By Orkula Shaagee, Abuja
Speaker House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has charged media practitioners in the country to rise to their responsibility of ensuring that those who hold public offices are accountable to the populace.
Gbajabiamila stated this in Abuja yesterday at the opening ceremony of a one-day seminar organized by the House of Representatives Press Corps on Fight Against Corruption: Setting Agenda for the 9th House of Representatives.
The Speaker, who lamented that corruption in public office severs the relationship of trust and accountability that ought to exist between the leaders and the people they lead, expressed concern that media houses and media practitioners have failed to utilize the recently passed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)to hold public officers accountable.
“When the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed into law, many critics worried that the press would abuse the law to demand access to information that isn’t covered by the mandate of the Act. Those critics recognised that the Act provided an enormously powerful tool for truth-seekers to identify and expose malfeasance in public office. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that you in the press have fully embraced the possibilities of the Act. Media houses have not invested in training personnel and providing resources for investigative journalism. This needs to change, because as those of us in public office have a mandate to fight corruption by building a culture of transparency within our institutions, and by empowering law enforcement to do its job effectively without fear or favour, you too have an obligation to hold us to account, and to do so honourably, Gbajabiamila said.
According to him, success in the fight against corruption requires that we build accountability and transparency into the fabric of our institutions. From the executive to the legislature and even the judiciary, we must let the light into the inner workings of all the branches of government; the ministries, department and agencies through which they operate.Budgets should be public; citizens have a right to know who is spending their money and what it is being spent on.
Similarly, he said corruption has for too long denied us the resources and the will to invest in our communities and make the radical choices essential to prosperity and progress. We have only now begun to correct the errors of the locust years. We must not look back, we must not waiver, and above all, we must not fall into the false comfort of believing that this is somebody else’s fight. We are all responsible, we are all obligated.
I congratulate you on the occasion of this seminar. I hope that all who participate here today will emerge from this gathering with a renewed determination and commitment to save our beloved country from the ravages of public corruption.
Also speaking, Auwal Musa, Executive Director of Civil Society Organizations, said it was expedient that the next phase of government’s anti-corruption programme be anchored on clear anti-corruption strategy, active support and involvement of citizens groups and the legislature while the fight must prioritize prevention and sanction to win back public support.
He stressed that there was the need to strengthen anti-corruption institutions, provide adequate protection and encouragement for whistle-blowers, and intensify media and public consciousness in demanding transparency and accountability in governance.
“The role of the National Assembly is clearly defined in the Nigeria constitution; making laws for the well-being and development of the people and our democracy, oversighting the Executive arm, among other things. The biggest threat to these roles is first “the attitude of the lawmakers’ followed by the general apathy and distrust for this important arm of government,” Musa said.
Oladayo Olaide, Representative of the McArthur Foundation urged the House of Representatives and the National Assembly generally to pay more attention to its oversight function so as to measure the performance of Ministries, Departments and Agencies with regards to budgetary votes so as to identify cases of corruption.