How Citizens Can Use FOI Act To Curb Corruption In Health, Education, Water Sectors—SERAP

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has launched its latest report on “how citizens can use the Freedom of Information Act to curb corruption and improve access to public services, particularly education, healthcare and water in Nigeria.”

The report raises “concerns that 57 million Nigerians still lack access to clean water and a significant amount of the country’s disease burden is linked to the lack of access. 59,500 children under 5 die yearly in Nigeria due to poor water and sanitation. Nigeria ranks 187thout of 190 countries in the world on the health index, which means that the Nigerian health sector is one of the world’s worst in terms of healthcare delivery. The major problems affecting the health, education and water sectors are mismanagement of funds appropriated for these sectors, embezzlement, diversion of public resources, and other forms of corruption.”

The 46 pages report launched today at the CITI-HEIGHT Hotels, Lagos is titled: Using Your Right to Information to Challenge Corruption in the Health, Education and Water Sectors. The report, presented to the media by Professor Ayo Atsenuwa, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos simplifies the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011 and explains “how citizens can take advantage of the Act to challenge allegations of corruption in the health, education and water sectors, which they witness and/or directly affect them.”

The report, published with support from Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, defines ‘information’, explains why FOI Act targets government and public institutions and the duties of public institutions to keep and maintain records and facilitate access to Information. It also identifies the categories of people that can make request for information under the FOI Act, and how any such request can be made as well as the timeframe within which people can expect to get information or record requested for.

The report also explains why the citizens need access to information on public services; gives specific examples of the types of records that can be requested for; addresses the issue of whether citizens are required to pay to access information, and if citizens can be refused access to information as well as the grounds for any such refusal.

The report launch was also attended by Ade-adams Seyi and Tope Egunjobi from the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC); David Ukagwu, Department for International Development (DFID); Dinwanbor Eloho, Lagos State Ministry of Justice; and representatives of trade unions, market women associations, civil society groups and the media.

The report highlights “Indices relating to health that may be monitored/tracked using FOI Act to include: level of realization of the right to safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation; all level of funding provided for ensuring safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation; all budget performance on water and sanitation-related goals, and level of implementation of government obligations under the Partnership for Expanded Water, Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) Programme Strategy  (2016-2030).

The report makes clear that “Wrongful denial of a request for information or record is a criminal offence. Both the officer(s) who wrongfully denies access and the institution that s/he represents are criminally liable for wrongful denial and will be liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000. Anyone who willfully destroys any records kept in his/her custody or attempts to doctor or otherwise alter same before they are released to any person, entity or community applying for it commits a crime and faces a minimum of one-year imprisonment.”

It explains that, “FOI Act applies to the Government of the Federation as well as to State Governments to monitor government funding of health and management of the funds and other critical decision-making which affects service delivery in the sector.”

The report also contains useful addresses and contact details of the relevant agencies and authorities to contact to demand transparency and accountability and address corruption in the education, health and water sectors in Nigeria.

The report read in part: “Indices relating to health that may be monitored/tracked using FOI are: level of realization of the right to health affirmed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 1990; level of funding provided for health budget performance on health-related goals; level of implementation of specific programmes committed to such as NHIS, NPI, HIV-prevention; prevention of maternal and child mortality and morbidity; and information on health service delivery in general.

“Information on these issues can be obtained from the Federal Ministry of Health or any of its parastatals such as National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), National Programme on Immunisation (NPI), National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) or the Ministry of Health in any state and their parastatals.

“Corruption and abuse of power have been identified as the bane of good governance. To address these twin problems, citizens must have access to information to exercise judgment on propriety or impropriety of governmental decisions and action. The FOI Act provides access to information upon which citizens can engage in evidence-based advocacy with government.

“With the FOI Act, citizens can expose and fight corruption. They can request for information or documents relating to budgets, financial allocation, procurement and projects implementation. The information will enable citizens to track what is being done. If citizens identify impropriety through the search of records, such findings can be forwarded to the Police and anti-corruption agencies for further investigation and where appropriate, prosecution.

“Education, health and water are basic needs of all human beings and they are major areas of our lives that drive national growth and development. The primary purpose of government is to make policy and implement actions that ensure that citizens have access to education, health and water. Government is not infallible, and it is the duty of citizens to serve as watchdogs of government decision-making.

 “Using FOI Act helps prevent wastage of public resources. A major problem in Nigeria is wastage of public resources  ineptitude, corrupt practices, neglect and non-accountability. FOI enables citizens to get factual evidence which they can use to take legal and/or political action. By tracking information on various aspects of public spending, citizens can identify specific instances of public funds wastage and call the relevant actors to account.

“By relying on the FOI Act, citizens can become involved in the management of the education, health and water sectors. They will be able to track and monitor the use of resources within the sectors as well as make their complaints heard through direct engagement with government officials such as law enforcement officers, civil and public servants either by the means of petition or through direct demand for accountability of government officials at all levels; and indirectly through media, civil society and representatives.

“Indices relating to education that may be monitored/tracked using FOI Act are: level of realization of the right to basic education affirmed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 1990,  i by enrollment, drop-out and completion statistics up to basic level; level of implementation of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme; performance level for realisation of Education For All strategies and goals; level of implementation of NHGSFP benchmarked against enrollment, drop-out and completion levels up to basic level; level of realization of SDG goals benchmarked against SDG specified indicators; level of funding provided for education and budget performance on education-related goals.”

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