Wither whistle-blowing policy?

By Dickson Omobola

Despite being introduced to curtail or eliminate graft in Nigeria, the whistle- blowing policy has failed to live up to expectations.

The confession was recently made by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who disclosed that the anti-corruption policy had lost momentum.

“We noticed that the whistle blower policy response has lost momentum. We embarked on engagements in the six geo-political zones and one of the main outcomes that we found is that people are concerned about their safety as a result of providing information,” the minister said.

Interestingly, this watchdog that was launched on December 21, 2016 by the Federal Government and facilitated through the Federal Ministry of Finance, had resulted in the recovery of no less than N527,643,500 of misappropriated funds in the first one year of initiation.

Unfortunately, failure on the part of the authority to uphold its end of the bargain to whistle blowers and that of the required agencies to protect them has led to the sterile state of the policy six years later.

It is no longer attractive – CACOL

Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, explained that the whistle blowing policy was no longer attractive because it was not properly implemented.

He said: “There are three reasons. First, most of the whistleblowers find it difficult to claim their compensation after blowing the whistle.

“Second, the usage of the information supplied by whistleblowers has not helped in the fight against corruption because sometimes it is not properly used, leading to the culprits escaping justice, which demoralises the whistleblower.

“Third, the protection given to whistleblowers from criminal elements is not adequate. Sometimes, the information from the whistleblower leaks to the culprits, which endangers the life of the whistleblower.

“Last, even when the information supplied becomes useful and the culprits are convicted, the government invokes the power of the prerogative of mercy and lets the culprit off the hook without serving adequate punishment.

“There are other reasons for the loss of momentum, one of which is lack of legal backing. The whistle- blowing policy is just operating on the basis of the president’s fiat. So, one cannot even go to the court to seek justice.”

According to him: “We have a number of information and petitions based on hard facts that information given by whistleblowers are not being utilised adequately.

“Going forward, I would recommend that a platform be created that can be accessed by limited people. This would ensure that when the information provided to the authorities leaks out, it would be easy to trace where and how the leak happened.

“Also, the government has to provide a unique channel through which information could be passed across to the authorities, which only selected people can access. That way, whistleblowers would feel comfortable that the information they give will not get into the wrong hands and possibly result in underutilisation.

“If the draft whistle blower bill is well-drafted and the whistleblowers are well-protected, it would work like when the policy was newly introduced.

For instance, when the policy was first introduced, it led to the discovery of numerous stolen wealth for which a number of high calibre politicians were prosecuted and convicted.

“So, it would work if the government makes good its own side of the bargain. For example, if the government says whistleblowers would be compensated and protected with all available resources because no amount of protection can be too much for them. Then, it will work.

“Again, it is dependent on if a whistleblower is guaranteed that his or her identity would be protected and that the information supplied would be properly utilised to the extent of nailing the culprit without allowing him or her to trace the information back to the whistleblower.”

It is mere lip service – SERAP

Deputy Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, said there has never been an attempt by the authority to make the whistle blowing policy effective.

He said: “This administration came up with some policy guidelines that are in the current National Assembly as we speak. If passed into law, it would be a substantive whistleblowing law, however, it is yet to be passed and President Muhammadu Buhari is almost coming to the end of his eight years tenure.

“In our opinion, the whistle blowing policy has not really been implemented. It is mere lip service on the part of the government. It is all part of what we have seen and heard from this administration. If at all they insist that it helped in the fight against corruption, then it is simply a case of five steps forward and ten steps backward.

“Before this administration, money had always been returned even under the military. What we are saying is a whistle blowing policy should be part of substantive law. There ought to be guidelines that regulate the whole framework, that spell out duties and obligations of the law enforcement agencies.

“For instance, it should state the agencies that would drive the policy, what is the right of the whistleblower and it ought to also afford protection for such individuals. In the absence of that, what we would have are instances where people get in touch and maybe monies were recovered. That does not qualify as a whistle blowing policy.

“So, the point is in the absence of that policy, it will be impossible to quantify the scope of whistle blowing: Who blew the whistle? How much was recovered? What was spent?”

He concluded that “the right step for the National Assembly would be to make it a substantive law. The law should define the duties and obligations of every stakeholder including the individuals who blow the whistle. It should state their rights and obligations and clarify the amount that is due to them, it should not be left to individuals to determine. Also, the duties and obligations of the law enforcement agencies should be broken down.”

The element of trust is lacking – Pedro

Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice and Solicitor-General of Lagos State, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, explained that the major weakness of the policy was lack of trust in it by Nigerians.

His words: “The weakness mainly is the lack of trust. To whistle blow, one has to be convinced that the promise of safety is actually guaranteed.

“Aside from the policy, in our laws it is specified that when a citizen sees a person commiting crime, the citizen has an obligation to report it. However, the failure of security agencies in charge of investigation and prosecution of crime makes people not commit themselves to it.

“If we actually want the policy to work as it should, we should ask ourselves vital questions like who is going to receive the information, who is going to process the information and who is going to investigate whether the information given is correct or not, and if the issue of trust is guaranteed.

“For me, if we do the needful, whistle blowing is not rocket science. In some other countries there are witness protection programmes, we can do the same here.

“There should be fulfilment of agreement no matter how difficult the whole procedures are. When such is done, citizens will be encouraged to whistle blow. If those who whistle blew in the past were not compensated as promised, how do we expect another person to whistle blow or when they whistle blow their identities are leaked and become endangered?

“An outsider won’t operate the policy for us. In essence, our security agencies ought to be sensitised. The government also has a duty to enhance the operation of the policy.”

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