Friday, July 22, 2011
"PEOPLE ARE ENTITLED TO ASK QUESTIONS ON RESOURCES USED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS"- FASHOLA
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Thursday declared that the Government has taken necessary steps towards acquainting all classes of public officials with the import of the Freedom of Information Act just as work has reached advanced stage to ensure the enactment of the law in the State.
Governor Fashola, who spoke alongside his Niger State counterpart, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and the Canadian Information Commissioner, Ms Suzanne Legault at the Muson Centre, Onikan venue of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) Town Hall Meeting with the theme "For The Public Purpose; Deepening The FOI", said the State House of Assemble had concluded deliberations on the State’s version of the Act and is currently waiting to get the Federal version for the purpose of harmonization.
The Governor who noted that governance, especially in the public sphere, is a matter of public trust, declared, "The Freedom of Information Law represents the mindset of those of us who are privileged to represent the people of Lagos".
"If the people came to ask us to represent them, they have the right to ask us every time how we are spending their resources and how we are utilizing their time. They have focused on the money but, probably they have not focused on the time and, really, time is the money", the Governor said.
Recalling a recent editorial in one of the national dailies that began to question how the executive time in the public sphere is being used, Governor Fashola declared, "May be, if the FoI law had existed before now, all the myth about it would have exploded by itself and we would have come very quickly to recognize that the legislation is not for the Press but for the people of Nigeria and many of the fears that existed such as those bordering on national security would have been dealt with in the exceptions that exist in the Federal version of the legislation".
"I was opportuned to speak with a parliamentarian when the bill was high in the public court as to what actually was wrong with the bill and he said ‘well, I don’t think Nigerians are ready for this law’, the Governor further recalled and declared, "It seems to me that the role of a leader is not to delimit the possibilities of what the people are ready for but the courage to lead them to great heights of expectation".
Governor Fashola asserted, however, that although the law is for everybody, the Press should be at the vanguard of the exposition and protection of those rights adding that they have a leadership role to play in the implementation of the law in order to make it work appropriately.
Another group that should be in the vanguard of the exposition and protection of the law, according to the Governor, is the civil society which, in his views, also has a leadership role to play "in the sense that it utilizes those rights for the development and prosperity of Nigeria".
"I say this very emphatically; we will have roles to play. I recently invited Mr. Femi Falana to come and teach us what our roles will be under the law and I have given an Executive Order to the Head of Department to begin to plan to run courses down the structure of the system such that would clarify the issue of who does what under the law", Governor Fashola said.
Some of the issues to that would be clarified, the Governor said, include that of whether the citizen who wants to enforce his right under the law is the one to bear cost of making photocopies of the documents required or the Federal Government adding, "These are issues to decide within the domestic purview of the law".
Governor Fashola said the Judiciary would be the institution that would enable the balance to be held adding, "Therefore, there is leadership responsibility there as well to ensure that judges are familiar, not only with the Law but also with societal evidence, because there will be policy considerations"
"Everybody must realize that the rights conferred under the law are essentially to be exercised for the purpose of enabling Nigeria to prosper; and we must also recognize that rights are never absolute. They bring with them certain corresponding duties and right end where duties begin", the Governor said.
Contributing earlier, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka charged the Federal Government to put the bill to test by making public the findings of the panel set up to investigate how the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was fretted out of the country for three months and later brought in without the knowledge of the people of Nigeria as well as all the intrigues surrounding his disappearance and reappearance before his eventual death.
In her contribution, the Canadian Information Commissioner, Susan Legot, said the responsibility of enforcing the Freedom of information Law rests squarely on the people of Nigeria pointing out that the civil society and the press would not be enough to put sufficient pressure on the government to implement the law.
According to the Commissioner, "In order that proper delivery of the Freedom of Information bill will be achieved, leadership will be essential, public engagement will be essential, partnerships between other various stakeholders will be fundamental as well as the training of the people within the institutions that will deliver the legislation and constant evaluation of how the programme is doing within the system".
Also speaking, Governor Babangida Aliu of Niger State expressed joy at the ratification of the bill by the President saying that the law was actually made for the protection of the peoples’ rights to know how their government is being run by those they entrusted it to.
The Governor who also insisted that the freedom is not absolute said his administration would also domesticate the law adding that he brought the relevant members of his cabinet to the Town Hall Meeting to enable them listen to the contributions from the eminent guests towards the implementation of the law in Niger State.
In his welcome address earlier, former President of NPAN and Chairman of the occasion Mallam Isa Funtua, commended the Lagos State Governor for making it possible for invitees to arrive the venue on time as a result of the tremendous improvement in traffic management in the State in the last four years.
"This is the first time I am attending a function in Lagos and it is starting just seven minutes behind schedule. This is a miracle. In the past, when people would be winding up, you would see others just strolling in because they would say this is Lagos ", the Chairman said, and turning to Governor Fashola, he said, "Mr. Governor, well done".
Also present at the occasion were the representative of Ekiti State Governor, Chairman of Vanguard Newspapers, Dr, Sam Amuka and his Daar Communications counterpart, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, , Mr. John Momoh of Channels, President of Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye and other media executives as well as top government functionaries across the country and members of the Diplomatic Corps.