How Nigeria and Uganda are Faring on the Right to Information

By Tomiwa Ilori |
Transparency and accountability in governance are key tenets of participatory democracy. To this end, Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a right to information (RTI) law back in 1766. Finland followed in 1919, and to-date, over 100 countries across the world have enacted laws that give citizens the right to access information in the hands of government.
In Africa, 21 countries have passed Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, while 16 have proposed laws. Most countries have constitutional provisions for the right to information, pursuant to obligations under various international and regional instruments. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression. A model law on access to information for Africa was prepared by the African Commission to serve as a template and encourage more countries to adopt legislation embodying international, regional, and sub-regional standards.
Meanwhile, there have been regional efforts to ensure citizens’ realisation of the right of access to information. Civil society organisations together with the African Union and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration in 2011. There was also the Midrand Declaration on Press Freedom in Africa in 2013 which recommended that African countries take up open governance culture through access to information laws. However, the reality for most countries is that information requests are routinely refused or ignored, with citizens sometimes turning to the courts in order to access information in the hands of government.
Nigeria passed its freedom of information law in 2011. Under the Act, public institutions and “private companies utilising public funds, providing public services or performing public functions” are mandated to make public records and information freely available, guarantee citizens’ right to be duly informed of facts relevant to them and maintain records of all activities, operations and businesses. Without specifying whether its calendar or working days, the law provides for a response time to information requests of seven days. This may be extended if the request involves a large number of records or consultations have to be made. Proactive disclosure is also provided for under the law. Information exempt from disclosure includes that related to international relations, defence, law enforcement and investigations. Wrongful denial of information is an offence under the Act, punishable with a fine of Nigerian Naira 500, 000 (US$1,400).
The Attorney General of Nigeria is mandated to collate information on implementation of the Act based on information from the various government entities. According to statistics from the official FOI website, the number of requests made by citizens is on the decline. In 2013, 1,183 requests were recorded, of which 48 were denied. The following year, requests dropped by three quarters to 314, 35 of which were denied. Requests further dropped in 2015 to 217, of which 36 were unsuccessful. Figures for subsequent years are unavailable but denial of access to information remains prevalent.
In a May 2018 case, a human rights lawyer was denied information on fuel imports by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The corporation argued that it was established “by law to manage the commercial interests of Nigeria in the oil and gas sector of the economy and conduct trade therein”, and was therefore not a public institution within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act.
The following month, a Nigerian court denied an access to information request for details of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical bills. The request was filed to the Central Bank of Nigeria by the Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative (ASRADI).
Some cases of denial have compelled requesters to seek orders for disclosure. For example, the Nigerian Contract Monitoring Coalition initiated a court case and succeeded in compelling the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, the Electricity Distribution Company Plc and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to release information, which had initially been denied.
Courts have also set precedent in proactive disclosure by public institutions. In February 2014, a Federal High Court ordered the National Assembly to make its financial records accessible to members of the public through the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act of 2011. This galvanised the #OpenNASS advocacy campaign. More recently, the Court of Appeal in the Akure Division, Ondo State, ruled that the Act is applicable across federal states. This has put to rest the debate as to whether States in Nigeria need to comply with the provisions of the Act.
The situation in Nigeria mirrors that in Uganda whose access of information law was passed in 2005 but challenges still persist. The law has remained largely unimplemented because many public institutions have a culture of secrecy –they rarely release information pro-actively and routinely ignore citizens’ requests for information. Where government information or data is available, it is often not in reusable formats. Likewise, most citizens are not empowered to make information requests due to ignorance of the law, thus undermining participation in civic engagements and governance processes.
Furthermore, implementation of the access to information law in Uganda is hindered by limitations to the bodies or organs to which information requests can be made – the law excludes private entities and civil society. Like Nigeria, information exempt from access in Uganda includes that related to privacy of an individual, defense, security, international affairs, legal proceedings and law enforcement. The response time for a request is within 21 days of receipt. Wrongful denial of requests is punishable under the Act with a fine of Uganda Shillings 4,800,000 (US$1,300) or imprisonment for three years or both.
User statistics from Uganda’s Ask Your Government portal show that since its launch in June 2014 to-date, 2,647 requests have been made to 106 agencies. Out of these, 231 are indicated as successful and 40 unsuccessful. With over 2,300 requests awaiting responses beyond the 21 days limit, the majority can be regarded as refusals pursuant to section 18 of the Access to Information Act (ATIA), 2005. The section states: “where an information officer fails to give the decision on a request for access to the person concerned within the period contemplated under section 16, the information officer is, for the purposes of this Act, regarded as having refused the request”.
Some Ugandan citizens have also opted to seek redress from the courts for denied requests. In 2009, two Ugandan journalists sued the government over failure by the Solicitor General to grant access to information regarding oil production, prospecting and exploitation agreements. The case was dismissed on the basis that a clause in those agreements provided for confidentiality.
In a landmark case, on February 2015, a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kampala ruled that the reasons for which information is requested or the belief about how it will be used “are irrelevant considerations” in determining government’s approval or denial of a request. The ruling came after the Hub for Investigative Media was denied access to information related to activities of the National Forestry Authority funded by the World Bank between 2009 and 2011.
Implementation of access to information laws in Nigeria and Uganda shows that there is a lot to be done with respect to giving life to the existing legislation. Some of the ways through which the policy and practice gaps can be overcome is through records digitisation in all public institutions. This will not only help to save time in operations, it will also help with efficient record-keeping, search, retrieval and disclosure. Equally, translating freedom of information laws into local languages will help raise awareness on the rights of citizens and the obligations of duty bearers which will go a long way in realising the objectives of the FOI laws. Implementation of the laws can also be fast-tracked through compliance reporting to parliament by state institutions.
Ultimately, the experiences of Nigeria and Uganda show that courts are proving to be a means of recourse, and if effectively utilised, have the potential to set national and even regional precedent to make it easier for citizens to exercise the right to information.

