The Freedom of Information Act and the dictatorship of corruption and mediocrity

The 5th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series held on Saturday 13 July, 2013 threw up significant issues for the understanding and successful use of the Nigerian Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 2011.

The Chairman of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Professor Ropo Sekoni, in his opening speech alluded to the fact the Centre believes that the quality of investigative reporting should have increased since the Act was passed into law as the nation abounds with talented and courageous journalists for whom the FOIA will be of great benefit.

The lecturer, Biodun Jeyifo, Professor of African and African American Studies from Harvard, in his lead paper gave a treatise of the law under the sub-theme ‘The Dictatorship of Corruption and Mediocrity’.

While acknowledging the importance of the law as a legislation that will open up the vista of governance in Nigeria; Prof. Jeyifo wondered whether the law had not come at a time when there was little or no secrecy in the affairs of public officials and their attitude in the public sphere.

According to him, members of the ruling class carry out corrupt practices with audacity, impunity and brazenness. Professor Jeyifo asked; “what need do we have for a law on access to information when all the ineptitude and brazen corruption of public officials operate not in secrecy but in the open.”

According to him, whenever the military made a decree against public expression or media publication, it has always been a brash audacity to cover up their subterranean corruption and in his view, the civilian ruling class, hiding under cover of the expensive nature of democracy has come to make corruption a sublime art.

The University of Ibadan-trained English scholar gave an elucidating classification of the manifestation of corrupt practices as an interplay of the concepts of the ‘corrupt’, ‘corruptive’ and the ‘corrupted’. In this paradigm, many assumed innocent Nigerians fall under the corrupted class, hence he said corruption is pervasive but not inherent; therefore, with concerted efforts, it can be abated.

Other discussants – Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and the Deputy British High Commissioner, Mr. Peter Carter joined Professor Jeyifo in the exercise of shedding light on the Freedom of Information Act.

Dr. Odinkalu highlighted the need for a moral rebirth especially in the economic lifestyle about which many Nigerians are living on wrong values and adopting wrong economic goals.

Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa on her part, challenged members of the media to use the FOIA to investigate the lifestyle of presumed corrupt politicians.

Contributing to the discussions, the British Deputy High Commissioner, Mr Peter Carter asserted that “Citizens deserve the right to know how they are being governed however uncomfortable to public office holders that may be, it is the essence of democracy.”

In the goodwill message from the State of Osun, Governor Rauf Aregbesola, represented by Mr Oladipo Soyode, the Special Adviser on Culture and Tourism, emphasised that the logic of democracy is seeing through the workings of government which means that the government is accessible to the people and a government that is accessible is also more likely to be acceptable to the people. Mr Tunji Bello, Lagos State Commissioner for Environment who represented the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola also lent his voice to acknowledging the importance of the lecture.

The question and answer session of the lecture raised salient issues bordering on the use of the FOIA by citizens as a tool to ask the right questions about everything from the to lack of empowerment for women on sexuality, to the decay in the educational system, to lowering standards of values and morals in the society and many more.

In closing the event, Playwright, Odia Ofeium, gave a recitation of Prof Soyinka’s poem – Civilian and Soldier. Motunrayo Alaka the Centre’s Coordinator, gave the vote of thanks saying that the success of the event was to the credit of promise keepers who gave their word in one way or the other and had the integrity to keep same.

Some of the guests at the event included the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa; the Editor-in-chief of the News Magazine, Mr Kunle Ajibade; Edo State Commissioner for Information Mr Louis Odion; Director, This Day Newspaper, Mr Kayode Komolafe and Ms Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Ogun State Special Adviser on MDGs.

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