Analysis Of Challenges Facing Freedom Of Information In Nigeria

Project and Seminar Material for Mass Communication

Analysis Of Challenges Facing Freedom Of Information In Nigeria


Abstract


The purpose of this work was to do an evaluative study of the challenges facing Freedom of Information in Nigeria. The survey research method was adopted. To this end, the researcher issued 200 copies of questionnaire to randomly selected journalists in Port Harcourt metropolis. Interviews were also conducted to guide the study development. Simple percentage and tables and chi-square were used for data analysis. While the study used the development media theory as its theoretical foundation, the findings were that the FOI has the potency to engender effective media practice as it can only function effectively when some anti-press laws are either expunged or amended. The study concluded that FOI is a catalyst for freedom with responsibility and good governance, fairness, accuracy, balance and objectivity


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

The Press is the moulder of the society. Although this fact has been lashed with numerous criticisms, we cannot deny the fact that the press shapes the society. Most journalists are aware of this, so they determine, even to the extent of sacrificing their lives, to give the society what it desires and what it needs. The reporter who is scampering to meet a politician who has just alighted from an airplane; the reporter who is on a wired boat sailing into a remote mangrove to find out the extent of damage flood has wrecked in the area is trying to satisfy the society by informing the members of the society on what is happening around them. The function of news gathering and news dissemination has not been a rosy one for the journalists. From the inception of journalism and newspaper publication in Nigeria. There has been a cat and mouse relationship between the press and the governments of all ages, whether military or civilian, except when the press allows itself to be cajoled, used and manipulated by the government to suit its whims and caprices.

The banning of newspapers and detention of journalist by government especially in the third world countries have been an old story.For example the Nigeria government has at one time or another banned or closed down most of the newspaper and magazine houses in Nigeria.Over the years, the agitation for the emergence of a free press society, has been on the front burner of national discuss, especially among journalism practitioners in Nigeria. This is owing largely to the fact that the expediency of having a legislation that guarantees a high level of press freedom cannot be ignored. It cannot be ignored apparently against the backdrop of the attendant positive effect it could have on any society. The need for a Nigeria Freedom of Information Act (FOI) had been emphasized by many media scholars. For instance, Ogbondah (2003:128) did note prior to its enactment that: “The National Assembly should enact or guarantee the press and members of the public the right of access to government-held information including computerized records.” Similarly, the Media Right Agenda (2004:4) at some point, wrote thus about the FOI Bill when passed into law as an Act of Parliament, it will make public record and information in the custody of any government-Federal, State or Local available to every person in Nigeria. Accordingly, the right of access of official information, which the Bill grants will be legally enforceable; with the Freedom of Information Act, it will be possible to find out from Governors, Council Chairmen, Ministers, the President or other public officers, details of any transaction conducted in those offices. The law, it is believed, will also give protection to public officers who discover the perpetration of a fraudulent act and reveal is thereby discouraging corruption among public office holders. Moreso, Johnson, as cited by Ogbondah (2003:128-129) also, stated that: “A democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits, no one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.” Before now, the challenges posed by anti-press laws that inundate the Nigerian constitution, have made the process of news sourcing gathering and dissemination, seemingly impossible for journalism. This was well capture by the Nigeria Guild of Editors (2001:96) when it observed that: “We are conscious of the responsibility of the press but we cannot perform our role creditably unless the shackles wrought by repressive laws are erased from our law books the realization of this objective is contingent on the freedom of the press to function without any hindrance.” Unfortunately, the media being the forth estate of the realm and the watch-dog of the leaders and the led cannot successfully carryout this sacrosanct function, without the ample freedom to seek, gather and disseminate information. Taking a cue from the functional aspect of the freedom of Information Act, Yalaju (2001:205) averred that: “The right of access to information is aimed at strengthening the media by securing and protecting freedom of expression and the press particularly.”It is against the above grounds that the recently enacted FOI seeks to make information more available to journalists in the same way it would be available to every other person who might request any information. It is also expected that with the law in effect, the media would have access to more accurate information, which would improve the quality of media practice. There is no gain saying the fact that the Nigeria Freedom of Information Act was proposed in the context of international affirmation of the rights of citizens to access information held by public bodies as fundamental human right. It is therefore instructive to note that the FOI is one of the criteria for gauging a truly democratic state. It goes without saying that democracy is at its best, when the people have all the information that the constitution of the nation permits. Conversely, the stiff resistance by most world leaders towards having the FOI enshrined in their nation’s law books has continued to ignite concerns. Little wonder, Amadi (2003:5) argued that: “The issue of the enactment of an emphatic Freedom of Information Act is still a pawn in the political chessboard of politicians the reason for sitting on such legislation may not be farfetched from the fact that such venal politicians know that the enactment of such powerful pro-media, pro-people legislation will constitute an effective check on their venality. It will constitute an effective check on their venality. It will constitute a check because the effectuation of such legislation will mean removing the mystifying veil of secrecy which gives governance a kind of larger-than-life posture in such countries. And that is why politicians will continue to balk at it.Journalism is one social institution that requires freedom to effectively function in society. It plays a crucial role to society, serving as the watchdog of the society, and providing constant stream of information, education and socialization. Soeze (2005, p.19) elucidates that the media as the watchdog of the society have the responsibility of keeping the public informed, educated and socialized. This involves making people know the day-to-day activities and dealings of those in government whether military or civilian. In addition, the media also help to ensure that the government knows the feelings and yearnings of those it governs. However, for the media to perform these functions effectively and efficiently there must be press freedom. (Ogunkwo 1999) in Suntai and Vakkai (2014) assert that “The mass media ought to play the role of gathering, analyzing and disseminating news and information about people, events and issues in society which could be in form of news, commentaries, editorials, advertorials, news analysis, profiles, columns, cartoons, pictures or magazine feature via mass communication medium such as radio, television news papers, magazine, digital TV, face book, you tube, 2go and other numerous social media to a heterogeneous audience simultaneously or about the same time” Journalism also sets agenda, organizes public debates and discussions, and interprets issues to put them in proper perspectives to make meaning to people. Through these roles, journalism not only educate, inform and socialize; it also confers status, values and significance to issues, thereby serving as the mouth-piece and defender of the voiceless and the oppressed in society (Sambe, 2008). Since the emergence of modern journalism in Nigeria in 1859 according to (Aliede, 2003), it has been struggling to achieve the needed freedom that would enable it discharge its social responsibilities creditably. The journalistic task of gathering and disseminating news has not been an easy one largely due to limited freedom occasioned largely by government firm grip and control of the mass media. Thus, Uche (1989) notes that “relationship between the mass media and the government in Nigeria has been a cat and mouse affair. This implies that, the free flow of information has been trampled upon. Journalists have had no access to vital information let alone the masses. In struggling to get detailed, factual and balanced reportage, journalists have had to continue to nose around for information, exposing themselves to high levels of risk that got them victimized, jailed, tortured and sometimes killed (Ezeah, 2004). In contribution, Malayo, (2012) asserts that: “Over the years, the agitation for the emergence of a free press society, has been on the front burner of national discuss, especially among journalism practitioners in Nigeria. This owes largely to the fact that the expediency of having a legislation that guarantees a high level of press freedom cannot be ignored. It cannot be ignored apparently against the backdrop of the attendant positive effect it could have on any society” Even before the passage and subsequent signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law, there were strong views that the Act was going to facilitate journalism practice in Nigeria. Even though the Act is not a journalism law, journalists were at the fore-front in agitation for its passage; Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) were among the three civil society organizations that began the campaign of a law of this nature (FOI Coalition, 2003). The bill was presented to the National Assembly two times by journalists: Tony Anyanwu and NdukaIrabor for the first time and AbikeDabiri for the second time (Ojebode, 2011).


