The Media Rights Agenda on Monday inducted the Energy Commission of Nigeria, ECN, into its Freedom of Information, FOI, Hall of Shame for the institution's failure to comply with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act, 2011 for nearly seven years.
Announcing the commission as this week's inductee into the FOI Hall of Shame, MRA's Programme Officer, Idowu Adewale, noted that one of the principal mandates of the Energy Commission of Nigeria, even as listed on its website, is the gathering and dissemination of information relating to national policy in the field of energy, a mandate which could easily be fulfilled through the proactive disclosure of information about its operations, activities, and businesses as required by the FOI Act.
Instead, Mr. Adewale said, "the ECN has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the information that Section 2 of the FOI Act requires all public institutions to proactively publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources."
According to him, "the commission ought to have submitted seven annual reports on its implementation of the Act to the Attorney-General of the Federation as of February 1, 2018, but there is no record of the institution having submitted a single report since the Act was passed in 2011. Such reports would have been beneficial to both the public and the institution itself as it would ensure transparency and accessibility to citizens as well as the proper keeping and management of the Commission's records."
Mr. Adewale stated that "The failure of the ECN to submit its annual implementation reports as required by Law, deprives the public of vital statistical information which the reports are supposed to provide to the public, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly. Due to the failure of the Commission to perform this public duty, information on how many requests for information the institution has received annually since 2011, how many of these it has processed and granted and how many of the requests it denied each year, among others, are not available anywhere."
He pointed out that in light of the issues raised by its own staff in November 2017, it is even more important for the commission to fulfil its obligations under the FOI Act and ensure the transparency of the institution so that members of the public can form their own independent opinions about the truth or otherwise of the charges made against the commission by its employees.
Mr. Adewale said in November 2017, the staff union of the ECN shut down activities at its headquarters over alleged administrative anomalies, accusing the commission of unfair labour practices and poor conditions of service.
He recalled that Promise Chukwu, Chairman of the Staff Union of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ACSCSN) and Abubakar Shehu who works with the energy information system of the commission, had mentioned during the warning strike that the staff of the commission were not trained or provided with working materials.
He accused the commission of disregarding Section 13 of the Act which requires every public institution to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public's right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act.
According to Mr. Adewale, during the incident, the staff of the commission also called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the ECN's project account as they stressed the need for an investigation into an alleged irregular payment of N11 million through the project account of the institution to the personal bank account of the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, who is not a staff of the ECN.
He also highlighted Section 2(3) (f) of the FOI Act, which mandates every public institution to publish the title and address of an appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent, and accused the ECN of failing to comply with this requirement.
Mr. Adewale also referred to the findings of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) contained in its report released last September 28 from its FOI ranking of 166 public institutions in 2017, based on an assessment of the levels of public access to procurement related records and information, such as information on procurement plans, procurement processes and capital expenditure.
The report, he said, put the ECN among the worst performing set of institutions based on its failure to proactively disclose information and its poor level of responsiveness to FOI requests. In the face of the seven days stipulated in the FOI Act for public institutions to respond to requests for information, the ECN did not respond to PPDC's request for information made on January 31, 2017 until March 28, 2017 - eight clear weeks later - when it demanded the payment of the sum of N10,000 before the requested information is provided in violation of the schedule of fees prescribed by the Attorney-General of the Federation for FOI requests as contained in his Implementation Guidelines issued in 2013.
The MRA advised the ECN to fulfil its obligations under the FOI Act, saying that would go a long way in ensuring transparency in the institution and contribute to resolving some of the issues it currently faces.
The MRA launched the "FOI 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, inactions, utterances and decisions.
Previous inductees include the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund, the Bureau for Public Enterprises, the National Hospital, and the National Assembly.