Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rhetoric and Public Policy: A Case Study of Nigeria’s Free Information Law

Broadly, this week’s readings centre on how corporations and the elite influence policies. The readings remind me of some important scenerios in Nigeria that exemplify some of the issues raised. Of particular significance is the Freedom of Information Bill, an important policy that will enhance accountability and meaningfully impact the lives of several Nigerians.Interestingly, the bill has been characterised by intriques.
To put issues into proper perspective, and to illustrate how the Nigerian scenerio fits into the rhetoric in policy making revealed in the readings, I begin with a quotation from Conrad and Jodlowski. The authors poignantly capture the rhetoric used by the elite class and corporations to shield the public from effectively participating in open decisions that shape policies that significantly impact the lives of the public in the following expression: “The simplest means of privatizing public policy making is to press for the creation of structures that allow corporate elites to hide information about their operations. This can be done directly through legislation or regulations that allow corporations to obscure their operations in the guise of protecting secrets (Zoller and Dutta, 2008). Of particular interest is the tactics employed by the elite class or corporations to evade or suppress the public’s participation in policy making. Having seen how the elite carry out this,now let me explain how the drama in Nigeria exemplify the picture painted above.

The above scenario seems to reflect a scene in Nigeria. Since Nigeria’s return to Democracy in 1999, civil society groups have been pushing for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI),a law that will upturn the official secrecy act that impairs media access to public documents. Passing the bill into law will boost transparency and accountability in that it will enable the media to have unfettered access to corporations and government documents to stimulate public debate. In the Nigerian scenario, the rhetoric of “official secret” is employed by corporations and government officials to shield the public from engaging in constructive criticism. Due to the electioneering campaign, the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s lower Chamber passed the bill, but whether the Senate, which is the upper legislative Assembly, will endorse the bill and forward to the president for ratification to become a law remains to be seen. Superficially, the Nigerian scenario may seem different, a closer look shows that it is akin to the strategies used by the elite class to limit public access to policy formulation.

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