1.2 Statement of the Problem

The law, is believed will give protection to public officers who discover the perpetration of a fraudulent act and reveal is thereby discouraging corruption among public office holders. Moreso, Johnson, as cited by Ogbondah (2003:128-129), stated that: “a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits, no one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.” Before now, the challenges posed by anti-press laws that inundate the Nigerian constitution, have made the process of news sourcing gathering and dissemination, seemingly impossible for journalism. It is in view of the above that the researcher intend to investigate the challenges facing freedom of information in Nigeria


1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective of the study is to ascertain the challenges facing freedom of information in Nigeria, but to aid the completion of the study; the researcher intends to achieve the following specific objectives;

  1. To ascertain the challenges to attainment of freedom of information in Nigeria
  2. To examine the merit of freedom of information to the growth on Nigerian democracy
  3. To examine the role of press freedom in democratic governance
  4. To examine the relationship between freedom of information and good governance in Nigeria

1.4 Research Hypotheses

To aid the successful completion of the study, the following research hypotheses were formulated by the researcher

  1. H0: freedom of information does not have any impact on the growth on Nigeria democracy
    H1: freedom of information does have an impact on the growth on Nigeria democracy
  2. H02: there is no significant relationship between freedom of information and good governance in Nigeria
    H2: there is a significant relationship between freedom of information and good governance in Nigeria

1.5 Significance of the Study

It is believed that at the completion of the study, the findings will be of great importance to the Nigerian union of journalist as the study seek to explore the merit and challenges encountered by the gentlemen of the press in gathering information that will aid good governance, the study will also be useful to the executive arms of government and the legislature who are saddle with the responsibility of implementing and formulating policies that will aid the freedom of the press in Nigeria, the study will also be useful to research student who intends to embark on a study in a similar topic as the study will serve as a reference point. Finally, the study will be useful to students, teachers and the general public as the findings will contribute to the pool of existing literature on the subject matter.


