Since we began monitoring public sector institutions-Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)-and the publication of the Annual Reports on the activities of these institutions, there has been increased interest in the MDAs and in our efforts as the leading Nigerian Civil Society Organisation dedicated to the independent monitoring of the service delivery objectives of the Nigerian public institutions. The interest is informed in part by the recognition we attach to public service delivery and by our acknowledgment of the importance of public institutions to the health of the nation-state.
Monitoring public institutions of a nation-state like Nigeria with weak sources of state authority, poor governance environment and lack of institutional and accountable frameworks is problematic. The promotion of secrecy around the inner workings of government- with often disastrous consequences for citizens’ ownership of public governance-and this is in spite of the Freedom of Information Act which seeks openness and transparency of governance. In our 2013 Report, we noted: “the twenty first century is marked by the increasing agitations of citizens and civil society organisations for open governments and accountability of public officials. The growth of information technology has created the ‘very aware citizens’, who equip themselves with knowledge and resources to make informed choices and demand the right to know policies, laws and other information that may affect them. The expectation is that public service and governments need to be first and foremost responsive to the public. May 2011 marked a significant milestone for the Nigerian public. For the first time, citizens gained the right to request a vast range of information of government and public institutions. The Freedom of Information Act 2011 makes public records and information more freely available, provides for public access to public records and information and protects public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest. The Act invariably affects MDAs; and impacts the way public records and information organised and archived for public consumption and government business are conducted. The Act creates three obligations for MDAs. Firstly, it heaps obligations on public institutions to make public records and information freely available on request. Secondly, it mandates MDAs and public educational institutions to accurately and properly compile, organise and archive information. Thirdly, the Act creates two distinct rights: the right to information or denial of the right of access to public records and information under the categories of exemptions provided for by the Act”.