With exactly one month to the expiration of the tenancy of Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir Ahmed El-rufai, in Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, one unfulfilled public commitment by the Governor is the inability of the government to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill into law.
To be fair, no administration in the history of Kaduna State has advanced fiscal transparency to new heights like this one. However, this is not enough as most of the proactive disclosures of information are linked to reform initiatives or programs for results (P4R) disbursement indicators under the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and World Bank. This restricts citizens to access information mostly at the discretion of the State government not as a right.
Also, commendably the bill is said to have been forwarded to the Kaduna State House of Assembly, where it seems to be gathering dust on the shelf. At this stage, it can be said the Governor does not have official powers to intervene.
However, for those conversant with the control the Executive arm exercises on the Legislative arm know the contrary. The Assembly has been known to suspend House rules to quickly pass bills of interest to the Executive arm, some times in hours.
The first unfulfilled commitment was in the State Action Plan (SAP 2018-2020) of the OGP commitment four, with the second and third performance indicators stating: FOI bill passed by the State House of Assembly before the end of 2020 and FOI law comes into being in the State before the end of 2020. In an anti-climax, the SAP ended without the law being passed.
Interestingly, under disbursement linked indicator (DLI) 10 of the Kaduna State Economic Transformation Program (amendment to the financing agreement), one of the prior results captured was the approval of the FOI Law by the Executive Council.
Similarly, while addressing the press at Aso Rock, the Governor berated SERAP for seeking information from the State government, in the process he made reference to the FOI Law. He stated, “our Freedom of Information Law says you cannot ask us for information unless you are a resident of Kaduna State.”
This came as a surprise especially to Civil Society in Kaduna as they were yet to see the draft bill talk more of the law. The only knowledge at some point the civil society and media had about it was that it was before the State Assembly. Furthermore, follow up inquiries from people that should know suggested that the bill was still yet to be passed.
A newspaper report in 2022 quoted an aide to the Governor who confirmed what civil society had known on the status of the FOI in the State. As the Senior Special Assistant to Governor on Legal Matters stated that the Bill is currently at the discussion level with the leadership of the State House of Assembly for consideration.
He further elaborated, “the governor is passionate about getting the bill passed and has directed me to engage critical stakeholders to ensure the bill is given the needed attention by the House of Assembly.” Telling SERAP to ask the civil society in Kaduna might be correct in terms of improved fiscal transparency, but the reality is that civil society as well as the media are yet to see or read the said FOI law that was quoted.
This is not in any way as stated earlier to deny the fact that more than ever citizens have more access to public information such as approved budgets, citizens’ budget quarterly and full-year budget performance reports, Auditor General’s reports, procurement plans etc.
Therefore, it is key for the governor, as his tenancy expires in four weeks, to push for the passage of the FOI Law. It is a matter of political will, as the Whistleblower Law, which was part of the first OGP SAP as the FOI, has already been passed and is currently being implemented by the Anti-Corruption Unit in the Ministry of Justice.
In the same vein, we call on the Kaduna State House of Assembly to accelerate the FOI bill, which has over-stayed its welcome in the House. As the direct representatives of the people, we will be glad to see the same commitment to the passage of this citizens-focused bill into law.
Lets engage, ask the right questions and hold the government accountable.
Yusuf Ishaku Goje