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The Problem of Lack of Public Access to Legislation in Nigeria 

Copyright © 2008 Leesi Ebenezer Mitee

Published on 28 March 2008

Like most developing countries, Nigeria lacks public access to every aspect of legal information. That was the indisputable finding of my Master of Laws (LLM) Dissertation at the University of Huddersfield titled, “Public Access to Legislation and Its Inherent Human Rights: A Comparative Study of the United Kingdom and Nigeria” (2006). The cost of access to legislation is prohibitive in Nigeria. There is no online legislation database in the country and no public depository library programme where members of the public may access legislation free of charge.

Consequently, Nigerians must buy statute books and every copy of the Official Gazette containing legislation in order to know the laws in existence. My Dissertation (and personal experience as a lecturer and lawyer in Nigeria) revealed that most Nigerian lawyers cannot afford the high cost of buying statute books (the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria or those of the different thirty-six States)! If it is so with lawyers, one does not need Solomonic wisdom to know the utter plight of Nigerian citizens with regard to acquiring access to enacted laws. It was this grim reality that inspired me to build my website, Nigerian Law Resources (www.nigerianlawresources.com), as the gateway to Nigerian legal information. philosophy. It states:

  • Public legal information from all countries and international institutions is part of the common heritage of humanity. Maximising access to this information promotes justice and the rule of law;
  • Public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and free of charge;
  • Independent non-profit organisations have the right to publish public legal information and the government bodies that create or control that information should provide access to it so that it can be published.

In order to solve the perennial problem of lack of public access to legislation in Nigeria, there are two indispensable requirements that must be fulfilled: the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (federal legislation for the whole country) and the complete abrogation of government copyright in legislation (necessitating repeal of the offending provisions of the Nigerian Copyright Act 1988).

The right of access to public information is the parent right of public access to legislation, because legislation is an integral component of public information. Regrettably, the Nigerian Freedom of Information Bill that was introduced to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly in 1999 aborted and never became law! Since then, several non-governmental organisations, pro-democracy groups, and media associations within and outside Nigeria have been campaigning for its enactment, but without success yet.

Although this most unfortunate situation of lack of public access to legislation has continued to haunt the Nigerian democratic experiment so far, there is good reason to believe that the present Nigerian government under Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua will reverse the situation and enact the long-overdue Nigerian Freedom of information Act (the right to know). Significantly, the Freedom of Information Act will, naturally, abrogate copyright in legislation. Oh, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

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