Study Reveals that a Culture of Secrecy Among Public Officials Hinders Media Work in Tanzania

By MISA Tanzania Correspondent |
A prevailing culture of secrecy among public officials in Tanzania at both central and local government levels is hindering the work of journalists, according to findings by a recent study. This is affecting access to information necessary for media reporting towards increased civic participation, transparency and accountability in governance.
The study which was conducted by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Tanzania Chapter in partnership with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) assessed the responsiveness of local government authorities (LGAs) and central government offices in Tanzania to citizens’ information requests.
The study found widespread laxity among officials in processing information requests, with many claiming to have misplaced or lost filed requests. “If you received someone’s documents, why would you say you can’t see them just a week later?” wondered Haika Kimaro, a newspaper correspondent in Mtwara town in the south-east of Tanzania. In the port town of Kigoma, Rhoda Ezekiel, a correspondent with Uhuru Newspaper, recounted how the secretary of the Ujiji Municipal Council once claimed to have misplaced her information request when she followed up on a query she had submitted.
Radio journalist George Binagi shared a similar experience from the town of Mwanza: “I submitted my questions in writing to the Regional Commissioner’s Office. I went back 10 days later and did not get the answers. They looked for my letter and [claimed they] never saw it.”
But it is not only the media affected by limited access to public information. Researchers are affected too. During the study, Jacqueline Jones, a mass communication graduate and intern at MISA Tanzania, went to the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner’s office posing as a student researcher. She requested for information pertaining to the office’s functions, ongoing projects, income and expenditure. However, she was turned away for lack of an introduction letter from a university, with officials claiming that work procedures do not allow them to disclose information without such a letter.
“Their customer service is awful and the people at the registry department were quite harsh and rude. One of them actually shouted at me for insisting on getting my answers in a written form,” said Jones.
She submitted a similar request to the Dar es Salaam City Council, which, according to the city’s Information Officer needed approval by at least four different Heads of Sections. The Information Officer provided her with the requested information upon receipt of the approvals.
Alternative platforms for accessing information offered their own challenges. According to Zulfa Musa, a Mwananchi Newspaper correspondent in Arusha, administrative assistants manage the City Council offices’ telephone numbers and getting in touch with the Director or his Secretary to request for information required one to have these officials’ personal phone numbers. It was difficult to make information requests as the administrators were reluctant to provide the personal contact information of the Director or his secretary.
The frustrations faced by the journalists who took part in the study indicates that it is likely that citizens face similar or worse challenges.
It is widely recognised that access to quality and timely information for citizens is crucial in facilitating informed dialogue, monitoring and evaluation of development issues at the local level, thereby accountable governance and improved public services delivery.
Gasirigwa Sengiyumwa, the National Director for MISA Tanzania, stated that whereas an Access to Information Act was passed in 2016, “it appears that both public servants and the general public remain unaware of this Law.” He added: “There is a need for sensitisation about the law through training workshops for both parties [public officials and citizens] to ensure that the rights and responsibilities provided for under the law are realised.”
The study was conducted as part of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa initiative’s objective to document and publicise the utility and effectives of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for government-citizen interaction, proactive information disclosure, and responsiveness to information requests, for the realisation of the right of access to information.
Seven out of Tanzania’s 28 regions were covered in the study, with a total of 28 information requests filed to 14 institutions during March and April 2017. The written requests were emailed as well as hand-delivered to the institutions. Follow ups on approval or denial of requests was conducted through phone calls and physical visits.
Read the full study at here.

