4th of May every year, is observed all over the world as World Press Freedom Day. This is a day set aside throughout the world to mark freedom of the press in all countries of the world. In Nigeria, the day was observed in the major cities with pomp and pageantry with speakers calling upon the National Assembly to pass the Freedom of Information Bill (FOl) that has been pending in the two chambers of the National Assembly for over five years now.

In this piece, we are going to examine the true nature and extent of the freedom of information being demanded by Nigerians.
The expressions, Freedom of Information, Right to Information or Right to know are mostly used interchangeably to mean the right of individuals to access information held by public institutions and in certain specific cases information held by private institution performing public functions or where such information is required for the enforcement of a fundamental right.
A necessary corollary of this right is the obligation on public institutions and in deserving cases private institutions to proactively publish certain classes of information that is within their control.

The right to information has always been seen as a right of every human being, irrespective of nationality creed or race, and not a privilege.
The history of the global crusade for the recognition of the right to information dates back to 1776 exactly 233 years ago when the Swedes adopted the right as part of their constitution and also made specific provision for it under their Freedom of Info and Freedom of the Press Act. Other Scandinavia countries and America followed suit almost 200 years after.

In the early stages of the crusade for the recognition of this right, it was largely seem as an intrinsic part of the right to freedom of expression. Consequently, all the International Human Rights Treaties and Conventions that were adopted by State parties to the United Nations at that time had wordings that specifically reflected this train of thought. This seems to have contributed in large measure to the persistent confusion that exists in several to have including the hallowed chambers of Nigeria’s Federal parliament where access to information is viewed by the majority as a media related right rather than a fundamental human right that is open to all central to the effective realization of several other rights, be they civil, political or socio-economic rights.

Article 19 (2) of the international Covenant on Civil and political right provides; “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression” this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Article 19 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights similarly provides that: “everyone has the right to freedom of o and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and’ to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
However, with time and developments that further enhanced the global expansion of this right, it then evolved into being recognized as a standalone fundamental human right that is of just society. Consequently, the United Nationals General assembly, in its resolution 59(1) adopted December 14,1946, declared that “Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and the touch stone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated”
Also, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the present African Union (AU) gave due recognition to this right by the provision of Article (1) & (2) of the African Charter on Human and People Right adopted June 27, 1981 by the state parties to the charter. The Article specifically provides that
 “Every individual shall have the right to receive information”, and “Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinion within the law”.
In furtherance of the provisions of this Chapter, the African Commission enunciated in its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted at its 32 Ordinary Session in Banjul, The Gambia on 23” October, 2002, a set of principles that further clarified the framework for the effective realization of this. right in Africa, and state parties to the charter were specifically requested to make every effort to give practical effect to these principles. In relation to the right to information, this Declaration of principles specifically provides that;
1. Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.
2. The right to information shall be guaranteed by law in accordance with the following principles:
i. Everyone has the right to access information held by pubic bodies;
ii. Everyone has the right to access information held by private bodies which is necessary for the exercise or protection of any right;
iii. Any refusal to disclose information shall be subject to appeal to an independent body and/or the courts;
iv. Public bodies shall be required, even in the absence of a request, actively to publish important information of significant public interest;
v. No one shall be subject to any sanction for releasing in good faith information on wrongdoing or that which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment save where the imposition of sanctions serves a legitimate interest and is necessary in a democratic society; and
vi. Secrecy laws shall be amended as necessary to comply with freedom of information principles.
3. Everyone has the right to access and update or otherwise correct their personal information, whether it is held by public or by private bodies.
These international human rights instruments and treaties have been ratified and domesticated in the national legislations of virtually all countries in Africa, including Nigeria. In Nigeria, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been domesticated under Cap 10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990. This necessarily makes the right to information provided under Article 9 to the African Charter, part of Nigeria’s domestic law.
While several countries on the continent such as Cameroon, Senegal and Mali, to name a few, in their constitutions, give specific recognition to the aforementioned international human rights instruments which incorporate the right to information as part of the right to freedom of expression, others like Ghana, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Uganda to name a few, specifically provide for the right to Freedom of Information as part of the fundamental human rights protected under the constitution.
In addition to these constitutional guarantees on the right to information, south Africa and. Uganda have enacted spec access to information laws, the promotion of Access ! Information Act 2000 of South Africa and the Uganda access to Information Act 2005. Ghana and Burkina Faso are presently considering the enactment of similar legislations, with Ghanaian Bill now pending before parliament after receive cabinet approval.
Other countries in African having all-embracing access to information laws include Angola, Ethiopia, which has a Mass Media and Freedom of Information Act, 2008 and Zimbabwe, with its Access to Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act (AIPPA) 2002. It is instructive to note that the Zimbabwean variant is generally not accepted as an access to information legislation due to its highly objectionable provisions. Presently, there are about 88 countries in the world today, having access to information legislation in one form or another. These include Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, Hungary, Indonesia, Thailand, Chile, Mexico, Peru, south Korea and India, to name a few.
It can safely be said that the current global preference for transparent and accountable systems of governance, and its. close linkage with the adoption of democracy as the globally preferred system of government and the need to strengthen its adoption and global application, are largely responsible for the rapid adoption of all-embracing for specific legislation by several countries. .
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