Due to the central role of access to information in promoting a healthy and well-functioning multi-party democracy, the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Lawrence Mute, undertook an advocacy visit to Nigeria from 24 to 27 September 2018 to raise awareness on article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which establishes the right to freedom of expression and access to information.
The Special Rapporteur initiated the visit when Nigeria presented its latest periodic report before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) during the 62nd Ordinary Session held on 25 April to 9 May 2018. It was noted that while Nigeria had commendably enacted a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2011, there were impediments that encumbered its full implementation. Consequently, the Special Rapporteur offered to provide technical support and ultimately make concrete recommendations on how the country can fully implement this Law to give effect to the right of access to information. The visit thus, sought to critically evaluate the implementation of FOIA, with a view to identify gaps and milestones that have been recorded.
The visit was also an opportunity for the Special Rapporteur to raise awareness on the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa (the Guidelines) that the African Commission adopted during the 61st Ordinary Session in November 2017. The Guidelines proved important during this interface as Nigeria is preparing to hold its general elections in February 2019. The dialogue on access to information and elections was therefore critical as the right to access information plays a facilitative role in the realization of the right to effectively participate in government whether directly or through freely chosen representatives, as guaranteed by article 13 of the African Charter. The Guidelines recognise the importance of access to information in the conduct of transparent, free, fair and credible elections that Nigeria envisages.
Concerning the implementation of the FOIA, the Special Rapporteur interacted with state and non-state actors such as the National Human Rights Commission, Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), and the Bureau for Public Service Reforms, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The rest include the Federal Ministry of Justice led by the Solicitor General of the Federation (representing the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice), technical team of the Ministry of Justice, comprising officials of the Ministry’s FOI Unit and the Secretariat of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). He also paid a courtesy call on the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Meetings specifically focusing on the elections were also held with the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) and Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with an objective to establish partnerships and collaboration in the implementation and popularization of the Guidelines.
The Special Rapporteur also delivered a public lecture to students and staff of the Law Faculty at the University of Abuja as well as a consultative workshop with non-state actors. On both occasions, the Special Rapporteur focused on article 9 of the African Charter, the FOIA, and other relevant issues falling within the mandate of the Special Rapporteur such as the revision of the Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the work of the African Commission in general. Thematic areas that came under discussion include proactive disclosure of government held information, the role of government institutions, the embedded culture of secrecy, capacity building of civil servants, records management, citizen participation, reporting and monitoring. To fulfil the purpose of this visit, the he intends to develop a report on the findings of the various engagements and make appropriate recommendations.
The Centre for Human Rights supports the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in the promotion and protection of Freedom of Expression and Access to information on the continent by providing technical support. During this visit, Hlengiwe Dube from the Centre’s Democracy, Transparency and Digital Rights Unit accompanied the Special Rapporteur.