By Aisha Jimoh
There is no gainsaying that Information contributes largely to the success of any active society. Having a communicable knowledge about any given subject relating directly or indirectly to the environment one finds one’s self, cannot be overrated. However, the availability of this information, of being aware of the things going on around one’s environment, without any form of constraints or limitations to the extent at which one can have access to it, is what we know as freedom of information.
The freedom of information is the inalienable right of a citizen to have access to the awareness of the happenings around him, without any limitations. It is an extension of freedom of speech, which is a fundamental human right in the international law. It is more understood generally as freedom of expression, be it orally, written, through the net or any other form.
The FOI exposes citizens to the point of having the right to dig into the privacy of any hidden knowledge. This could include the opposition to copyrights, opposition to patents, opposition to intellectual properties at large, and in fact, censorship in an information technology context, such as ability to access web content without censorship.
In the early 21st century, particularly in 2006, about seventy countries, Nigeria inclusive, had freedom of information legislations applying to information held by government bodies, and a few of these legislations applied to even private bodies. Unlimited access to information was dominantly recognized as a prerequisite for accountability and transparency of the government. This therefore is facilitating consumers’ ability to make informed choices, and keeping citizens away from corruption and mismanagement.
It is worthy to mention that journalists and media outfits across countries, in order to get information from ministries and other sectors, just have to submit a copy of the Freedom of Information Acts to such unit and one will be given access to information and report. There are lots of governmental information available to the public, thanks to FOI act. Autopsy reports, jail roasters, budget and other public related information are now available for public consumption.
However, despite all the recent changes, the FOI still has limitations. First, the Act gives the public the right to ask federal agency record, it doesn’t guarantee the public the absolute right to have them. One might be entitled to make request to have them, and of course receive a response, but there is no place in the law where it is stated that the agency/sector owes them such record.
Also, private information about an individual cannot be totally accessible, in that the FOI gives the citizens the freedom to seek it, but the dispensation of such information depends largely on whether the public interest to have the information outweighs the privacy of the individual in question.
Furthermore, information that fall under the following category are restricted and not for public consumption;
* Records that are only about an agency’s personal rules and practices
* Any information that is classified for national security purposes.
* Information that is prohibited from being released because of another statute.
* Information that would qualify as an invasion of an individual’s privacy, such as house address, phone number, social security numbers, password, etc.
* Letters or memoranda that contains personal opinion, recommendation or conclusion.
* Documents that protects trade secrets.
* Documents that protects information related to geological and geophysical data.
* Information related agencies that are responsible for regulating financial Constitutions.
Therefore, law enforcement that could deprive a person of a fair trial, qualify as an invasion of privacy, reveal identity of confidential sources, reveal law enforcement techniques, or procedures for investigation or prosecution and endanger a person’s life is restricted and will not be available for the consumption of the public.
The FOI act seeks to ensure availability and accessibility of public records and information. This is accompanied by protection of public records and information, personal privacy, and serving public officers – from adverse consequences of honoring the FOI act when tendered.
Citizens however deserve unhindered access to information pertaining to the processes of governance and happenings around them. Therefore, awareness about the intricacies of the FOI act, among all stakeholders will go a long way in mitigating against the challenges currently being faced in the deployment of the act.