Freedom of information is an integral part of every functioning democracy and an efficient tool for citizen empowerment to hold the government accountable. When citizens have access to crucial government information, hiding abuses of power and other illegal activities becomes difficult.
In Nigeria, the absence of activism by citizens has been a significant stepping stone to fortifying corrupt practices and impunity among public officers, with little or no checks. Hence, it is apt to say that low citizen participation in governance is central to a country’s retrogressive and persistent underdevelopment.
While there exist different reasons for the lack of active citizenship among Nigerians, lack of public information is undoubtedly a significant part. Access to relevant general details is vital for active participation in governance and a potent tool for preventing corruption and other government vices.
Access to public information empowers the people, regardless of their demographic and psychographic characteristics. Such empowerment helps to stimulate active citizenship and social change and invariably leads to an increase in transparency and accountability across all levels of governance.
Also, accountability and transparency, which result from access to public information, are associated with socio-economic and advancement in human development while strengthening democracy and reducing corrupt practices. The existence of a political will for transparency and accountability will no doubt enhance development in governance without excessive resource requirements.
The Freedom of information is recognizable in different corners of the world, both on paper and in practice, as there are entrenchments of legal frameworks for its practice. Such laws serve as empowerment for citizens to satisfy their information needs about the government.
Freedom of information is crucial to empowering the citizens to be active in effectively monitoring and keeping government officials on their toes. It also avails the citizens with privileges to orchestrate informed dialogue about government actions that affect their lives.
In Nigeria, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011 empowers all citizens, including the vulnerable and marginalized people, with broader rights and entitlement to public records and information.
However, as powerful as the empowerment may seem, the potential contribution to government transparency and accountability lies in the citizens’ willingness and ability to leverage its use in making demands judiciously and positively influence the government. Laws may fail to meet their objectives when not properly implemented and promoted. A strong law can as well be ineffective if government officials adopt a culture of secrecy.
The Freedom of information has given every citizen the ability to influence change and curb corrupt practices. Therefore, it is a collective responsibility of both citizens and public officials to ensure these objectives are achieved.