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Nigeria: Information Does Not Want To Be Free,

Freedom of Information and the Nigerian Dilemma




Femi Oyesanya


Friday, November 26, 2004


A recent article by Reuters News Service, exemplified how questionable the integrity of processed Nigerian data has become.  According to the article;  

“Nigeria's Federal Office of Statistics (FOS) released an inflation report on Friday containing dramatically divergent figures from those released by the Central Bank…” [1]

There are two more possibilities ; A)  These statistical reports  might not only be divergently different; they could both be out- rightly erroneous.  B) That Nigerian Inflation numbers could have been historically erroneous, implying that, they have been erroneous since the first day of publication, till current day.   


The article went further to say, “the FOS monthly report said the year-on-year average consumer price level increased by 9.1 percent in September, representing a sharp fall from the August figure of 13 percent. The Central Bank earlier reported a year-on-year CPI increase of 15.9 percent in its September report, sharply higher than the 13.0 percent August figure”.    There you have, two Nigerian Public Institution,   both operated by the National Government, releasing Inflation data that had percentile differences not of decimal points, but full whole numbers.    


The underlying problem with Nigerian data lacking integrity can be traced back to years of Information suppression that came about from public Institutions that were operated under strict military bureaucracies, the tendency for these bureaucracies to hoard data, and the corrupt practices that permeated the operational functions of running these Institutions.  Not only did these government agencies not share data amongst themselves, they also did not share pertinent Information with the general public.  Additionally, incompetent or corrupt Military Administrators charged with the managerial responsibilities of these Institutions, did not design proper management control measures, which typically would authenticate, and validate the integrity of data.  Thus, hoarding Information became naturally endemic to Nigerian Public Institutions.   This is why Nigeria does not have a history of responsible accountability for erroneous data.   Election, census, and Economic data, all have a history of disputed validity and accuracy.  


In 1999,  after Nigeria reverted back to Civil-Rule,  a  Freedom of Information Bill ( FOI )  was presented  to Nigerian National Assembly, the purpose of the BILL was described as,  “an Act 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, and Related Purposes hereof” [2]    Five years after, the Bill is yet to become law.   Nigerian Government Officials are still wrestling with   Public Administration transparency.   Dr. Jibo Ibrahim   puts it best when he said,   “the Nigerian public service is largely governed by the official secrets ordinance of 1942, which transforms virtually all information about governance into state secrets. The philosophy behind the act was that natives had no rights to know how the colonial authorities were governing them”[3]  


            In 1987, it was Stewart Brand that wrote, “Information Wants to Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better."[4]    


Here, Stewart Brand speaks of a highly civilized world, which Nigeria, does not yet belong.  A world, that does not only attempt to distribute and protect Information, but that have also placed   economic value to freely distributed   Information.    These civilized worlds have recognized that there is an amount of additional value   provided by freely distributed or protected Information.    That Information amounts to tangible and intangible wealth.   That more wealth is now being generated from data that existed before in archival deposits.  That computing processes such as; Data Mining and Data Warehousing now show new business Informational correlations that were never know before.  That the outcomes of Business decision making process,  are now Information Systems Decision Support based, and that Business Planning, have become truly Information’s Systems centric.  New relationships that we now see in previously existing data, have become a source of new measurable and un-measurable wealth for Nations. 


Nigerian Information does not want to be free,  it does not want to be expensive, it  does not want to be a source of tangible or intangible wealth,  it does not want to be expensive,  and in so doing,  does not now meet  the desired characteristics of Information such as; accuracy, timeliness,  consistency,  and completeness.  


It is apparent.  The Nigerian Government did not want the Information Age,

but the Information Age came upon them.   The Internet snuck upon the Nigerian State like a thief, Yahoo showed up in the middle of the night.   Unfortunately, even the free   flow of Internet Information has done little to encourage Nigerian Policy makers about

the potential wealth that can be harnessed from using the Internet as a medium to complement Public Administration Information flow and management.


Take for example, the case of Government Forms and Policy distribution.   

With the amount of corrupt practices associated with getting copies of   paper documents in Nigeria,   one would expect that paperless Form processing would be a well embraced alternative.   Electronic Form processing,  and  Electronic Policy distribution , will not only  make documents readily available to the public, but will also save recurring  printing costs of paper Forms .  It ought not to shock anyone that the Okadigbo Tribunal Report is missing, that Inflation figures are inaccurate, or that Passport Forms are sometimes not available.


            Nigeria Information does not want to be free, because hoarding Information

continues to be a means that corrupt Government Officials use to suppress the outing

of corrupt practices. It does not want to be expensive, because policy makers are yet to realize that there is an inherent economic value in information that is shared and submitted for public consumption and analysis.  That Informational Wealth is an essential part of the Economic Development process.   In an article titled,   “The New Wealth of Nations: Taxing Cyberspace”,   the wealth of information was described as,” the new wealth of nations is found in the trillions of digital bits of information pulsing through global networks. These are the physical/electronic manifestations of the many transactions, conversations, voice and video messages and programs that, taken together record the process of production, distribution and consumption in the new economy.”[5]   Our leaders are resistance to these new forms of wealth and freedom.


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