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Passage of FOI bill will foster progress – Olojede

Posted by By OLA AGBAJE on 2008/07/30 | Views: 1604 |

Passage of FOI bill will foster progress – Olojede


Contrary to the insinuation that only journalists would benefit from the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI), it will accelerate social progress in the country.

Contrary to the insinuation that only journalists would benefit from the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI), it will accelerate social progress in the country.
This was the verdict of the group of experts’ panel during this year AELEX annual lecture held in Lagos.

The lecture, fourth in the series under the topic "Freedom of Information: Balancing the public’s right to know against the individual’s right to privacy," was delivered by the renowned international journalist and Pulitzer award winner, Dele Olojede.

Delivering his lecture which he titled: ‘Let there be light: Public Access to Information in a Struggling Democracy," the guest lecturer said the passage of Freedom of Information Bill could serve as effective weapon in struggle for the creation of open society and for clean and accountable government.
He faulted the continued delay in the passage of the bill, which he described as a deliberate attempt at keeping the people in the dark as exemplified by the incoherent and illogical opposition to the bill.

Olojede noted that the Nigerian people prefer conducting their affairs in openness with great aversion for darkness while singling out political arena and governance as the only area where darkness reign supreme.
"We have usually preferred to conduct our affairs in the open, in broad daylight. Every significant marker of our existence-births, weddings, deaths – all unfold in extravagant openness.
"Except of course in our modern politics. Here, we exist almost entirely in an area of darkness, where any demand to share information is treated great suspicion, and our political class regards itself as largely as unaccountable to the public," he said.

The ace journalist regretted that, "public business goes on largely behind closed-doors, and the sharing of the most elementary information is viewed with horror.
Even the President’s health is seen as government secret, leading to wild rumours and dark prophesies about the leader of the country. The 140 million people to run their affairs is deemed to be none of their business," he said.

While noting that the fear of those who are blocking the passage of the bill was unfounded, Olojede stressed that the FOI Act seeks to let the people know how the sausage of government is made. "Every citizen will have the right to access public records, such as contracts, budget provisions, legislative votes rules and regulations and other government decisions," he declared.
Debunking the insinuation that the passage of the bill may lead to invasion of privacy of individuals, the guest lecturer said: "The draft law carefully balances the public’s rights to know with the exigencies of governance."
In his intervention at the occasion, former Managing Director of Daily Time and the Managing Director of Tams Communication Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi pointed out that the FOI bill is not a law for journalists but for the entire society.

Professor Oyelowo Oyewo of the University of Lagos while also acceding to the view that the bill is for the over-all interest of the society, he noted that personal information should be exempted unless it is in the public interest.
The chairman of the occasion and Editor-in-Chief of ThisDay newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena also interjected that the FOI bill passage is crucial to the deepening of democracy ethos in the country while he also insisted that journalists should conform to high ethical standard in the discharge of the constitutional duties.

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