The Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has accused the National Examinations Council (NECO) of consistently failing to implement the FOI Act and to fulfill its obligations under the Law over the last six years and consequently inducted the examination body into the Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame.
MRA in a press release issued in Lagos on Monday by Ridwan Sulaimon, Programme Manager, Freedom of Information said the group noted that from 2011, when the Freedom of Information Act was passed into law, till date, the National Examinations Council which ought to have submitted six annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act has not submitted a single report.
It said a body such as NECO which is a critical part of Nigeria’s education system and ought to be instilling in its client students the values of obedience to laws and regulations, transparency and accountability, among others, should not only abide by the laws governing it but also its obligations under other laws, particularly those encapsulating such values.
According to the release, Ms Eseohe Ojo, MRA’s Programme Manager in charge of Digital Rights, said in a statement in Lagos: “As NECO strives to become a major player within the global assessment industry whose examinations are trusted worldwide, it must simultaneously work hard to enhance its credibility and reputation as an organization that plays by the rules, that obeys applicable laws, that is responsible, transparent and accountable. It must be seen to be above board as anything less tarnishes its reputation and puts its integrity into question.”
Besides, Ms Ojo argued, “As a body that collects fees and monies from Nigerian students and other nationals taking its examinations or using its services, it should fully disclose information about its incomes and expenditure, which it can easily accomplish if it complies with its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the FOI Act.”
She regretted that NECO has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations as it has not published either on its website or anywhere else, the 16 categories of information that it is required by the FOI Act to publish and disseminate widely to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources.
She stated that “proactively publishing and disseminating information as required by the FOI Act goes beyond just listing fees for its various products and services”.
Other aspects of the FOI Act which MRA accused NECO of disregarding include Section 2(3)(f) and Section 13 of the Act which mandate every public institution to publish the title and address of the appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent, and for every government or public institution to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access information and records held by the government or public institution for the effective implementation of the Act.
MRA said it did not have enough information to assess the level of NECO’s responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public, arguing that NECO itself is to blame for this situation as it has repeatedly failed to submit its statutory reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation as the Law requires.
Ms Ojo observed that MRA’s assessment of the poor level of implementation of the FOI Act by NECO is consistent with the findings of the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) in its 2017 ranking of 166 public institutions released on September 28, 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.
Ms Ojo also pointed out that as a result of the failure of NECO to submit its annual implementation report over the last six years, the vital statistical information which the reports are supposed to provide to members of the public, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant committees of the National Assembly are lost.
MRA stressed that NECO’s blatant disregard for the mandatory provisions of the Act has far-reaching negative implications for both the effective implementation of the Law, as it affects both the right and ability of members of the public to request and obtain information from it, as well as the capacity of oversight bodies, namely the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, to assess its level of compliance with and implementation of the Act.