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Nigeria: House of Representatives Approves Freedom of Information Bill

(Mar. 1, 2011) On February 24, 2011, the 360-member lower house of Nigeria's National Assembly adopted the Freedom of Information Bill which seeks to provide a right of access to records kept by public institutions and private institutions carrying out public functions. (Nigeria's Lower House Passes Right of Information Bill, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE (Feb. 25, 2011),

The bill gives every Nigerian citizen a legally enforceable right to access information housed in government or private institutions with a public affiliation. These include all federal government branches and agencies and all private institutions in which any federal, state, or local government has a controlling interest, as well as private institutions performing public functions. (Freedom of Information Bill 2007, § 3(4), Nigerian National Assembly website,
(last visited Feb. 25, 2011).)

The bill imposes a strict mechanism and timeframe for responding to applications for access to information. The general timeframe for responding to a request for information is 14 days, although a longer response time may be permitted under certain circumstances. (Id. at §§ 5, 7.) If an institution refuses to provide the information sought, it must provide a letter of refusal, including information on whether it is indeed in possession of the record sought; the basis for refusal; and the name of the person responsible for refusal. (Id. at § 8.) Destruction or falsification of documents is an offense punishable by three years in prison. (Id. at § 10.) Although the bill waives the duty to disclose information on the part of the above-cited institutions if the information sought is deemed sensitive (e.g., information that endangers the defense or economic interests of the nation), such refusal is subject to judicial oversight. (Id. at §§ 13-17 & 19-24.)

In addition to mandating the above-named institutions to disclose on request information they hold, the bill requires these institutions to take steps to be more transparent. As part of this requirement, they must publish information including:

· the programs and functions of all their units;

· internal manuals that their employees use in carrying out their duties;

· their finances, including information on contracts that they enter into with public and private organizations; and

· the names, titles, and income of all their employees. (Id. at § 3.)

Before it can become law, the bill will have to be adopted by the Senate and signed by the President. A Senate version of the bill is currently tied up in the Senate Committee on Information. (Emmanuel Ogala, Reps Pass Freedom of Information Bill, NEXT (Feb. 25, 2011),
.) The House of Representatives intends to forward the version of the bill it passed to the Senate for concurrence. (Id.)

Even if the bill is adopted by the Senate, it will still need to be signed by the President of Nigeria in order to become law, and if history is any indication, its fate is uncertain. In 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo, the then Nigerian President, refused to sign into law a version of the Freedom of Information Bill that had passed both houses. (Nasidi Adamu Yahaya & Andrew Walker, Obasanjo to Return Information Bill to NASS, DAILY TRUST (May 1, 2007), If the bill is approved by the Senate but President Goodluck Jonathan, the current Nigerian President, refuses to give his assent, both houses will need to pass the bill again, by at least a two-thirds majority, to override the presidential veto. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, § 58, ICFNL (International Centre for Nigerian Law) website, (last visited Feb. 25, 2011).)