1.6 Scope and Limitation of the Study

The scope of the study covers an analysis of challenges facing freedom of information in Nigeria. But in the cause of the study, there were some factors which limit the scope of the study;

Unavailability of Data:

One of the greatest challenges encountered in this study relate to access to and collection of hard data due to extreme data gaps paucity.

Time and Funds:

Another limitation of this study relates to time, fund and logistic constraints which limited the intensity of the spread or area of coverage of the study.

Attitude of the Respondents:

This research work was also limited by the reluctant of some respondents to complete the questionnaire


1.7 Operational Definition of Terms

Freedom

Liberty, in philosophy, involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In politics, liberty consists of the social and political freedoms to which all community members are entitled.

Information

Information is any entity or form that resolves uncertainty or provides the answer to a question of some kind

FOI

Freedom of information is an extension of freedom of speech, a fundamental human right recognized in international law, which is today understood more generally as freedom of expression in any medium, be it orally, in writing, print, through the Internet or through art forms.


1.8 Organization of the Study

This research work is organized in five chapters, for easy understanding, as follows

  • Chapter one is concern with the introduction, which consist of the (overview, of the study), historical background, statement of problem, objectives of the study, research hypotheses, significance of the study, scope and limitation of the study, definition of terms and historical background of the study.
  • Chapter two highlights the theoretical framework on which the study is based, thus the review of related literature.
  • Chapter three deals on the research design and methodology adopted in the study.
  • Chapter four concentrate on the data collection and analysis and presentation of finding.
  • Chapter five gives summary, conclusion, and recommendations made of the study

Chapter Five


Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Introduction

It is important to ascertain that the objective of this study to analyze the challenges facing freedom of information in Nigeria.

In the preceding chapter, the relevant data collected for this study were presented, critically analyzed and appropriate interpretation given. In this chapter, certain recommendations made which in the opinion of the researcher will be of benefits in addressing challenges facing freedom of information in Nigeria.


5.2 Summary

In view of the analysis made from responses of respondents, it is therefore submitted that the Freedom of Information has the potency to enhance the journalism practice in Nigeria, national development, guarantee national security, transparency and good governance and press freedom. However, the anti-press law that adorn our law books, unfortunately have the capacity to frustrate the FOI in Nigeria. Moreso, the FOIis a catalyst for freedom with responsibility. This is so because the media now are made to assume the full states of the change agents they have often been denied. The FOI places on the shoulders of the journalists a rather “heavy burden” the task to report in manners that are not only responsible but also engender development. It is in journalist’s adherence to journalism tenets that they would avoid the pitfall of irresponsible journalism practice – to which much is given much is required. It is in this light that journalists must know that freedom must be matched with responsibility.


5.3 Conclusion

Considering the fact that the FOI Act is still a recent development in the Nigerian media terrain, one will not be too surprised with the findings of this study. This notwithstanding, there is an urgent need for training and retaining of journalists on the use of the FOI Act before this prevailing low usage subsists and becomes a tradition. Lack of FOI Act usage tends to have a negative spiral effect on the investigative skills with the FOI Act if left unchecked. As is widely acknowledged, erosion of skills leads to a downward trend because unskilled journalists who attempt to use the Act on an infrequent basis will achieve less useful results from the FOI request than the few who use it frequently. On the other hand, if journalists become adequately educated about the FOI, the possibility exists that they will be encouraged to use it more and government and other public would be under greater pressure to be compliant and accountable. Again, if adequate sensitization and orientation were given to the public and private institutions concerning the provisions in section 2 (3) of the Act, there certainly will be a change in the way the Act was administered such that the institutions concerned proactively and willingly disclose information in a timely and less strenuous manner, then journalist would be more likely to use the FOI.


5.4 Recommendations

In view of the findings made in the study, the following recommendations are hereby submitted:

  1. That journalist should go beyond just being aware of the passage into law of the FOI, but to be well acquainted with relevant provisions of the Act. It is when they do that, that they can make the most of the Act.
  2. That the workability of the law in Nigeria remains a concern. Allaying this concern will be highly predicated on how well strict compliance is made to the relevant provision.
  3. That some of the anti-press laws that adorn or law book should either be expunged or repelled. It is in that, that the FOI can be beneficial to the Nigerian nation and its citizens alike.
  4. That effort must be made to punish public office holders who attempt to frustrate the public’s effort to get information.
  5. Journalist should hold tenacious to the ethics of the profession and as report in manners that will advance the cause of development of the people.

Analysis Of Challenges Facing Freedom Of Information In Nigeria


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