Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on Tuesday inducted the Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation (OSGOF) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame following a scathing assessment in which it was adjudged to have “failed abysmally in many ways to comply with its obligations under the FOI Actover the last seven years.”
Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s Programme Director, said in a statement in Lagos that “The OSGOF appears to be one of those public institutions which exist only in name, receiving allocations annually from federal budgets, but performs no real functions, provides no discernible service to the Government or people of Nigeria, generates no income for the country, and stimulates no development in any known or visible area.”
According to Mr. Longe, the irrelevance and non-functioning state of the institution is evidenced by its website (http://www.osgof.gov.ng/), which was generally last updated about four years ago, in 2014 with the only more recent update being a posting on September 21, 2016, announcing that “Surv. (Dr.) E. B. Awudu, fnis, mni was appointed the Surveyor General of the Federation in April, 2015.”
The OSGOF describes itself as an Extra-Ministerial Office under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Works which assumed its current status vide Federal Executive Council conclusion No. EC 17 (05)8, dated April 27, 2005.
It says its primary assignments are: the provision of requisite geo-information in right quantity, quality and format in real time for national development and decision making in all sectors; delineation, demarcation and maintenance of interstate and international boundaries and co-ordination and harmonization of all surveying and mapping activities in the country.
Mr. Longe said: “with the information generated and published on the OSGOF’s website so hopelessly out of date, even if the institution actually produces any geo-information, it might be a mistake for the Federal Government to rely on such information for national development and decision-making, especially also given the image of a very incompetent institution that the OSGOF projects of itself.”
He noted that although the OSGOF has published information concerning its operations, departments and zonal offices on its website, they are information that respond to just one of the 16 classes of records and other information that the FOI Act requires every public institution to publish proactively.
According to him, the information proactively disclosed by the OSGOF do not satisfy the full categories of information listed for proactive publication in the FOI Act, and especially not the most important set of information among the various items.
For instance, Mr. Longe said, the website does not contain information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution; the names, salaries, titles, and dates of employment of all employees and officers of the OSGOF; or the list of files containing applications for any contract, permit, grants, licenses or agreement, among several others listed in Section 2 (3) of the FOI Act as information that must be proactively published.
He also noted that there is nothing whatsoever on the website to indicate to a visitor or members of the public that the OSGOF has appointed an officer to receive and process Freedom of Information requests from members of the public, although this is required to be published with the name, title and contact details of such an official, in accordance with Section 2 (3) (f) of the FOI Act.
Mr. Longe said in addition to the fact that the information is not available on its website, the OSGOF has also not supplied the name and address of its FOI Desk Officers to the Attorney-General of the Federation despite repeated requests from the Federal Ministry of Justice with the result that those details are not contained in the Database of FOI Desk Officers of Public Institutions made available to Media Rights Agenda by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
He castigated the OSGOF for having failed to submit any report detailing its implementation of the FOI Act to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation for seven consecutive years since the Law came into force and accused the institution of violating another of its important obligations, as contained in Section 29 of the FOI Act.
Mr. Longe said: “The failure of the OSGOF to submit its annual FOI implementation reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation and publish them proactively as required by Law makes it impossible to determine the number of requests for information that the institution has received from members of the public and how many of them it has acceded to; the number of such applications it refused to grant and how many of those cases went to court, among other related details that its reports should contain, as required by Section 29(1)(a-h) of the Act.”
He noted that there is no indication that the OSGOF has provided any training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the FOI Act, in accordance with Section 13 of the Act.
Mr. Longe stressed that “the OSGOF has failed abysmally in many respects to comply with its obligations under the FOI Act over the last seven years since the Law was passed, thereby bringing itself into ridicule and seeking to perpetuate a culture of impunity which continues to rob the government of public trust and confidence.”
He therefore called on the relevant committees of the National Assembly to institute measures to ensure that the OSGOF and other public institutions which are failing to comply with their obligations under the FOI Act are compelled to fully implement the Law.
Launched in July 2017, the FOI Hall of Shame shines the spotlight on public officials and institutions undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.