The Social Development Integrated Centre has urged community leaders as well as Community Based Organisations in Akwa Ibom State to explore the window of Freedom of Information, FOI Act in requesting information from the government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on issues bordering on procurement and awarding of contracts in their communities.
The Programmes Coordinator of Social Action Nigeria, Isaac Botti, made the call in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, during a one-day workshop with the theme: “Using Freedom of Information to facilitate transparency in public procurement and project implementation.”
He noted that a lot of corruption is built around procurement, contract awarding and budgeting, saying that when citizens who are the supposed beneficiaries of the community projects start asking questions in these areas, the agencies involved and the government would begin to show some level of transparency.
Botti lamented the lack of knowledge of the provisions of the FOI act by the community, saying such had deepened the corruption in procurement processes and the prevalence of non-existing projects in the communities captured in the budget.
He, therefore, called for synergy between the Media and Community Based Organisations in seeking FOI requests to facilitate transparency in procurement processes and project implementation.
His words, “We want to see more actions from the community; that is why you see us training them, for them to understand the use of FOI, particularly to facilitate transparency in procurement because the entire corruption profile is built around procurement, contract awarding and budgeting. When citizens who are the beneficiaries of the projects are the ones asking questions, it will allow for transparency because they have become the watchdogs.
“We want the people to write to the NDDC, government or any other institution requesting to know the contractor of a project in the budget but not seen in their community. They should seek information on the timeline for the completion of a project, and how much funds are released. and so on, by so doing, transparency would be achieved.
“When the Community people have the knowledge of what they do and make their demands, with the support of the media, you will see all these agencies such as the NDDC being on their toes and coming up clean. The NDDC will become more intentional in the development of the Niger Delta region.”
Also, one of the Resource persons, Mfon Gabriel, speaking on “Introduction to Freedom of Information Act: A Breakdown of the Act” encouraged Journalists and Community Leaders to make their FOI request specific and clear so as not to be thrashed by the organisations.
He added that the people or any other information seeker, is backed by law to sue any agency that refuses to respond to their FOI request within 14 days concurrently, regretting that the reason why some institutions refuse to give out information is because people do not understand their right to take them to court.