The Right To information in Uganda: Unclogging The Bottlenecks

By Loyce Kyogabirwe |
The right to information (RTI) is essential for the functioning of any democracy and is a prerequisite for transparency, accountability, gender equality and citizens’ participation in governance processes. However, Uganda faces numerous challenges to realising the right to access information despite having an access to information law. In the course of 2016, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) made various interventions to advance RTI, including holding training events and round table discussions for civil society, the media and government officials.
Uganda’s 2005 right to information law remains little known and largely unimplemented. Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) hardly release information voluntarily and tend to be unresponsive to information requests from citizens, due to a culture of secrecy and government bureaucracy that conflict with the law. Conversely, few citizens demand for information as a result of low awareness of their rights and the belief that public officials routinely ignore citizens’ information requests.
At a December 15, 2016 dialogue involving public officials, including information officers from various MDAs, journalists and civil society representatives, it emerged that the government and citizens have not prioritised RTI. “The role of information has been undervalued and sometimes it gets a zero release in [MDA] budgets,” said a public official. Another noted that 11 years after the law was enacted, no MDA has submitted an annual report to parliament on its information disclosure record, including requests received from citizens, as required by the law.
Other challenges prominently cited included under-staffing in MDAs, employing information officers that are unqualified and who often lack mandate to speak on behalf of the public entity, and conflicting laws that make implementing the RTI law difficult.
Journalists shared their experiences of regularly being denied information, often with no reason provided. One journalist noted that informal approaches are the primary means of attaining public information held by the state.
At an earlier training for journalists, which was held on November 23, challenges of public information officers who are either not authorised to release information, or who refer to secrecy oaths not to release information, were prominently cited.
Further, journalists pointed out the cost of accessing information as a hindrance for ordinary citizens. “If it is my right to access information then why am I paying for it?” asked Regina Nassanga of Mama FM. According to the law, a fee of UGX 20 000 (Just over US$ 5) is required when making a formal request at an MDA office.
Despite these obstacles, there are some indications that things could get better. Each government department is now required to have an information officer, and a few public bodies are beginning to implement the government’s 2013 Communications Strategy, although they have been unable to make any significant increase to budget allocations for the information function.
Civil society representatives pointed out additional concerns including the lack of deliberate action to promote RTI particularity for women and people with disabilities. Moreen Nambalirwa from the National Union of Women with Disabilities noted that when information is disseminated to the public via television and radios, people with visual and hearing impairments miss out. She also stated that despite the directive from the Uganda Communications Commission that all TV stations should have a sign language interpretation during some news broadcasts, none of the more than 10 local TV stations have done so, further contributing to the exclusion and limited participation by PWDs in governance processes.
The convenings were organised by CIPESA and provided a space for civil society, public officials and journalists to share their experiences, learn from one another, and suggest possible ways to improve access to information.

Fostering the Right to Information Among Women’s Rights Organisations in Uganda

By Juliet Nanfuka |
Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life. Access to information is necessary in advancing gender equality and women’s participation in governance processes.
Accordingly, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is undertaking a series of engagements to create awareness of the right to information law in Uganda and the avenues through which women’s rights organisations can exercise this right to empower women in the country.
At a training on November 11, 2016, 12 representatives from women’s organisations discussed the relationship between women’s rights and the right to information with a focus on how to utilise Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to bridge the two rights. Specifically, SDG 5b calls for enhancing the use of technology, in particular ICT, to promote the empowerment of women.
Ashnah Kalemera, CIPESA’s Programmes Officer, noted that, “For the realisation of women’s rights and indeed many other rights in Uganda, the role that access to information plays should be better understood and should not be seen as exclusive of other rights such as non-discrimination, privacy and right to health.” She added that, “it is every citizen’s right to have access to information held by the state. However, this is challenged by the lack of awareness to demand information which would enable a more transparent and accountable state and ultimately citizens who can make informed decision on issues that affect them.”
“Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person.” Article 41 of the Uganda Constitution
Training participants noted that the unavailability of information hampers  civil society organisations’ engagement on pertinent social issues, as they often cannot develop in-depth reports or make interventions to  empower women on the basis of strong evidence.
The use of ICT as an enabler of access to information has long been recognised by Uganda citizens and officials alike, however, platforms such as the online information request portal Ask Your Gov are providing an avenue for ordinary citizens and organisations with limited access or technical skills to request information . The portal allows for information requests submitted and responses given to be seen by anyone who accesses the website.
At the training, participants assessed information requests on the portal and their relevance to women’s rights and submitted information requests of their own. Loyce Mugisa from the National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU) said a highlight from the training was discovering “the amount of information available that we did not know about.” She added that she placed an information request on the portal and within a few minutes received a response from the land ministry. According to the law, public officials have 21 days within which to respond to an information request, which has often been cited “too long” to wait. “Encouraged” by the prompt response to her query, Mugisa has since sent a follow up question. See the interaction here.
Long held skepticism about the voluntary release of public information by the state has contributed to the poor use of the law. This is also due to conflicts with existing laws such as  the Official Secrets Act.
Nonetheless, participants at the training reported an enthusiasm about the applicability of the law in their organisations to serve women’s interests.
*Organisations represented at the training included Alliance for Women in Development, Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE),  National Union of Women with Disabilities (NUWD), National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda, Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA), Women’s Democracy Network (WDN Uganda), Women And Girl Child Development Association (WEGCDA), Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA-Uganda),
CIPESA’s engagements on women’s rights and access to information are supported by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).

