The Access Nigeria Project
Since March 2014, the Access Nigeria (AccessNG) project is working with 12 civil society organisations (CSOs) to collaboratively access information from the government agencies at the fore of the fight against corruption and trans-national organized crimes (TOC) in Nigeria. The four focal public agencies are the National Drug Law enforcement Agency (NDLEA); the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC); the National Agency for the prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other related Matters (NAPTIP) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
During the initial training workshop, participating civil society monitors were exposed to different strategies to build mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships with these four agencies in order to engender trust. Monitors also delved into Nigeria?s Freedom of Information (FOI) law envisioning it as a pillar to gather necessary information. Once equipped with requisite skills, civil society representatives were organized in groups and assigned a specific agency with the twin objectives of building relationship and accessing information.
Between May and July, members of each observer group make weekly visits to their assigned agency with a goal to better understand the agency, its work, departments and personnel. This interface in theory paves the way for improved access to the agency and future collaborations with civil society groups while also allowing the agencies to cultivate new audiences and networks which can be useful in their future projects.
Thus far, the exercise shows mixed progress on building collaborations and information sharing between the civil society and public agencies in Nigeria. The information collected by the monitors suggest that the prosecution of corruption and organized crime cases in Nigeria is a slow and arduous process as the prosecuting agencies are saddled with many cases which could drag for over four years in court. However, a lot remains unknown, for example the number of prosecutors and the average case load of each prosecutor.
In the end, the work of the monitors in this project reiterates that information sharing becomes easier and more participatory when the public agencies understand the project and believe that the information requested would be used judiciously and without bias.
The analysis of the reports submitted by these monitors between May and July 2014 highlights the need for anti-graft agencies in Nigeria to collaborate with CSOs in fighting corruption. CSOs are well positioned to assist agencies in projecting their achievements and challenges in order to draw the attention of the relevant authorities who can address these challenges. The reports also revealed that although the FOI Act is a necessary component of fighting against corruption and improving transparency and accountability in this fight, there are other important tools. Relationship building, engendering trust, communicating strategically, and actively engaging on the work of the agencies are equally relevant.
Accessing information about the fight against corruption and transnational organized crime in Nigeria has been a challenging task. The monitoring teams have worked against a number of challenges: an institutionalized culture of secrecy in government affairs; and the perception that agencies are security organisations charged with protecting national secrets rather than with sharing information with the public.
The hierarchical structure of these agencies also affected information sharing. Junior officers were often reluctant to share information?even when it was in their possession?because they did not have clearance from their supervisors. In some other instances, supervisors granted approval for collaboration and information sharing, however junior staff failed to respect the order, perhaps out of fear of being scapegoated at a later date.
Another challenge has been moving beyond one-off releases of information in response to the request of our monitors and also FOI-based requests. In an ideal scenario, agencies would regularly and proactively publish information, data, or public reports on their websites. Nigerian civil society would be more than willing to widely disseminate these findings among different stakeholders as well as use the information to ask follow-up questions that can lead to greater accountability.
Source CLEEN FOUNDATION