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Frequently Asked Questions

Questions on the Right to Know in Nigeria

1. What is the Right to Know?

The right to know can be defined as the inalienable right of each person, in this case, that of Nigerian nationals and residents, to access information and documents held by public or private institutions performing public functions.


2. Right to Know, right to information, access to information, freedom of information: what difference?

There is no difference, those are the expressions used indifferently to mean one and the same thing.

3. Freedom of information, freedom of the press, freedom of expression: what difference?

  • Freedom of Information relates mostly to the right of individuals (all citizens and residents of a given country) to access information held by public institutions or private institutions performing public functions, or where the individual requires the information held by such private institutions for the purposes of exercising his or her fundamental human right.
  • Freedom of the press relates specifically to media institutions and practitioners and what they can or cannot do within the scope of their work.
  • Freedom of expression is the ability of any person to express their opinion freely within the limits of the law.

 

4. Why is the right to know important/useful?


The Right to Know is a tool for democratic governance and citizens’ participation, and is of utmost importance because information is the life wire of every society and the vital ingredient for the effective sustenance of modern democracies.

For the people to participate actively and meaningfully in the governance process in any democratic dispensation, and further provide support for the effective implementation of progressive government policies, they need to be fully informed on what is happening.

Access to information is also important for social cohesion, in that it enables transparency and mutual respect in relations between government, public organs and users of national and local public services.

5. Who has the right to know?

The Right to know is a right for every individual human being irrespective of his or her social status or standing in society, nationality, gender, profession, age, race or any other consideration.

6. Who has the duty to inform?

The obligation to inform lies primarily with public institutions that have custody of the information or document requested and private institutions in specific cases.

7. Where in the world are there laws on access to information?


Over 85 countries around the world have adopted access to information laws; in Africa, they include: Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In addition, there are also several other countries like Nigeria that do not have a full blown, all encompassing access to information laws, but nevertheless enable access to information through various statutory instruments and in diverse sectors of public administration.


8. How is the right to know implemented?

Freedom of information is implemented in several steps:

 

  • The applicant (or requester) makes a request to the relevant public or private institution.
  • The public or private institution to whom the request is addressed reviews the application against the record/document in his/her custody to ensure he/she has the information sought, or that he/ she has the power to grant access to it.
  • If the institution has the information and is legally allowed to disclose it, he/she has the obligation to grant access to the information to the requester.
  • But if the information requested by the applicant falls within an exception stated in the law, then the approving authority must weigh the possibility of applying the exemption and denying access to the requested information in the interest of the public.
  • When the public interest outweighs the exemption, the approving authority must grant access to the requested information to the applicant.
  • Access to the requested information can also be denied by the authority. In that case, the applicant can appeal against the decision rejecting his/her request for information. The appeal body will depend on the law governing the sector from which information is sought, and can be:
  • A quasi-judicial body specifically created by law to regulate and monitor implementation of access to information (e.g. information commissioner or ombudsman)
  • Ordinary tribunals, where no quasi-judicial body exists;
  • He can also appeal the quasi-judicial body’s decision in court.


9. How is the right to know protected/guaranteed in Nigeria?

The right to information in Nigeria is guaranteed by Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution and the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have ruled and recognised that the right to access information is a fundamental human in the cases of Archbishop Okogie & Ors V. Attorney General of Lagos State and Dr. Basil Ukaegbu V. Attorney General of Imo State respectively.

10. Some examples of RTI provisions under the Nigerian Law

Examples of access to information provisions (list non exhaustive):

 

  • Freedom of Information Act 2011.
  • In International treaties ratified by Nigeria and guaranteed under the Constitution:
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Article 9)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • UN Convention on the Right of the Child
  • UN Convention against Corruption
  • In ordinary Laws of Nigeria:
  • Section 39 (1) of Nigerian 1999 Constitution
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment Act gives the right to environmental information
  • Public Procurement Act guarantees citizens right to information on government procurement
  • The Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) guarantees Nigerians the right to information on extractive industry
  • Fiscal Responsibility Act requires the Nigerian government to disclose the information relating to government finance, especially on annual budgets
  • National Inland Waterways Authority Act, 1996
  • National Archives Decree of 1992
  • Consumer Protection Council Act.


11. How do I know my right to information is being violated?

I know my right to information is violated when my request for information addressed to a public organ or a private institution performing public functions is denied without any justification, or when such justification is not legitimate according to the generally accepted principles of an access to information law. Violations of the right to information can take different forms, notably:

  • Refusal by a public agent to grant access to an administrative building without justification
  • The request by a public agent to be paid money for service rendered outside the normal duty stamp and other clearly indicated fees
  • The silence of a public agent to a request for information
  • The prolonged silence of the administration following a written request for information or delivery of a document.
  • The procedure for delivery of a specific document is not clearly stated and varies from one public agent to the other or is based on personal considerations.


12. What is Right to Know (R2K) Initiative doing about the right to know in Nigeria?

 

R2K recognises that passing an FoI law is only the start of the transformation of a society from a culture of secrecy to one of openness, implementation of the law being the most essential part of this process. Government having circumscribed the legal, policy and institutional framework of access to information in Nigeria, R2K seeks to lead the way for advocacy towards the effective implementation of access to information provisions in existing laws. And to also advocate for the adoption of a general freedom of information law in Nigeria.


Specifically, R2K project on Freedom of Information and Access to the Public Service will seek to:

 

  • Raise public awareness of FoI and its values for the rule of law and development, and foster a culture of request for the information among the public;
  • Train and provide assistance to relevant actors (CSOs, government officials, media practitioners and parliamentarians) on implementing existing norms allowing for access to information;
  • Going to court to challenge refusals to provide information and seek clarification from court on how to handle requests for information under existing legal framework.
  • Build public support for an open and democratic government in Nigeria from diverse sectors including youth groups, organised labour, Faith based groups, market women, communities, government institutions and professional bodies in whose name government claims legitimacy and whose active participation is therefore needed to hold government accountable.


13. How can I or my organization get involved?

The realization of a fully open society in Nigeria implies the effective implementation of access to information provisions in existing laws as well as the adoption of a general FoI law in the country. The involvement of all actors of society will be necessary:

Ordinary Citizens should change their attitude towards government, and become more demanding in their interactions and relations with public institutions/organs: if information is denied, citizens should file administrative appeals or resort to ordinary courts to demand protection of their right to information which has been violated.

Media: access to accurate information is particularly important for the media professionals in the course of their work, and they should be at the forefront of filing requests for access to information.

CSOs: like the media, civil society relies strongly on access to information to advance its missions. R2K will provide training to CSOs on accessing information, utilising FoI in their work and assisting their constituents in accessing information.

Parliamentarians: Are key players in the quest for open, democratic society. They can use FoI during the “questions to government” sessions as well as in their regulator of government action capacity.

Public officials should change their attitudes and be more amenable to serve and assist the public in their requests for information or documents.

 

The Business Community also needs access to information as it enhances the ability of educators and students alike to undertake serious academic research work with access to the information that they require for such undertaking.

Faith based Institutions also need FoI as it reaffirms the teachings of the age old aphorism in most holy books that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Access to information enhances the ability of religious institutions to further the ability of their congregation to move towards piety and demand same from their leaders at all levels.

We invite you to contact us for further information. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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