In February, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered 9.8 million dollars from the former Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu hidden in a fire proof safe in a building in Kaduna.
In the context of the current government’s anti-corruption campaign involving whistle-blowing policy, when citizens give information to help government in the recovery of stolen loot, the Federal Government gives a reward as incentive.
Because it is a policy that whistle blower may be entitled to between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent of the amount recovered, the whistle blower in this regard will get not less than N200 million.
Although the incentive looks impressive, concerned citizens raise concern about the protection of whistle blowers other than financial reward, even as whistle blower may choose to remain anonymous while providing information.
Conversely, a whistle-blower who gives false or misleading information will be liable to investigation and possible prosecution, even though he or she is also entitled to protection.
But Chairman, Whistleblower Network, Abuja, Mr George Uboh, said although the policy prescribed safety for whistle blowers, the citizens should be reassured in concrete terms that they would be fully protected when they blew the whistle.
“I receive a lot of report from some whistleblowers that have suffered some forms of adverse treatment and that really pains me.
“So, I advocate that an office be set-up, such as we have in the U.S. where there is Dual Protection Office and the office has to be independent,’’ he said.
In a bid to provide the desired protection, the Senate recently passed the Witness Protection Programme Establishment Bill, 2017 that seeks to create and operate a programme that protects witnesses in certain investigations, enquiries or prosecutions.
Sponsored by the late Sen. Isiaka Adeleke, the bill is to protect whistleblowers and witnesses directly involved in the prosecution of certain criminal cases.
Presenting the report at the plenary session on June 8, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Sen. David Umaru, told the Senate that the committee had agreed on the development of a legislative framework that allowed for the conduct of a public hearing on it.
According to Sen. Umaru, the objective of the bill is also to protect persons who provide vital information, evidence or render assistance to law enforcement agencies during investigations, enquiries or prosecutions.
He noted that the Witness Protection Programme is a universally accepted concept for the protection of witnesses who are willing to provide facts or data for the purpose of enhancing the justice system and whose lives are threatened.
Commending the Senate, observers note that the House of Representatives should also pass the bill for endorsement of the presidency.
In this regard, Mr Mahmud Magaji, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) applauded all efforts aimed at protecting whistleblowers in the fight against corruption and corrupt practices in the country.
“ However, we need to put certain legal structures in place to guide against miscreants so that the whistle can be blown well,’’ Magaji said.
Similarly, Mrs Esther Uzoma, an Abuja-based lawyer supported the argument for the provision of more concrete protection for the whistleblowers.
She noted that although the protection of whistle blowers seemed to be guaranteed because their identities were shielded from the public, such identities might not be kept for long.
Uzoma suggested to the government to exercise witness protection for the whistleblowers by giving them a fresh identity, relocating them to a new place and give them a new life.
“If this protection can be given to them, it would enhance their jobs because the information that they are giving has helped in the recovery of looted funds.
“This senseless unmitigated looting of the country’s common wealth cannot continue as the country cannot survive if it continues.
“The government of the day owe the whistleblowers their protection to facilitate fight against corruption, I support the policy,’’ she said.
Similarly, Mr Maxwell Opara, a lawyer in Abuja urged government to intensify the passage of the whistleblower protection bill to law.
Supporting Opara, the Chairperson, International Federation of Women Lawyers, Abuja chapter, Mrs Ngozi Ikenga,said the whistle blowing policy had made the present administration credible.
She called for the quick assent to the passage of the whistle blower protection bill to encourage the whistle blowers.
According to her, while the recovery of the looted funds is a step in the right direction, the EFCC needs to exercise caution in disclosing information of recovered looted funds to the public before investigations are concluded.
All in all, the Federal Ministry of Finance insists that the objective of the Whistle Blowing programme is to stimulate accountability and transparency in the management of public funds.
It says the programme is also designed to encourage anyone with information about a violation of financial regulations, mismanagement of public funds and assets, financial malpractice fraud and theft to report it.
According to the ministry, anyone who whistleblows in public spirit and in good faith will be protected, whether or not the issue raised is upheld against any party.
“Any stakeholder — internal or external — who has made a genuine disclosure and who feels that, as a result, he or she has suffered adverse treatment in retaliation should file a formal complaint to an independent panel of inquiry that shall be set up to handle such complaint, detailing his/her adverse treatment,’’ the ministry said.
According to the whistle blowing programme, if the whistleblower chooses not to disclose his identity, there will be no record of the whistleblowers’ identity.
Also, if the whistle blower chooses to disclose their identity, the identity will only be disclosed in circumstances required by law.
In all circumstances, the government says it will maintain confidentiality to the fullest extent possible within the limitations of the law.
Joshua writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).