The bill, first proposed in December 1999 and modeled after the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, is endorsed by all of Nigeria’s journalist and civil-society groups. The legislation would allow both journalists and citizens to access information held by government agencies. The bill would also require state agencies to publish information annually about their activities, as well as a list of official records in their possession, in the Federal Gazette, the government’s newsletter.
In addition, the legislation will weaken the powers of Nigeria’s Press Council, which has the authority to accredit and register journalists and can also suspend journalists from practicing their profession. All Nigerian publications must register annually with the council, which imposes a fine of US$2,500 or up to three years in jail for publishing without a license. Publishers are also required to send a performance report to the council or risk a fine of US$1,000.
While lawmakers from the ruling People’s Democratic Party of President Olusegun Obasanjo had promised to pass the Freedom of Bill during Obasanjo’s first term, which began in May 1999 and ends this month, they never took up the legislation.
“CPJ urges Nigeria to pass this bill quickly,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “By giving the public, including journalists, the right to access government information, the legislation will enhance the media’s ability to report the news freely.”