Friday, 10 October 2008

Nigeria's Ruling Class In Desperate Move To Stifle Freedom Of Information

The Nigerian ruling class have recently made a desperate move to stifle freedom of information which they see as inimical to their survival. This class is largely seen as a group that survives mainly on not so transparent state patronages.

this recent move was made through an amendment proposal to the Freedom Of Information(FOI) bill routed through the Nigerian upper legislative chamber, the Senate. The life of the FOI which was first sent to the national Assembly in 1999 with the aim of enhancing access to information have been a very chequered one. The current President of the Senate is a very rich retired general and a former military governor and minister.

The amendment proposal which is seen in informed circles as an attempt to stifle freedom of information proposes that any seeker of information will first apply to a state or federal court to prove that the information will not compromise national security if disclosed. Even at that, a public official, according to the amendment proposal clause which chidi opara reports sighted, can refuse to disclose such information if he/she thinks that it will compromise national security if made public.

The FOI bill had been passed into law by the legislative regime preceeding the current one but was vetoed by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo who was installed into power for the second time in 1999 by the retired military generals segment of the Nigerian ruling class in the heat of nationwide agitations for civilian democratic rule, to protect the interest of this class, who are believed to be plundering the commonwealth of the Nation since independence.

The FOI bill has however, been listed severally for discussions in this dispensation. It was sent to the relevant committee twice last year(2007).President Umaru Yar'Adua, son of a former Minister, younger sibling of a former military Vice-president and a prince of the Katsina royal house, who was installed as President by Olusegun Obasanjo in an election tagged as flawed by local and foreign election monitors is believed to be behind the current travail of the FOI bill.

Chidi opara reports gathered that influential segments of the Nigerian ruling class view the bill in its original format as having the potential to enhance the already huge influence of the critical Nigerian news media, especially the internet sub-sector if passed into law. The Nigerian ruling class is seen at home and abroad as very corrupt, resulting largely in the country being listed as the 125th most corrupt country in the world.

In the light of the snail speed court processes in Nigeria, bringing in the courts into the process of accessing official information have been seen by critical observers as a way of making the process cumbersome, to discourage seekers of information. It is also believed that custodians of official information, majority of whom are career civil servants will always act according to the promptings of political office holders, who are usually installed into these offices to protect class interests.