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Victimization of whistle-blowers killing anti-corruption war, group tells FG
THE continued persecution of whistle-blowers by ministries, departments and agencies of government is the strongest threat to the effectiveness of the whistle-blower policy of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, says Chido Onumah, founder of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
Onumah said this in a statement issued on Wednesday, calling on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to take urgent steps in order to protect the rights of whistle-blowers.
According to Onumah, who is also an author and human rights activist, at least two whistle-blowers in the public service who were unjustly sacked for exposing financial fraud but later recalled, are currently going through a fresh round of victimization as their salaries have been stopped.
“(These are) citizens who, at the risk of their personal safety, decided to heed the call of the government to blow the whistle on improper behaviour in the society,” Onumah said, regretting that they are being punished in spite of the many promises by the Buhari administration that whistle blowers will be protected.
One of the victims, Ntia Thompson, an Assistant Director in the SERVICOM unit of the Department of Technical Cooperation in Africa, an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was sacked after he exposed a fraud of $229,000 in the agency.
“As soon as Thompson, who was sacked in December 2016 for reporting fraud totaling $229,000, was reinstated in July 2017, he was redeployed to the library just to frustrate him,” Onumah stated.
“The emotional setback resulting from that made him ask for transfer to another government office (the Ministry of Budget and National Planning). But as we speak, he has yet to be paid seven months’ salary, from December 2016 to July 2017.”
The other whistle-blower, Aaron Kaase, who works with the Press Unit of the Police Service Commission, has been denied his salaries and allowances since his reinstatement in November 2017.
“Kaase got a court judgment reinstating him in November 2017 but was not called back until March 2018, he has not been paid for three years now, since he was suspended without pay in May 2015 for reporting that the Chairman of the Commission, Mike Okiro, was involved in fraud of N275.5m in the Commission,” Onumah further stated.
“(Presently), Kaase is also being harassed with a trumped-up charge of visa scam wherein he is being falsely accused of collecting N1 million to procure US visa for somebody but failed to do so.
“Clearly, this allegation was manufactured by those whom he had accused of fraud so as to intimidate and shut him up.
“Although two different courts have discharged and acquitted Kaase for ‘lack of diligent prosecution and lack of evidence to prosecute the case’, respectively, his tormentors have refused to back off.
“Unless we commit to sustaining the confidence of whistle-blowers by ensuring their full protection, whistle-blowing will not deliver the result we all expect.
To save the situation, AFRICMIL urged Abubakar Malami, the AGF, to take action in order to rescue the patriotic Nigerians and save the lofty whistle-blower policy.
Similarly, the group called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to expedite action on the allegations raised by the two whistle-blowers, and ensure that anyone found wanting is prosecuted.