For its multiple violations of the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, including its poor record-keeping practices, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today inducted the National Hospital in Abuja into the “FOI Hall of Shame,” describing its attitude towards transparency and accountability as an open sore in urgent need of healing.
In a scathing rebuke of the hospital for failing to put appropriate record-keeping systems and practices in place, MRA’s Freedom of Information Programme Manager, Mr Ridwan Sulaimon, said: “It is disheartening that the management of the hospital does not appear motivated to redeem its bruised image despite the fact that the FOI Act not only provides the opportunity for it to do so, but actually makes it mandatory for public institutions like the National Hospital to put appropriate record-keeping in place.”
Mr. Sulaimon accused the hospital of violating Section 2(1) of the FOI Act, which provides that “A public institution shall ensure that it records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and businesses” as well as Section 2(2), which states that “A public institution shall ensure the proper organization and maintenance of all information in its custody in a manner that facilitates public access to such information.”
He cited a report published by the Daily Trust newspaper on June 26, 2010 titled: “National Hospital or national headache”, which indicted the hospital for poor record keeping such as losing patients’ files and misplacing test results, thereby leading to wrong prescription of drugs. The report also chided the hospital for being “dogged by state-of-the-art problems”, adding that the situation was compounded by a financial quagmire in the institution and lack of transparency in the hospital’s dealings.
Mr. Sulaimon said: “Clearly, the situation with the National Hospital, Abuja is an open sore in urgent need of healing. The practices in the hospital, in so far as they relate to its poor record-keeping and lack of transparency or accountability are not theoretical issues for debate but are critical to the health, well-being and safety of the millions of Nigerians and possibly other nationals that patronize the hospital, and are sufficiently so to warrant urgent intervention by the Federal Government.”
According to him, “under these circumstances, the enactment of the FOI Act in 2011 presented a great opportunity for the hospital to redeem its image by rigorously implementing the Act, improving its record-keeping systems and practices while also ensuring transparency and openness in its operation. Regrettably, it appears that the management of the hospital has chosen not to do so.”
He noted that: “rather than complying with the clear provisions of the FOI Act, for over six years since the law was enacted, the National Hospital has continued to flagrantly violate the binding provisions of Act.”
Established in 1999 originally to cater for the needs of women and children in Nigeria and the West African region, the National Hospital has since May 2000 expanded its scope of operations to accommodate male patients and cater for a large number of Nigerians, especially given its capacity and sophisticated equipment which were rarely available elsewhere in the West African region.
Mr Sulaimon said: “This uncommon sophistication and capacity naturally justified the claim of the hospital as the flagship of medical institutions in Nigeria. Therefore, such institution ought to require no persuasion to improve its record keeping and transparency, especially given the volume in some of its financial dealings.
For instance, the hospital claimed that between 2005 and 2010, it “spent cumulatively the sum of N93,509,264.00 as waivers/exemptions granted indigent patients to access treatment.” During the period 2005 to 2010, it reportedly waived between N10.25 million (in 2005) and N20.55 million (in 2008) annually as waivers or exemptions from fees for indigent persons. There are no data available for any period after 2010.
MRA accused the hospital of failing to fulfil its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act as it is not proactively disclosing the categories of information which the Act requires it to publish proactively. The organization observed that most of the information which the hospital has provided voluntarily about itself is hopelessly out of date. It cited as one example of this, the annual performance report published by the hospital about its operations and noted that the latest of such reports available on the hospital’s website is for the year 2010.
It noted that the hospital had not designated and publicised the title and address of an appropriate officer to whom requests for information should be sent by members of the public and had neglected to provide the requisite training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information held by the hospital and for the effective implementation of the Act as required by Section 13.
MRA criticised the hospital for persistently failing to submit its annual report on its implementation of the Act to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29 of the Act and the Attorney-General’s FOI Implementation Guidelines with the result that over the last six years, the hospital had not issued or submitted a single report.
The organization called on the Federal Government to beam its searchlight on the activities of the hospital to ensure that it complies with its duties and obligations under the FOI Act and to ensure transparency and openness in the activities of such institutions of national significance.
The “FOI Hall of Shame” was established to draw attention to public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions. The National Hospital is the 24th inductee into the Hall of Shame since MRA launched the initiative on July 3, 2017.