Mrs Ngozi Okechukwu, the Director of National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Abia, has called on stakeholders to promote the Freedom of Information Act(2011) by being proactive in providing information to engender transparency, accountability and due process in governance.
Okechukwu made the call on Thursday during a stakeholders’ meeting with the theme “Evaluating the Application of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and its Impact on National Development” organised by NOA in Umuahia.
The Director, who was represented by the deputy director of Research, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of NOA, Mrs Chibogwu Edede, described information as an integral part of national development.
She said that “the essence of FOIA is to provide unrestricted access to public records and information, protecting serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain official information.
“And protect public records and information to the extent, consistent with national interest, among others.”
According to her, the impact of FOIA could be properly felt on the nation’s development, when the public was properly educated on the need to take advantage of the law.
She said that there was need for sincere implementation of FOIA, adding that the implementation of the law was “a two-way thing, you ask and you are given”.
Okechukwu said that the meeting was focused on reinforcing the confidence of the citizens on openness in governance process and urged the agencies with the responsibility of providing information to the public to diligently discharge their duties.
In her remark, Mrs Chibuzo Ehiemere, the Chairperson of International Federation of Women Lawyers(FIDA), described the law as an important law that would be of immense benefit to the nation.
Ehiemere said the program had created an avenue for stakeholders to ascertain the level of impact the FOIA had made on the nation, and encouraged the public to exercise the rights provided by FOIA.
The state Director of Information in Abia, Mr Uzoma Isiakpu, said that the importance of initiating a discourse on the application and impact of FOIA could not be over emphasised.
Isiakpu said: ” The impact of FOIA in national development has not been felt as a result of Nigerians’ inability to exploit the benefits of the Act
“And the secrecy practiced in handling government business. I urge stakeholders to increase public enlightenment about the law and its benefits.”
In his remark, Dr Sunny Ibeneme, the Director of Health and Rural Development Agenda, an NGO, called for action to be taken to expunge the bureaucratic bottlenecks which was affecting the implementation of FOIA.
Ibeneme added that enlightenment through advocacy was essential in promoting national development through proper implementation of the Act.
Earlier, Mr Eledalachi Obasi, a Public Affairs Analyst, commended NOA for organising the program, adding that it would contribute to actualisation of the reason for enacting FOIA.
Obasi urged the relevant agencies to create a conducive avenue which would allow the public to have unfettered access to information concerning the government.
The event featured a question and answer session as well as a health talk on COVID-19 and Lassa Fever.