The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) will sanction ministries, agencies and departments (MDAs) which fail to implement the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, an official has said.
The Solicitor-General of the Federation, Abdulhai Yola, made the statement in Abuja on Monday at a two-day North-Central Zone workshop on the effective implementation of the law.
The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Justicein collaboration with the Democratic Governance for Development of UNDP.
Mr. Yola, who represented the AGF, Mohammed Adoke, told newsmen that public officers, including chief executive officers of MDAs, who failed to abide by the rules would be punished.
“Public officers who are not implementing the Act are running the risk of falling foul of the law. And, once this happens, there are sanctions, including criminal sanctions.
“I will advise public officers to treat the Act with caution and ensure that whatever is done concerning the Act should remain within the ambit of the law.
“The best way to do that is to always fall back to the guidelines of the manual issued by the AGF,” he said.
In his speech, Adoke said the implementation of the law was one of the cardinal areas being managed by the Attorney-General’s office.
He added that in view of the responsibility, his office had introduced some initiatives to ensure a proper implementation of the law.
“The implementation of the FOI Act is one of the cardinal strategies of the AGF and it is being pursued under the aegis of the Panel on the Implementation of Justice Reform.
“My office has through several initiatives encouraged compliance with the Act by public institutions.
“Some of the AGFs priorities are the development of the FOI Act guidance, manuals for all government agencies, training programmes and the facilitation of desk officers for the management of the FOI Act,’’ Adoke said.
He said the ministry had concluded plans to open a website where information on the Act would be made available.
The AGF also said the website would enable MDAs to submit reports to the ministry for verification.
The Chairman of the workshop’s opening session, Justice Ishaq Bello, said the workshop was important, noting that it would enhance the need for transparency which the Act was primarily meant to achieve.
He urged participants to take advantage of the workshop and acquire knowledge on the Act’s new guidelines and other vital information which would help them discharge their duties effectively.
“The workshop is timely and it will enable legal officers to properly acquaint themselves with the Act.
“This is primarily because the essence of the Act is that of transparency across different sectors of our economy.
“As legal officers you must get grounded in the Act because some of you may find yourselves as counsel posted to certain parastatals.
“In the process of implementing the Act you would come across seeming conflict, where there is a duty placed on certain information from being divulged and the requirement of the Act that certain information must be brought to limelight,” he said.
The Chairman of the Implementation Committee in the Ministry of Justice, Prof. Deji Adekunle, said the workshop was convened to educate legal officers on the importance of the law. .
Adekunle, who was also the Chairman of the workshop’s Organising Committee, said it would enable representatives of state institutions to learn more on the Act’s new guidelines.
“The purpose of a workshop like this is to introduce the new set of FOI Act guidelines and to also educate state institutions in the North Central Zone.
“These set of guidelines have been revised with considerable input from some civil society bodies and other stakeholders.
“It is hoped that, by the end of the workshop, participants would have acquainted themselves with the provisions in the new guidelines,” he said.