Organisation seeks legal framework to protect whistleblowers

The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), a non-profit organization, has called for an urgent legal framework for the Federal Government’s whistleblowing policy to protect informants.

Dr Chido Onumah, Coordinator of AFRICMIL, made the call at a Policy Roundtable, tagged: “Towards a Whistleblower Protection Law in Nigeria in Abuja.

Onumah said that whistleblowers play positive roles in the prevention of and fight against corruption and the promotion of human rights in Nigeria.

“Over the years, we have uncovered and disclosed information on various corrupt and suspicious dealings linked to politically exposed persons and corrupt officials.

“This led to wider public debates about corruption and the need for accountability, however, instead of being recognised for their work and encouraged, whistleblowers are hindered by those whose interests they threaten.

“Some face reprisals such as dismissal, threats, physical violence, or abusive legal proceedings, while others are forced into exile or even killed.

“Regrettably, in Nigeria, whistleblowers face a lack of safe and an enabling legal environment that allows them to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisals,” he said.

According to Onumah, this lack of effective whistleblower protection regime is compounded by the existence of ineffective access to laws to enable citizens to obtain information held by public institutions.

He added that the lack of effective and independent judicial institutions that could provide access to justice and effective remedies for human rights violations was also ineffective.

“Over the years, particularly since the Federal Government introduced a Whistleblowing Policy in December 2016, there have been efforts to enact a whistleblower protection law in Nigeria without success.

“Today’s event is one more attempt in this regard. So far, about ten out of 55 African countries have adopted specific laws to protect whistleblowers.

“At a time when many jurisdictions in Africa and around the world are adopting whistleblower protection laws, this intervention seeks to put the spotlight on whistleblower protection in Nigeria,” he said.

Onumah said through a nationwide survey conducted by AFRICMIL in 2021, it was observed that Nigerians were of the view that the absence of a whistleblowing law was the major hindrance to the success of whistleblowing in Nigeria.

He, therefore, said the aim of this intervention was to develop key ideas and strategies to put whistleblowing and the passage of a whistleblower protection law in Nigeria on the front burner of national conversation.

Also speaking, Dr Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, the Executive Secretary and National Coordinator of Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), affirmed the agency’s commitment to advocating for the safety, protection, and welfare of whistleblowers.

Represented by Mr Kingsley Ochasi, Legal Officer, NEITI, Orji said that whistleblowers are real heroes of transparency and stressed the need for the National Assembly to promptly pass the whistleblower protection bill.

He commended AFRICMIL for its contribution towards building a more accountable and equitable Nigeria adding that NEITI was proud to have the centre as its partner.

Regrettably, in Nigeria, whistleblowers face a lack of safe and an enabling legal environment that allows them to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisals.

Fighting corruption

In his contribution, Dr Kole Shettima, the Director of MacArthur Foundation, said that whistleblowing as a tool in the fight against corruption has great value, however, lack of legal protection remained the challenges and setbacks.

Shettima said that the importance of ensuring the safety and protection of individuals who engaged in whistleblowing activities was a collective concern, thus emphasising the need for a legal framework.

A representative of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Ms Nneka Chukwuma-Okere, Legal Officer, ICPC said the Commission had put measures in place to make good use of whistleblowers’ information.

Chukwuma-Okere said the Commission tries to keep the identities of whistleblowers secret to protect them.

“Our section 27 gives us the rights as public individuals to report and we also have anti-corruption unions which we set up in various MDAs to help with the fight against corruption.

“So today, we are looking forward to deliberations with other sister agencies to move forward in this whistleblowing policies.”

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Whistle-blower Policy is not a Law of the National Assembly.

NAN reports that the whistle-blowing Policy in Nigeria is an anti-corruption programme that encourages people to voluntarily disclose information about fraud, bribery, looted government funds, financial misconduct, government assets and any other form of corruption or theft to the Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance.

NAN reports that the former Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, , said that within the first two months of the Whistle-blowing policy in Nigeria, the federal government recovered over 178 million dollars that were stolen from the government.

By June 5, 2017, the Federal Ministry of Finance received a total of 2,150 tips from the public, 128 tips came through the website of the ministry, 1,192 were through phone calls, 540 through SMS and 290 through email to the ministry. By July/August 2017, a total of 5000 tips were received.

Also, in October 2017, former acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu said that N527,643,500; $53,222.747; GBP21,222,890 and Euro 547,730 was recovered since the policy was launched. (NAN)

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