By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) was named into the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) “Freedom of Information(FOI) Hall of Shame”,
In a statement signed by MRA’s Programme Manager for Freedom of Information Ridwan Sulaimon,it stated that the naming induction followed the Agency carrying on business as if the FOI Act does not exist, thereby undermining its effectiveness.
Announcing NACA’s selection for induction, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, noted that since the passage of the FOI Act into Law in 2011, the agency, formerly known as the National Action Committee on AIDS, has not only failed to carry out practically all its responsibilities under the Act, but has, in fact, been conducting its business as if the Law does not exist, thereby undermining its effectiveness.
NACA, an agency of the Federal Government, was established in February 2000 during the Administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo and charged with developing and implementing an Expanded National Response to HIV/AIDS in Nigeria as well as tasked with outlining a framework for collaboration and support from all stakeholders for a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary response to HIV/AIDS in the country.
Mr. Longe noted that Section 2 of the FOI Act imposes a duty on NACA as a public institution to proactively disclose certain types of information to the public and to update these categories of information whenever changes occur as well as to make such information readily available to the public through the various means listed in the Act, namely print, electronic and online methods as well as at the offices of the institution.
He accused NACA of shying away from complying with this statutory obligation, despite the fact that part of its functions include to collect and keep records, statistics and other data in all its programmes and projects on AIDS, describing the act of non-compliance as a “flagrant violation of NACA’s duty, which should attract or be visited with sanctions.”
Mr. Longe said: “It is worrisome that despite the high rate of HIV/AIDs in the country, there are widespread reports and allegations that funds made available by the Government and international organizations to fight this dreadful disease are not being utilized for the actual purpose for which they were provided”, adding that “An agency such as NACA, which receives and expends huge sums of money from the Federal Government as well as from other sources, ought to be doubly transparent about all aspects of the management of its affairs, including the receipt and utilization of public funds.”
He noted that the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), has reported that Nigeria has the second-largest number of people living with HIV in the world and as such NACA should have no problem with openness and transparency in all its operations, arguing that “openness and transparency by a public institution such as NACA cannot be achieved without compliance with the provisions of the FOI Act.
MRA also noted that Section 29 of the FOI Act places an obligation on all public institutions, including NACA, to submit annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on their implementation of the Act, adding that since the Act was passed into Law over six years ago, NACA had not submitted any FOI implementation report to the Attorney-General of the Federation for any year.
According to Mr. Longe, as a direct result of NACA’s failure to submit its annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation, no one, including the Attorney-General and the National Assembly, is able to determine how responsive NACA has been to requests for information from members of the public as the annual reports ought to include this important information about the number of applications for information that it has received annually, the number of such applications that it processed and granted or refused, and other details that it is required by the Act to provide in its report to the Federal Attorney-General.
He also accused NACA of failing to comply with Section 2(3) (f) of the Act which requires the agency to designate an appropriate officer to whom applications for information under the Act should be sent and to proactively publish the title and address of the officer.
Mr. Longe said “NACA has apparently not tasked anyone in the agency with this function of receiving applications for information and has most certainly not published the information on its website or anywhere else where it can be accessible to the public.”
He contended that the failure of NACA to comply with these requirements of the FOI Act effectively undermines the ability of members of the public to use the Act to seek and obtain information of interest or use to them from the agency.
Mr. Longe said there was also no indication that NACA has complied with Section 13 of the Act which requires all public institutions to provide appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information as well as to train relevant officers to effectively implement the provisions of the Act.
MRA therefore called on NACA to take urgent steps to implement the FOI Act and to comply fully with all its duties and obligations under the Act. In particular, it urged the Agency to proactively publish all the categories of information required by the Law; to designate an appropriate officer to whom requests for information from members of the public should be sent and to publish the title and address of such officer; to sensitize and train its officials in accordance with the Law and to compile and submit its backlog of implementation reports for the last six years.
Media Rights Agenda launched the Freedom of Information Hall of Shame on July 3, 2017 to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of information Act, 2011 through their actions or inactions, decisions or utterances.