Project Evaluation: Open Data and Right to Information

Report |
During 2014 and 2015, CIPESA implemented a project aimed at empowering citizens in East Africa to use Right to Information (RTI) laws to lodge requests and document their experiences through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The project further aimed to undertake awareness raising and network building activities to promote the right to information in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and create awareness among lawmakers on regressive policies and practices that undermine proactive disclosures. The project also planned on network building to be achieved through the sharing of experiences gained from the three countries among the engaged network of change actors across the region.
Since the closure of project activities, an evaluation was commission to establish the achievements, outcomes and challenges registered by the project during the period January 2014 – December 2015. The evaluation assessed the appropriateness, effectiveness and outcomes of the project in relation to its planned objectives.
The evaluation focused on project activities in Uganda and the use of Alaveteli – an Open source platform that enables citizens to request for information with the replies recorded for all to see on the AskYourGov (AYG) website ( as the key technology medium, as well as social media namely Facebook and Twitter.
Key findings
The use of the AYG platform by citizens is still low, compared to alternative Freedom of Information (FOI) channels (for example, a respondent at the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development reported that he receives/responds to approximately 32 requests a day by phone, face to face, or paper-based request forms), and has not grown over the two years. As well, the response from MDAs is below average. Though there is political will from the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda, ownership of the platform and its continued functionality is still the responsibility of partners – Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and CIPESA and does not seem to have yet taken root within most Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA).

  1. Consider a phased approach to implementing the AYG platform in MDAs. Adopting a more systematic phased approach to implementation and roll out, and contextualized to the specific needs of each agency could help address the unique MDA contexts and ensure a more effective use of the platform. Rather than spreading efforts (of particularly limited resources) and adopt a blanket approach to the implementation of the portal, a phased systematic approach that involves a few MDAs coming on board at a time is recommended. For example the evaluation shows that the majority of the FOI requests are related to land, taxes and inquiries on internship and recruitment. This could be interpreted in two ways: – (i) that these issues could be the most pressing information needs of citizens currently; or (ii) that the effective response from the respective MDAs has created citizen demand. This could give some insight to justify a phased approach in prioritizing MDAs to work with on the AYG platform.
  1. Build an Advocacy network of CSOs to sustain the demand for government responsiveness on the AYG platform. Such a network is likely to realize a much stronger and sustained voice in mobilizing, advocating and lobbying continuous Government’s responsiveness on the AYG platform.
  1. Sustain stakeholders’ engagement activities (awareness raising and capacity building). Some of the issues that hinder requesting and disseminating information by the rights holders (citizens) and duty bearers (government officials) respectively are the culture of secrecy among duty bearers, and the limited understanding of the RTI laws among other things. Changing such individual and organization norms, cultures and practices takes time. Sustained engagement of rights holders and duty bearers is therefore very critical and future projects should avail sufficient resources for this.
  1. Make the platform more inclusive to encourage usability in different contexts. Future implementations could adopt a more inclusive approach that looks into mixing ICT platforms such as the web-based platform, SMS, as well as integrate a back-end function that can easily be manipulated to enable agencies to coordinate and centrally manage information requests from the various modes of delivery i.e. the back-end function should be in position to manage, monitor and keep track of all requests that come into the agencies irrespective of the mode of delivery. This should encourage usability by all classes of stakeholders, while the back-end would provide for easy management and tracking of requests.

Lessons Learned

  1. The Success of the AYG platform in an MDA is dependent on a number of pre-requisites that include functional business processes, policies, infrastructure, and human resources related to information disclosure. This kind of organization context makes it easy for speeding up the uptake of the AYG platform as it complements already ongoing work and may not appear as an additional burden to MDA officials.
  1. The AYG platform could be more effective if its roll out is prioritized to target specific information needs of citizens. This prioritization could be based on a number of factors that may include: – findings of a needs assessment of Citizen Information needs, readiness of MDAs, National priorities defined in strategies like National Development Plans among others
  1. The passing of relevant RTI laws in the country is key in providing an enabling environment to implement a project of this nature

Download and read the full evaluation report here.