In any democracy, citizen participation is a basic principle because governments
derive their authority and power from the people. Therefore, Governments have
an obligation—and not just the discretion—to respond to the needs of the People
while Citizens have both the right and the responsibility to demand
accountability and to ensure that government acts in their best interests. It
is guaranteed by Section 14 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria that; 

“POWER BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE OF NIGERIA from whom government through the
Constitution derives all its powers and authority…
people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions
of this Constitution.”
– Section 14 (2) (a) and (c) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
1999 – 
One of the most common ways by which governments try to ensure this right
of the citizens to participate is the enactment of the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA). In Nigeria, the FOIA was passed since 2007. However, there are
questions about its effectiveness in enabling people to participate in
governance. When you visit the FOIA website you cannot miss the slogan “to provide unfettered access to public
”. Yes, but then again, “unfettered
” does not mean merely making information available to be obtained. Clearly,
empowering the people to participate means providing UNFETTERED ACCESS to
public information as opposed to making information available but limiting access
as we have it today.
Under the current
arrangement, the FOIA requires that anyone seeking public information must
request for it. What this implies is that information is available but costly to
obtain – not easily accessed.  
Many Countries including the United States and the United Kingdom have
since realised the shortfall of the FOIA. These countries are driving
innovations that promote citizens’ participation and open governance in order
to reinforce the FOIA and their parliaments are helping to legitimatise the
reinforcement of the FOIA. This is illustrated by this excerpt from
the United
States Open Government Act of 2007:
“The effective functioning of a free government like ours depends
largely on the force of an informed public opinion. This calls for the widest
possible understanding of the quality of government service rendered by all
elective or appointed public officials or employees.”
(2) the PEOPLE firmly believe that our system of government must itself be
governed by a presumption of openness;
(3) the Freedom of Information Act establishes a “strong presumption
in favour of disclosure” as noted by the United States Supreme Court in
United States Department of State vs. Ray (502 U.S. 164 1991), a presumption
that applies to all agencies governed by that Act;
(4) “DISCLOSURE, NOT SECRECY, is the dominant objective of the
Act,” as noted by the United States Supreme Court in Department of Air
Force v. Rose (425 U.S. 352 1976);
(6) PARLIAMENT should regularly review THE FOIA in order to determine
whether further changes and improvements are necessary to ensure that the
government remains OPEN AND ACCESSIBLE TO THE PEOPLE and is always based NOT
upon the “NEED TO KNOW” but upon the fundamental “RIGHT TO
(Source: A
emphasis mine.
This holds true for Nigeria. It may be correct that
Information is available and the FOIA covers anyone who can follow through the
bureaucracy to request and obtain it but this is not the question. The question
is how accessible is public information? Not the bad news published in the
dailies but valuable information that can translate to actionable intelligence.
Beyond its availability, public information ought to
Accessible – Without
barrier, whether it is solicited or unsolicited 
Accurate – correct and not misleading
Clear – understandable to
the vast majority, especially the ordinary citizens
Useable – available before
and after the fact when citizens can still convert the information to
actionable intelligence
Up-to-date –  Not outdated 
There is a New Age of Governance which is driven by advancements in ICT.   An age of massive people participation where
the ICT has empowered the people to mobilise, define public good, determine
policies, seek public good, and reform or replace institutions that do not
serve public good.
The day Hosni
Mubarak resigned as president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Wael Ghonim,
Google’s Middle East marketing director and Egyptian activist, told CNN:  
 “If you truly intend to liberate a country,
give them the internet”. 
ICT enabled citizens’ engagement or digital citizens’ engagement has been
described by some as “Liberation technology”. Diamond (2010: 79) defines a
Liberation Technology as any form of information and communication technology
(ICT) that can expand political, social, and Economic freedom”. This is what
PETITIONA is all about.    
PETITIONA ( is a Launchpad for active engagement between citizens and government of
Nigeria in a way that it gives Citizens’ a stake in decisions that affect their
lives. Its aim is to shift the focus from a need to know to the fundamental right of citizens to demand to
know – right to know”. PETITIONA
enables Nigerian Citizens to demand transparency, accountability and
responsiveness from public institutions while also offering a platform for
public servants and elected officials the chance to respond to citizens’
“Often times, Citizens only
have a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives during
elections. This happens once every four years. We believe this can change.
“PETITIONA” is a Launchpad
for two-way interaction between Citizens and Public Service Providers. Through
this platform, Citizens can actively participate by demanding the changes they
want to see – Public Institutions can also engage with Citizens by issuing
official response to such demands.
We are aware that the
Nigerian Government is trying to engage with Citizens trough the Presidency
Office for Digital Engagement (PODE) but Citizens Engagement is not about informing
Citizens about what is about to happen or what has already happened. Rather, Citizens
Engagement is a complete feedback loop which entails exchange of information
between Citizens and their Government. It is two-way feedback loop (top-down
and bottom-up). It is deliberately designed to strengthen responsiveness and
transparency which will ultimately lead to improvements in quality of public
service as well as more effective public institutions (Dayo Akin-Balogun).
PETITIONA is grounded in the relevant parts of the Nigerian Constitution
(especially Section 14 (2) (a) and (c), It also agrees with the spirit and
letters of the Freedom of Information Act
mainly guarantees unfettered access to public information
as well as other International Compacts on Citizens Participation, Open
Government, Equal Opportunity, Government Transparency, Accountability and
Responsiveness and so on. Its main aim is
enable the participation of people in their government.
 Sign up at  Make your
voice count.
Dayo Akin-Balogun is a
Lawyer, Business Analyst and Founder of iSPEAK FOUNDATION (authors of