Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today inducted the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame, for consistently disregarding its duties and obligations under the FOI Act and thereby undermining the public’s right of access to information.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Communications Officer, Mr. Idowu Adewale, said given the agency’s apparent aversion to transparency and openness, it is no surprise that it has repeatedly faced embarrassing scandals with its top officials being accused of acts of corruption.
He stressed that by choosing to disregard virtually all the obligations imposed on it by the FOI Act and refusing the comply with the requirements of the Law, the Agency was effectively denying citizens their legally guaranteed right to obtain information from it, which warranted its induction into the Hall of Shame.
NABDA was established in November 2001 as a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to implement policies aimed at promoting, coordinating, and setting research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.
Mr, Adewale noted that the agency has been bedevilled by a series of allegations of corrupt activities over the years with the most recent of such incidents being in November 2020 when the then acting Director-General of the Agency, Mr. Alex Akpa, was arrested and detained by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) over an allegation of misappropriation of N400 million under his watch.
He said: “NABDA could possibly have spared itself these embarrassing situations, which have caused significant damage to its reputation and public image, if it had chosen to imbibe a transparent institutional culture and simply abide by its duties and obligations under relevant laws such as the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the FOI Act, including proactively publishing information about itself and its operations”.
Mr. Adewale cited as additional evidence of the agency’s poor performance in FOI implementation the outcome of the 2021 FOI Ranking of public institutions in which the it earned just six points out of a possible 100 points and was ranked 149th out of the 213 public institutions that were assessed for their compliance with the provisions of the FOI Act. He observed that NABDA only earned the six points for proactively publishing descriptions of itself and its responsibilities at the time it was assessed.
Besides, he said, the 2020 Annual Report on the Implementation of the FOI Act, submitted to the National Assembly on March 22, 2021 by the Attorney-General of the Federation, showed that NABDA again failed to submit its annual FOI implementation report for last year, making it the 10th consecutive year that the institution has failed to comply with its reporting obligation under the Act since the Law came into force 10 years ago.
In addition, Mr. Adewale noted that the updated list of public institutions that have designated FOI Desk Officers, made available to MRA by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, also shows that NABDA is in breach of Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act, which mandates every public institution to designate an appropriate officer to whom applications for information from members of the public should be sent and to publish the title and address of such an officer, which the agency has not done.
He noted that the institution has also consistently disregarded the provisions of 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, saying that there is no indication that the agency has ever provided any training for any of its officials on the public’s right of access to information.
Mr. Adewale criticised NABDA for its lack of responsiveness to requests made to it for information, saying its arrogant disregard for the rights of members of the public to request and obtain information from it amounted to an unjustifiable violation of the clear provisions of the Act.
He cited as an example of such arrogant behaviour the failure of the agency to respond to a request for information dated February 12, 2016, made by Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation, under the FOI Act in which the organization asked for the records of payments released for capital projects in 2015. He said the agency did not even dignify the application with a written notice, which it is obliged to do under the Act, even if it intends to deny the request for information.
Besides, Mr. Adewale said, NABDA also failed to respond to another FOI request made to it on January 30, 2017 by PPDC, in which the organization again asked for records of payments released for capital projects in 2016, the list of contracts awarded by the institution in 2016, and the agency’s procurement plan for 2017.
He stressed that the agency has a vital role to play in national development, given its mandate, and urged its management to take urgent steps to redress its acts of non-compliance with the provisions of the FOI Act. He added that as a technology-based agency, NABDA could show leadership by deploying technology in the management of its records as well as throughout the entire cycle of FOI implementation, from creating records and documents, to meeting its proactive publications obligations and ultimately in speedily responding to requests for information from members of the public.
Mr. Adewale called on the relevant oversight bodies, including the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, to put measures in place to ensure that public institutions like NABDA are implementing the FOI Act and complying with their duties and obligations under it so that the country and its citizens can enjoy the benefits intended by the Law.
Media Rights Agenda