In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Yewande Sadiku, the executive secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), speaks about his agency’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act compliance level and how openness and transparency can help delivery in organisations.

EXCERPT:

PT: Going through the website of your agency, the NIPC, you seem to rank high in FOI compliance. Why is that the case?

Yewande Sadiku: I believe in the value of governance and compliance. Public agencies also have a duty of accountability. Freedom of Information (FOI) compliance is only one aspect of the governance requirements of public agencies. The FOI Act has defined very clear expectations, which make it easy to understand the requirements and ensure compliance.

PT: What progress will you say NIPC has made in FOI compliance in the years you have been there?

Yewande Sadiku: There’s been a marked improvement. We are still not at 100% compliance with all governance obligations, but we have almost achieved that with FOI. We now have a dozen reports we publish every quarter that we never published before. It makes engagements with many stakeholders easy, because we already have something that’s fairly recent prepared in advance.

PT: We are aware you have been applauded by some agencies for your strides in FOI compliance. Tell us about that.

Yewande Sadiku: We were commended in December 2019, by the Ethics and Corporate Compliance Institute of Nigeria.

In August 2020, we were applauded by the Ministry of Justice FOI representative during our appearance before the House Committee on FOI. We were also commended by the Committee itself. We have now been awarded second prize twice (in the 2019 and 2020) in FOI awards organised by six civil society organisations.

PT: Why do you think FOI compliance is important in governance?

Yewande Sadiku: My FOI hero is actually Waziri Adio, who was executive secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiate (NEITI). He gave me guidance on what they did and the support they got and that helped to get us going. In terms of the FOI rankings though, in 2020, the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) ranked first and NIPC ranked second. In 2019, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) ranked first and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and NIPC ranked second.

Proactive FOI compliance, which I consider to be the model, requires you to proactively prepare the information that the law requires in advance of a public request. So, the more FOI compliant an agency is, the better they actually keep their records and the more ready they are to respond to all sorts of requests. We find at NIPC that engagements with a variety of stakeholders are easier because our record keeping and proactive disclosures have improved. This answers the question from NIPC’s perspective. From the public perspective, all public agencies have an obligation of accountability.

PT: So what will you say are the most sensitive secrets your agency has proactively disclosed?

Yewande Sadiku: Most of what we publish had never been published before, but the most impactful are:

1. Details of the applicants and beneficiaries of the pioneer status incentive, which we have proactively published since Q3 2017.

2. Details of NIPC’s IGR and appropriation budgets

3. Details of NIPC’s IGR actual income and expenditure

4. Records of all procurements done, indicating items purchased, supplier and costs

5. Details of all the MOUs and agreements signed

6. Details of all Court cases involving NIPC

All of this information is disclosed on a proactive basis. Not driven by a request for them, but driven by our commitment to quarterly proactive disclosures.

PT: What resistances have you faced following your agency’s disclosure level?

Yewande Sadiku: I find that even staff find the disclosures useful. It took a long time to start making the disclosures, because I didn’t want to use consultants, so it took a while to build the internal capacity for it. There might have been some resistance about the burden of the extra work they were required to do, but as they built the capacity and became more confident, the resistance slowly fell away. Most of the reports are now proactively prepared without any reminders. I expect the new standard to be maintained after my tenure at NIPC.

PT: What are those information in your agency that you are reluctant to disclose?

Yewande Sadiku: In terms of FOI, I don’t think we are reluctant to disclose any information. We are still developing internal capacity to disclose some information on a proactive basis consistently, but I don’t think we are reluctant to disclose anything. We will, of course, not disclose personal information without consent. The law allows this exception too.

PT: Has any of the information you disclosed been used against you and your agency by critics?

Yewande Sadiku: Yes. A law suit was filed against the entire Governing Council of NIPC and I by Mr Auta Maisamari in March 2019, in relation to FOI disclosures. We made notice of the lawsuit public in our quarterly disclosure on court cases and agreements signed. We have also had the press take some of our proactive disclosures and report on them out of context.

PT: What message do you have for government agencies reluctant to make proactive disclosures or even respond to requests for information by citizens?

Yewande Sadiku: Complaince with the provisions of the FOI Act may be difficult for most agencies because of the quality of record keeping. Proactively preparing the required information on a regular basis and making it public is the best way to ensure compliance, but it cannot be done without making the entire organization aware of the importance of doing so.

It helps agencies in other ways, because it helps to improve record keeping which has many benefits. I recognise it’s very difficult to start making these disclosures, but it becomes easier with time. NIPC is very happy to support any government agency interested in compliance. I’m very proud of the expertise that NIPC staff have built in this regard and I’m sure they will be happy to help other public agencies build capacity.

PT: Thank you very much madam. You came from the private sector. At what did you start believing in openness and democratization of information?

Yewande Sadiku: The standard I try to uphold as a public servant is what I believed public servants should hold themselves to when I was in the private sector. I think those who hold public trust have a responsibility to the public.

PT: Thank you.

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