By Kehinde Ayantunji
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) emerged today as this week’s inductee into the Freedom of Information (FOI) “Hall of Shame” as Media Rights Agenda (MRA) accused it of consistently failing to implement the FOI Act and to fulfill its obligations under the Law over the last six years.
Between 2011, when the FOI Act was passed into Law, and the present time, JAMB ought to have submitted six annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act but it has not actually submitted a single report, MRA said in a statement in Lagos explaining the choice of JAMB for induction into the FOI Hall of Shame.
In addition, MRA noted, JAMB has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the Act as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that it is required by the FOI Act to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
Other aspects of the FOI Act which MRA accused JAMB of disregarding include Section 2(3)(f) and Section 13 of the Act. Section 2(3)(f) mandates every public institution to publish the title and address of the appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent, which JAMB has failed to do.
Under Section 13, every government or public institution is required to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access information and records held by the government or public institution for the effective implementation of the Act. MRA noted that although this is mandatory, JAMB had not carried out any such training for its officials since the Act was passed into Law six years ago.
MRA said it did not have enough information to make a definitive statement on the level of JAMB’s responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public, arguing that JAMB itself is to blame for this situation as it has repeatedly failed make returns to the Attorney-General of the Federation on this issue, as the Law requires it to do.
It observed that JAMB’s blatant disregard for the mandatory provisions of the Act clearly has far reaching negative implications for both the effective implementation of the Law, as it affects both the right and ability of members of the public to request and obtain information from it, as well as the capacity of oversight bodies, namely the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, to assess the level of implementation of the Act by JAMB.
MRA’s Freedom of Information Programme Manager, Mr. Ridwan Sulaimon, said: “There can be no doubt that given the functions of JAMB, the destiny of millions of young Nigerians rests with the institution. Over the years, while millions have been positioned to achieve their lives’ career goals through JAMB, the hopes of millions of others have also been dashed by JAMB. It is therefore not inconceivable that JAMB is a public institution that a lot of Nigerians, especially the youths, want information from for many different reasons, including to enable them to prepare for and achieve their goals in life.”
Illustrating some of the challenges posed by JAMB’s nonchalance towards its duties and obligations under the Act, Mr. Sulaimon stated that “By failing to designate an appropriate officer to whom requests for information should be sent and not publishing the title and address of such an officer, thousands or perhaps millions of Nigerians seeking information from JAMB would not know who to direct their requests for information to.”
Besides, Mr. Sulaimon said, as a result of the failure of JAMB to submit its annual implementation report over the last six years, the vital statistical information which the reports are supposed to provide to members of the public, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly are lost.
According to him, “Owing to the failure of JAMB to submit its annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation, we are unable to determine the number of applications for information that JAMB received during each year and number of such applications that it processed; we do not know how many requests for information JAMB has granted or how many were still pending by the end of each year; we have no information about the total amount of fees collected from those seeking information or the number of days it takes JAMB to process different types of applications for information; we also do not know the number of full-time staff that JAMB devotes to processing applications for information, among others.”
MRA stressed that in the light of the far-reaching negative implications of JAMB’s failure to comply with the provisions of the FOI Act for the rights of Nigerians and the fact that its failure to implement the Act amounts to an intentional disrespect for the Law, such behaviour ought not to be allowed to continue.
MRA launched the “FOI Hall of Shame” on July 3 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.