Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nigeria: State government bars officials from speaking with press

Source: Media Rights Agenda  

(MRA/IFEX) - 22 January 2013 - On 21 January 2013, the Lagos state government issued a notice barring its political office holders and civil servants, including the heads of the state ministries, departments and agencies, from granting interviews to journalists or speaking on its behalf. It warned of dire consequences if officials violated the order.

The notice, issued by the Head of Service, Mr. Adesegun Ogunlewe, said the directive came from Governor Babatunde Fashola and was meant to sanitise the flow of information from the government to the people.

It observed that “some public officials have formed the habit of granting informal interviews and, in the process, divulging official information on public policies which are still under consideration and are not yet approved for action by [the] government.”

It directed that any public official who wanted to grant the press an interview must obtain permission from the Ministry of Information and Strategy, which would moderate it before it goes out to the press and the public.

The notice said that the governor has “directed that no government functionary (public servants and public office holders) should grant press interviews or issue press releases without the concurrence of the Ministry of Information and Strategy.”

The notice added that government was aware that officers may be required to represent their political heads and read speeches at events. It warned that such officers must “limit themselves to the contents of the written speeches which must have been cleared appropriately prior to the event by their political heads.”

Despite voluntarily initiating a process to pass a Freedom of Information law over five years ago, the Lagos state has not passed its version of the law even in the face of persistent calls by civil society organizations in the state for the law to be passed. Lagos state has prevaricated on the issue over the last five years and does not appear disposed to pass the law.