OPINION: Termites have eaten FOI Bill enough

By Ibraheem Abdullateef.

Allow me to dip my pen in the crow ink and scribble some words of truth. After all, not speaking when it matters do not prolong a life specially. In fact, silence in the face of inequity, is a great misfortune.

Regardless of whatever anybody thinks, criticism is a prerequisite for a virile democracy. Therefore, to avert the ongoing democratic anomaly, this piece becomes necessary.

On 29th May, 2019, when the tides of change swept across the nooks and crannies of Kwara state, it was an under celebrated wonder of the world. Forget the Guinness Book of Records. There is perhaps few moments as historic and legendary as the “O’ to ge” movement in world political trajectory. As grand as it was, the emergence of a youth State Assembly led by a 34-year-old Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Danladi, was the icing on the cake. It was unprecedented and monumental in the history of Kwara state.

The 9th Assembly was adjudged to be youthful and as such, billed for greatness. And truth be told, they wasted no time in getting to work. The prompt passage of executive bills such as suspension of Local Government Chairmen, dissolution of Commissions; Kwara State Civil Service, Kwara State Electoral Commission, Kwara State House of Assembly Commission, including investigation, debates and prompt approval of several other executive requests readily comes to mind as some of the eye- catching achievements of the Assembly.

Yet with such productivity, what has remained the 9th wonder of the world is the disappearance of the FOI bill. I mean, the wonder of the wonders is how an 18-page bill has almost taken two months to be amended.

The 9th Assembly might need to explain why the amendment of the FOI bill is even taking longer than the birth and reading of the bills altogether! I am afraid talks are rife that the much celebrated bill has become leaflets for the termites. It’s already in the public space that the Assembly principal officers bear unfriendly mien towards the bill. Whether true or false, the unmistaken reluctance and taciturnity from their quarters strengthen such notion.

Despite this administration’s relatively good starting, the indifference to the bill has been a major minus. It becomes even more so as intolerance for corruption has become an enchanting song in the mouth of the governor. It’s however, much surprising that little efforts have been shown to walk the talk. Put succinctly, any promise of championing accountability is naught without amending, passing and domesticating Freedom Of Information Act.

Without meaning to sound harsh, there’s no viable measurement to gauge transparency and accountability the “New Kwara” promises.

On 20th June, 2019, FOI Bill was transmitted to Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq by KWHA for Assent. Forget that it took him a month to act upon it, he eventually sent a letter to the House for amendment of some clauses. On 23rd of July, 2019, the Speaker read the Governor’s letter of request for minor amendment at the plenary. It might interest you that the said amendment was for just two clauses in the bill considered as amendable by the governor.

What is inexplicably unexplainable is how the Hon. Awolola O. Ayokunle- led House Committee on Information would take almost two months to look into a bill. If anything, incompetence is out of it. What all of these legislative gymnastics portend is unreadiness. The inattention by the Honourable Speaker to such negligence is equally condescending and disappointing. While I do not mean to be prejudicial, everything put together paints a gloomy picture of unravelled conspiracy. But who could want to abort the FOI Bill? For what? Why could anybody want to make it a stillbirth?

Perhaps, nothing could be more shocking than how the reformer, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq continues to look the other way. As a great football lover, one should know about a legend in the soccer circle dubbed the ‘Hand of God’. This phrase came to life because of an all important but controversial goal scored by Argentine legendary footballer, Diego Maradona, in the 1986 World Cup. Until France’s Thierry Henry scored an equally controversial goal, artfully using his hand to nudge the ball into the net in a 2014 World Cup qualifier, the phrase had little cause to be remembered.

However, the apparent murder of the FOI Bill and Abdulrazaq’s inattention has done much to remind the people, albeit in politics. It is widely rumored that the governor has little faith in it. This much silence, albeit literarily, has been the ‘Hand of God’ for fabled conspiracy against the bill. As implausible as it sounds, everyone should know that silence in the face of legislative inaction can only mean approval, let alone the governor! It is easy to ponder if he would have felt unconcerned if the Assembly had not passed one or some of the executive bills.

What benefits not amending the highly advantageous bill would give to anyone is unfathomable. Unless, of course, there’s something unknown, there’s nothing as logically viable to strengthen accountability and promote probity in governance as the bill. Giving the leeway to access information to the media, CSOs, NGOs and other social or pressure groups will exonerate this administration of suspicion from sleaze and misappropriation that characterised the previous governments.

It’s unimaginable how anyone, let alone the governor, do not see what humongous benefits domesticating the FOI Act would afford their image in the corporate world.

Personally, I feel prompt amendment and passage could have have been one of the best legislative acts of the present assembly. Letting it become a subject of controversy is a dent on their supposed remarkable records.

Therefore, it behooves the 9th Assembly to explain why it has disallowed the state a cogent compass of democracy, which is accountability, so far by their inaction over the FOI bill.

Nonetheless, delay they say, is not denial. Therefore, there’s a time to rewrite the wrongs. And frankly, the time is now. As a matter of urgency, the Speaker should inquire why the Hon. Awolola Oyakunle- led House Committee on Information is determined to truncate the amendment of the bill as a rudiment of democracy because of emotions and sentiments. That is, if as believed, the Honourable Speaker remains unchanged as a passionate and cerebral young man we agitated for. I doubt he knows how much stains the abortion of FOI bill could leave on his white clothes!

However, if nothing good comes from the House, the governor would have to demonstrate the fabled love for democracy, accountability and probity by writing to the House of Assembly as regards the bill. I must affirm that as promising as this government has began, the indifference to domestication of the FOI Act remains a blot on their record books. And it could ever get messier if they waited for people to get on the streets in protest for its domestication.

Until and unless something urgent and drastic is done within this month, Kwarans and in fact, the nation at large could start asking questions of the government’s sincerity and translucency.

Sign FOI Bill now! The termites have eaten it enough.




DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on our opinion page are those of the writer and do not represent the position of INSIDER or any of its reporters/editors.

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