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Chapter: 

IV. Governance issues

Open government
Under current practices, most government information in Nigeria, even basic facts and information, is classified as top secret.1 In addition, a number of laws prevent civil servants from divulging official facts and figures.2 The most significant of these laws is the Official Secrets Act, which makes it an offense for civil servants to give out government information and for anyone to receive or produce such information. In addition, government departments often withhold information from one another.3
 
In 1999, a Freedom of Information Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. It was first introduced by a private initiative of human rights advocates.4 However, the legislature's four-year term passed without a vote on the bill.5 The draft bill would have allowed citizens and non-citizens to make information requests, mandated the annual publication of certain operational records by every government institution, and provided several exemptions to the disclosure requirement (e.g., certain international affairs and defense matters, certain law enforcement and investigation information, and information of a personal nature).6 The bill was resubmitted to the current National Assembly in 2003.7 The Freedom of Access to Information Bill 2004 seeks to provide access to public records while protecting those records that should not be public knowledge.8 The bill facilitates greater access to federal, state, and local government information.9 The bill defines "public record" as "a document in any form having been prepared or having been or being used, received, or possessed or under the control of any public or private bodies relating to matters of public interest."10 However, the bill protects an officer who refuses to release the information or record requested if it is deemed to contain information "the disclosure of which may be injurious to the conduct of international affairs and the defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."11 The category of "injurious" information includes "trade secret, financial, commercial or technical information that belongs to the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any State or Local Government thereof."12 To promote greater transparency in the government, the bill also calls for a three-year imprisonment for those who falsify or destroy official records to avoid disclosing them.13  Based on fears of public officials about unrestricted access to information by those who are not Nigerian citizens, the bill would provide access to Nigerians only.14 The bill has been vigorously promoted by the Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of more than 100 media groups, business interests, and human rights organizations.15 The bill was passed by the House in August 200416 and by the Senate in November 2005,17 but in April 2007, President Obasanjo declined to sign the bill into law.18[A1]   The bill must now be passed by two-thirds majority of the House and Senate in order to become law.19
 
The Lagos State Government is also drafting a Freedom of Information Bill.20 The state Commissioner of Information and Strategy has indicated plans to set up an information center where researchers could obtain information about state governance.21 Lagos State has also indicated plans to translate the 1999 Constitution into Yoruba language.22 According to the state Commissioner of Information and Strategy, this will enable people at the grassroots level to know their rights.23
 
Recent developments
 
In July 2007, the Internal Affairs Ministry finalized plans to issue its new biometric Harmonised Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Passport.24 The passport will be issued in addition to an e-passport already made available earlier this year. The government plans to phase out the current machine-readable passport by year‚ end.25 The ECOWAS and e-passports contain an individual's biometric features‚ fingerprints, eyes, and face.26 The ECOWAS Passport is slated for issuance in late July.27 Reports following the earlier issuance of the e-passport indicate that applicants are being charged as much as five times the set application fee in order to receive the e-passport.28
 
Nigerian HIV-positive employees face discrimination-based termination without feasible legal redress. As reported to PlusNews, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a courtroom barred a former employee from entering the courtroom to sue for wrongful termination from fear that she may infect others.29 In a separate case of wrongful termination, even the intervention of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, Nigeria's NGO dedicated to fighting the HIV epidemic, could not aid the fired employee in collecting damages.30 To address these issues, in May 2007, the federal government approved the National Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS. The policy aims to remove the stigma associated with HIV and protect the affected individuals from workplace discrimination.31 However, human rights activists claim that companies remain unaware of a similar policy passed two years ago. Further, no national law or system of enforcement oversees the implementation of these policies. 32
 
International obligations
 
Representatives from the Nigerian legislature participated in the Study Group on Access to Information in July 2004, along with representatives from Fiji Islands, India, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, British Columbia, Scotland, and Ghana.33 To help prevent terrorism at sea and in ports, the United Nations has sponsored a biometric identity verification system that could affect 1.2 million maritime workers.34 Nigeria is one of eleven countries to have ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Seafarers Identity Documents Convention 2003, which implements this international biometric identity verification system.35 The Convention requires ratification by two countries, and came into force in February 2005.36 Ratifying states will be required to issue new documents that conform to the standards for converting two fingerprints into a biometric template that will be stored in an internationally standardized barcode printed on the Seafarers' Identity Document.37
 
1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chapter IV, § 37, available at "http://www.nigeria-law.org/ConstitutionOfTheFederalRepublicOfNigeria.htm".
 
 
 
 
 

Footnotes