‘Senate’ll Pass FOI Bill, But…

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We have the strong desire to pass the Freedom of Information Bill but it’s going to be in tune with the realities of our country. Journalists are given an enormous responsibility to defend our country but there are challenges.

“The Senate has strong desire to pass the much-talked-about Freedom of Information (FOI) bill but the passage has to be in conformity with what it views as ‘the realities of our country.”

Making this clarification in an encounter with The Tide On Sunday in Abuja, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator (Ambassador) George Manzo said the Senate is not opposed to the passage of the FOI bill but wants to ensure that it is not abused, if passed into law.

This clarification by the deputy spokesman of the Senate is coming at a time many thought the National Assembly was being passive about the bill and has swept it under the carpet without any hope of re-visiting it.

Senator Manzo, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Israel, said the Senate has nothing to fear about the bill but has a duty to ensure that publications by journalists are not inimical to national survival and stability, even after the passage of the bill.

His words: “We have the strong desire to pass the Freedom of Information Bill but it’s going to be in tune with the realities of our country. Journalists are given an enormous responsibility to defend our country but there are challenges: making sure that publications are not inimical to national survival.”

“Politicians are very nervous about libel and so on. I don’t think we have anything to fear but we don’t want a process that this openness by public office holders which the FOI bill seeks to address) will be abused by journalists.

Senator Manzo who has nine bills to his credit in the Senate, with one passed, and awaiting concurrence by the House of Representatives, applauded the effort at constitution review but cautioned against reviewing the whole constitution.

The Deputy Senate spokesman who represents Taraba North Senatorial district favours reviewing only ‘key areas’ of the constitution such as the ones that border on electoral reforms, being aggressively canvassed by Nigerians of all shades of opinion.

“I know we’ll be able to pass it (Electoral Reform) before the next election but the other ones, we should take up bit by bit. At the end of the day, I believe that all legislations for conduct of (free and fair) elections (in the country) will be there,” he opined.’

Reacting to calls for the removal of INEC Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu from office and the appointment of another umpire for the 2011 elections, Senator Manzo said, Prof Iwu is not the problem but the problem is that of the attitude of Nigerians to elections, which should be changed. 

“It’s a pity that people decided to crucify Morris Iwu, the proper thing is that people (should) vote without inducement. I’m more inclined to changing the attitude of Nigerians,” he said.

While advising politicians to be ‘very careful’ in ensuring the workability of the electoral process, he said, “was Iwu, there physically in the 120,000 polling units in the country, during the elections,?” He maintained that attitudinal change of Nigerians was the paramount thing required.

 

Justus Awaji, Abuja