STAKEHOLDERS advocating for good governance and a corruption-free, decent society in Nigeria have called for an effective whistleblower law to protect citizens who volunteer information on wrongdoings.
They made the call recently at a policy roundtable meeting organised by the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), the Progressive Impact Organisation for Community Development (PRIMORG), and the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation (SMYF) in Abuja.
“Whistleblowers play a positive, legitimate, and crucial role in the prevention of, and in the fight against corruption and the promotion of human rights in Nigeria and around the world, said Chido Onumah, AFRICMIL Coordinator at the event.
While noting that the United Nations laws recognise whistleblowers’ roles, he said instead of being appreciated for what they do, they are hunted by people whose interests they threaten.
“Regrettably, in Nigeria, whistleblowers face a lack of a safe and enabling legal environment that allows them to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisals.
“This lack of effective whistleblower protection regime is compounded by the existence of ineffective access to information laws that would enable citizens to obtain information held by public institutions and empower them to hold powerful individuals and entities to account,” Onumah added.
We urgently need the law – Government
Deputy Director and Head of Whistle-blowing at the Federal Ministry of Finance, Johnson Oludare, said stakeholders had been on the bill for a long time, and it couldn’t scale through the Ninth National Assembly.
“We have put up a memo to the new Minister (of Finance) on what has been done on the bill to enable him to have an audience with Mr. President…By the time he’s done with the President, we’ll put up another memo,” he stated.
He appealed to civil society organisations and other stakeholders working on the bill to sustain the deliberation.
He said the bill might take only some of what they expected, but they should allow it to pass first, adding that they could call for its review after signing it into law.
“There is no bill that can meet all people’s expectations. Let’s just get it passed. Once it is passed, we can call for amendment.”
He said he was aware that whistleblowing is very risky. He urged the public to remain firm in supporting it to enable the nation to expose more corrupt and illicit activities.
He listed whistleblowing’s benefits, including improvement in the nation’s ratings by Transparency International and related institutions, blocking sleazes, boosting investments, and transforming the nation’s economy.
Law will boost Nigeria’s anti-corruption rating, investment – OSIWA
In his remarks, Maxwell Kadiri of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) spoke on the need to use the existing policies and frameworks to continue to push for whistleblowing in Nigeria.
He cited the reports on the current crisis between BUA and Dangote Groups and The ICIR report on the United Bank of Africa, which he attributed to products of whistleblowing.
He said whistleblowing should be more of patriotism and not of reward.
Kadiri called for a whistleblowing law that promotes citizens’ freedom to share information on perceived wrongs, which ultimately tackles corruption and improves governance.
Law must be detailed – Lawyer
Addressing the participants, Principal Counsel, Godwin Chigbu & Associates, Godwin Chigbu, called for the need to include relevant information in the bill before its transmission to the National Assembly for passage and consequently to the President for assent.
The lawyer said there was no wisdom in signing a bill that the stakeholders would call for its review days after being signed into law.
“I want to say that this bill should be looked into the second time. If not, those efforts will amount to a waste. We will have a law that has no substance in it,” he stated.
He described the proposed law as an “incentive to the whistleblower,” adding that you must accord protection to the whistleblower. One of the protections is the confidentiality of the whistleblower. If I’m not sure that I’m protected, I will not come out to talk,” he added.
Chigbu noted that the law should specify penalties for whoever breaches the whistleblowers’ protection.
He also stated that the rewards for whistleblowers should be clear.
Whistleblowing not just about corruption – Onumah
In an exclusive interview with The ICiR, Onumah said whistleblowing is not just about corruption. “Whistleblowing is multifaceted. The idea is to address wrongdoing, whether corruption or any form of malfeasance in the public and private sectors…
“Whistleblowing is essentially an all-embracing concept that seeks to address wrongdoing in the society, whether it is related to financial wrongdoing or other wrongdoings such as in educational institutions where sex-for-grades or sexual harassment can occur.
“There are also gender-based issues. The other thing that is rooted in the concept is freedom of expression, which is the right of the people to report things, to have access to information, and to be able to share information in the public interest.”
He said people should be able to come out and talk in an atmosphere devoid of harassment and intimidation.
He added that people could report issues of public interest to security and anti-corruption agencies, including the Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), among others.