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ACHPR Calls on Nigeria to Decriminalize Defamation, Amend Laws Limiting FOI

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The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has called on the Nigerian Government to decriminalize defamation and amend other laws in the statute books that restrict access to information, to bring them into conformity with the Freedom of information Act.

Nigeria submitted a one hundred and fifty-four page 5th Periodic Country Report which highlights the general and specific measures adopted in the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Covering the period between 2011 and 2014, the report identifies the progress made and challenges being encountered in Nigeria’s bid to effectively promote and protect human and peoples’ rights as guaranteed under the Charter.

At its 57th Ordinary Session held between November 4th and 18th, 2015 in Banjul, The Gambia, the ACHPR in its observation appreciates the campaign to progressively address knowledge gaps in the understanding of the provisions and implication of the Freedom of Information Act by the Nigerian Government and private sector actors, through the Freedom of Information Unit in the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

The Commission also commends Nigeria for adopting many legal and policy instruments as well as institutional frameworks such the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the National Human Rights Commission (Amendment) Act, 2011, the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Act, 2011, the Employees/Workmen’s Compensation Act 2011, the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria Act 2011, the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013, the National Framework on Girls’ and Women Education, 2012; the National Policies on IDPs and Migrants 2012/13, the Decent Work Country Programme (2012 – 2015), etcetera.

However, in its submission titled: “Concluding Observations and Recommendations on the 5th Periodic Report of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the Implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2011 – 2014)”, the commission expresses concern on the continued existence of laws limiting freedom of expression such as criminal defamation; the slow pace of the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act due to inadequate knowledge of its provisions and implication by a number of Government and private-sector actors, which restricts the citizens from getting vital information from public institutions; as well as reported cases of restrictions on freedom of expression, especially the harassment of journalists as well as human rights defenders.

The Commission further calls on the Nigerian Government to among other things “Take the necessary measures to ensure the right to freedom of expression, in particular for the private media and human rights defenders; decriminalize defamation and amend other existing laws in the statute books of Nigeria that restrict access to information, to bring them into conformity with the Freedom of information Act; and intensify the training of staff of all appointed information offices in all its ministries, departments and agencies, on the establishment and running of effective access to information regimes.”

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