Freedom of Information Bill Advances in Nigeria
ABUJA, Nigeria—The Open Society Justice Initiative today hailed the Nigerian parliament's final approval of a harmonized freedom of information bill and called on President Olusegun Obasanjo to sign it into law quickly.
The bill, if it becomes law, will guarantee Nigerian citizens the right to access government-held information. Nigeria is set to become just the fourth African nation with a freedom of information law, following South Africa, Uganda, and Angola.
"This is a significant moment in Nigeria's history," said Maxwell Kadiri, a staff attorney with the Justice Initiative's Abuja office. "With President Obasanjo's signature, this new law should set Nigeria on the path to more open and more accountable government."
The bill has been pending in parliament since 1999. The Nigerian House of Representatives approved one version of the bill in 2004, and the senate unanimously approved a slightly different version in late 2006. The two versions were reconciled and adopted by the full parliament yesterday. Now the bill requires the assent of President Obasanjo in order to become law. The Justice Initiative and other advocates expressed hope that this step would take place without delay.
The bill's passage is a significant victory for Nigeria's freedom of information advocates, who have championed its passage for over eight years. It is also an impetus for other African nations to enact similar laws and for those nations that already have freedom of information laws to enforce them more vigorously.
"This bill enables the Obasanjo administration to claim as its legacy the foundations of open and transparent government in Nigeria. President Obasanjo has always said he wants to change the country for the better and ensure the people's business is done," said Kadiri. "Through this bill, he can realize this ambition. We look forward to his signing it into law at the earliest possible opportunity."