The purpose of FoIA is to make public records and information more freely available, provide for public access to public records and information, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy, protect serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization and establish procedures for the achievement of those objectives. This study ascertains the perception of Nigerian Journalists in Lagos State towards the Freedom of Information Act and how it enables them access information. The study employed survey research method. The purposive sampling technique was used in selecting the respondents of the study. The data for the study was collected through the use of questionnaire. Statistical techniques of simple percentage, frequency, mean and regression analysis were used in analyzing the data retrieved from the questionnaire. The result of the data analysis revealed that journalists in Lagos State are aware of the existence of freedom of information act, the freedom of information act had not increased journalists’ access to information in public institutions in Lagos State, FOIA help journalists to hold government to good governance and it enhanced press freedom in Nigeria, journalist perceived that freedom of information act had influence on the access to information. The study also revealed that fees of information and Non-cooperative attitude as challenges encounter by journalist when they make attempt to access publicly held information under the FOIA. The study recommends that proper sensitization of journalists on the use of the Freedom of Information Act and also, government on their part shuld support the full implemmentaion of FoIA as this will help to increased journalists’ access to information in public institutions.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The practice of Journalism in Nigeria is older than the nation itself and since the publication of the first newspaper (Iwe Iroyin) in 1859, journalists have constantly struggled to attain the freedom they would need to carry out their duties properly (Oberiri, 2016). Nwanne (2014) adds that Nigerian journalists have suffered from different press freedom restriction laws from the time of colonial authorities. According to Momoh (2002), restrictive media laws could be said to have actually taken roots in 1903 with the enactment of Newspaper Ordinance of that year and the sedition Ordinance of 1909 (p.10).
Oberiri (2016) adds that ‘The journalistic task of gathering and disseminating news has not been an easy one due to limited freedom occasioned largely by government firm grip and control of the mass media’ (p.11). Thus, the relationship between the mass media and the government in Nigeria has been described as ‘cat and mouse affair’ (Uche,1989).
According to Udoakah (2014), the profession of journalism is enhanced when there is access to information which would lead to factual and accurate reportage. Nigerian Journalists lacked the freedom they required to access information and they clamoured for it.
Nwanne (2014:8) stated that, ‘the need for freedom is a basic human need. The right to know is one of such rights, which is a concomitant of press freedom. In pursuance of this right and others, Nigerians particularly the journalists sought to have a Freedom of Information law which would give them access to vital government information’
Thus, Ajibade (2016) argued that ‘the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act can be traced to the evolution of press freedom in Nigeria’ (p.2). The first draft of the Freedom of Information Act was created by Tunde Fagbohunlu (SAN) in 1994. This was believed to be a sigh of relief for the Nigerian press (Nigerian Communications Commission, 2012). However, according to Ajibade (2016), the draft bill went through several reviews until it was finally signed into law on May 28, 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ajibade (2017) explains that the ‘Freedom of Information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a “right-to-know” legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (2012) states that the purpose of the Act is to make public records and information more freely available, provide for public access to public records and information, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy, protect serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization and establish procedures for the achievement of those objectives.
Dunu & Ugbo (2014) describes the Freedom of Information Act as a legal instrument that would not only radicalize reportorial engagement of journalists but it would also foster a greater opportunity for investigative journalism and promoting a democratic process.
Consequently, this study sought to examine the level of awareness of the FOIA by Journalists in Lagos State, the frequency in which the Act is put to use as well as the influence of the Freedom of Information Act to their access to information in Lagos State.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The Freedom of Information Act was enacted a few years ago with the prospect of making information more accessible to the general public. Osa-Oghogo (2015) argues that undoubtedly the Freedom of Information Act is a viable weapon in the hands of the media and civil society groups. They can use it to access any information they require in the course of ‘over-sighting’ government and it empowers journalists to hold the government accountable.
Sadly, according to Osa-Oghogo (2015:8), four years down the line, the FOIA has been grossly under-utilized. Apart from the fact that many Nigerians are not aware of the existence of the FOIA and their rights under it, the Nigerian press and civil society groups seem to care less about the existence of an Act that should be a veritable tool for investigative journalism’. The major problem with the Freedom of Information Act as highlighted by Osa-Oghogo is the low level of awareness and ignorance of the Act by journalists.
Thus, the problem that this study seeks to address is the level of perception of journalists in Lagos State about the FOI Act and how they are utilising it to access information.
1.3. OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The major aim of this study is to ascertain the perception of Nigerian Journalists in Lagos State towards the Freedom of Information Act and how it enables them access information. Other objectives of the study include:
- to examine the level of awareness among Lagos State journalists on the Freedom of Information Act;
- to ascertain the extent to which the Freedom of Information Act is utilised among journalists in Lagos State
- to determine the challenges faced by Lagos State journalists in the use of FoIA to access information and
- to ascertain journalists perception of the influence of Freedom of Information Act on the access to information in Lagos State;
1.4. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The following research questions will guide the study:
- What is the level of awareness among journalists in Lagos state of the Freedom of Information Act provisions?
- Has FOIA increased journalists access to information to public institutions in Lagos State?
- What are the challenges confronting journalists in Lagos State in the use of FOIA to access information?
iv. What is the perception of journalists in Lagos State about the utility of FOIA to their practice?
1.5 Research Hypothesis
There is no significance influence of Freedom of Information Act on the access to information in Lagos State
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The scope of this study is limited to journalists in Lagos State to the exclusion of other journalists in other parts of the country.
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
The result of this study is significant as it will identify the level of awareness of the Freedom of Information Act by Journalists in Lagos State. It would also reveal the perception of journalists in Lagos State on the influence of the Freedom of Information Act in accessing information. Asides this, the results of this study would contribute immensely to the knowledge on the Freedom of Information Act in Nigerian Libraries.
The study is also significant because it would provide information on the increasing body of knowledge on journalist’s awareness and utilisation of the Freedom of Information Act in Lagos State.
The study is also very significant because it will show the relationship between the Freedom of Information Act and Media practice. The results from this study would also serve as a reference point for scholars carrying out research on the Freedom of Information Act.
1.7 LIMITATION TO THE STUDY
This study is limited to the perception of Journalists in Lagos State towards the Freedom of Information Act. As a result, the study cannot be generalized to include the perception of journalists in other states of the Federation towards the Freedom of Information Act.
1.8 DEFINITION OF OPERATIONAL TERMS
i. Journalist: A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public.
ii. Perception: Based on this study, perception is the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.
iii. Influence : Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.
iv. Freedom of Information Act (FoIA): A law that seeks to guarantee citizens access to government-held information.
v. Act: Based on this study, act means a law made by the National Assembly and has been given presidential assent
vi. Constitution: a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.