public institutions should make readily available annual reports and other
information of their activities.
7. Civil society, the media and other stakeholders should collaborate on establishing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for the effective implementation of the FOI Act.
8. With FOI Act in place, Government should repeal inconsistent legislations, including the Official Secrets Act, 1911.
9. Public institutions should communicate in a timely manner with persons who make requests for information whenever they are unable to meet deadlines stipulated by the FOI Act.
10. Journalists are enjoined to use social media to engage the public in the application of the FOI Act, and in monitoring its implementation.
11. Journalists should uphold the ethics of their profession in reporting.