Freedom of Information Act: editors’ tool for good governance by Umaru A. Pate Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State

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  • Posted by: Imoh Robert


  • There is a positive and direct relationship between freedom of expression and good governance in Nigeria; the more open the system, the higher the quality of governance
  • Freedom of expression and media freedom are crucial rights for protecting and daily realising of other human rights which are crucial for good governance
  • Freedom of expression can only be meaningful if media channels and their professionals are independent and professionally capable of freely and safely gathering, processing and disseminating public information

Media responsibilities

  • The 1999 Constitution clearly mandates the media to keep the government accountable to the electorates manifested through constitutional, structural and psychological responsibilities
  • Thus, the media is to provide contents and services that inform, enlighten, educate and edify the people on the basis of equity, fairness and respect for local values and interests
  • The media works in the collective interest of the people and the nation as enshrined in the Constitution through diverse programming/content that address the needs of the people with special regards to their heterogeneity, culture, politics, economics, etc


  • Nigeria has a comprehensive legal framework that seek to promote the performance of the duties of the journalists; though there are breaches
  • One of such legal instruments is the Freedom of Information Act to facilitate access to information for public good as part of sustaining good governance
  •  The judiciary and other societal structures support and protect journalists and the media to be able to legally, professionally and fearlessly access, process and disseminate information
  • At all times, journalists require credible information to work with

The FoI Act

  • FOI Act makes public records and information more freely available, provide for 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 established procedures for the achievement of those purposes
  • Section 1: Right of access to records
  •        -the right of any person to access or request information…which is in the custody of any public official, agency…is established
  •        -no need to demonstrate specific interest in the information being      applied for
  •        -right to institute proceedings in the Court to compel compliance

Good governance

  • UNESCO says good governance includes notions of greater participation by civil society in decision making, instituting the rule of law, anti-corruption, transparency, accountability, poverty reduction and human rights
  • Good governance links government to the notion of responsibility for and to the citizenry as opposed to the traditional idea of authority over a nation–legitimacy emanating from popular assent to and participation in government, which is concerned with the welfare of its citizens
  • 8 characteristics of good governance are: Rule of Law, Transparency, Responsiveness, and Consensus Building, Equity and Inclusiveness, Effectiveness and Efficiency, Accountability, and Participation

Editors and the FoI

  • As the gatekeepers and managers in the newsrooms, editors are key figures in determining quantity and quality of information that facilitate good governance
  • Editors and their teams can set societal agenda through the quality, quantity, intensity and focus of their reporting over time
  • Editors need the FOI Act as a facilitative and protective legal instrument to access and disseminate information that may be difficult to reach
  • Effective coverage through investigative journalism can check corruption tendencies and expose abuses in the system
  • Difficult individuals and institutions can be legally compelled to provide details of their dealings for media scrutiny to promote openness and good governance


  • Despite the numerous advantages offered by the Act, implementation has remained very low
  • Not much is known about FoIA cases filed by media organizations on denial or refusal to honour requests by public officials
  •  No much evidence of use in terms of investigative reports
  • Journalists still rely on their traditional news sources to access information
  • Many journalists are still intimidated by public officers hiding under oppressive laws like the Official Secrets Act which should have been discarded with effective implementation of the FOIA
  • The argument on domestication of the Act by states
  • Lack of judicial precedence on the issue of domestication
  • Low motivation by some media organizations on the use of the Act
  •  Low knowledge of the Act among journalists


  • The contribution of journalism  in the fight against corruption and sustenance of good governance is subverted as there could be no accountability without access to information
  • Government officials may be temped to continue to deny journalists access to information and perpetuate bad governance, thus undermining general accountability and transparency in governance
  • Investigative reporting is hampered


  • The FoI Act is a crucial mechanism for editors and media houses for promoting, protecting and sustaining good governance and democracy in the country
  • Media organizations and editors should increase their effective use of the Act to check behaviours of bad governance by demanding for information from MDAs and publicising breaches
  • Effective and consistent use of the Act by journalists is one way to get government offices to establish FOIA desks and respond positively to FOIA requests
  • The media community can do more in advocacy, enlightenment and mobilisation among members and key stakeholders
Author: Imoh Robert

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