Participants at a Radio Town Hall Meeting on whistleblowing and whistleblowers protection say they are excited at the prospects of the introduction of legislation to protect whistleblowers in Nigeria.
The Program which was organized by the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) in collaboration with the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development (PRIMORG), Wednesday in Abuja, deliberated on how to encourage citizens’ active participation through the strengthening of whistleblowing policy through legislation.
It will be recalled that the Ministry of Finance, Budget & National Planning, and stakeholders had held a five-day workshop in Keffi, Nasarawa State, about three weeks ago in a bid to draft legislation to strengthen whistleblowing and to protect whistleblowers in Nigeria.
An Abuja resident, Mr. Ojo Sampson, who participated via phone during the program did not hide his excitement and said: “To fight corruption in this country it is good to have whistleblower protection law. I think in some civilized countries of the world there is a significant number of citizens who call to inform authorities about corrupt acts. “
Another participant who identified himself as Joe lauded the planned introduction of legislation to protect whistleblowers in Nigeria, noting that he was ready to even blow the whistle without protection because of the extent of the impact of corruption on society.
He said: ”I am willing to blow this whistle because of the effects on the society and the insecurity in the land perpetrated by those in authority and their cohorts. So, if I can be given that protection you can imagine what I will do because I have a lot of secrets I want to reveal.”
Another contributor identified as Ibrahim had these to say:
“When somebody is collecting a salary of two hundred thousand and he is driving a car of two million to five million Naira, building houses of thirty million Naira, by the constitution, a civil servant is not supposed to engage in any other business apart from farming and how many of them do farm? To the extent that they can even acquire this kind of wealth,” He queried.
Other participants in the studio including lawyers and a journalist were of the view that citizens will be more willing to raise their voices against corruption when current efforts to make a law becomes a reality.
Maxwell Kadiri, a development lawyer, revealed that there are sufficient provisions in the draft bill to encourage more citizens to feel secure while reporting corruption.
Kadiri revealed that he is hopeful that the gaps identified in the protection of whistleblowers which was addressed during the workshop at Keffi, Nasarawa State, will be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
“At the workshop at Keffi discussions took place, proposed amendments were made, we are hoping that since robust deliberation took place at that workshop and proposals were made I hope those proposals would make it into the final text of whatever emerges as the draft bill that hopefully goes to FEC for approval.”
While speaking on how the government can restore the trust of citizens who have been hitherto victimized for blowing the whistle against corruption, a legal practitioner, Godwin Chigbu said the government of the day must ensure the legislation to protect whistleblowers becomes a reality.
His words: “government should show some level of seriousness in the pursuit of this policy by giving adequate compensation to those who made the disclosure and suffered reprisals and also make sure that there is stiff punishment for those who are meant to implement this policy but disclose unlawfully the identity of a whistleblower,” Chigbu advised.
A former Secretary of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) FCT Council, Rafat Salami noted that from time immemorial journalists have been at the forefront of speaking against corruption and exposing the ills of the society which is their core mandate.
She, however, revealed that journalists suffered collateral damage for exposing corrupt acts and uphold their constitutional mandate of holding the government accountable.
“We (journalists) have been arrested, detained, harassed, equipment confiscated, media houses have been ransacked; a lot of things have happened and as part of the things we do we as journalists are to protect our sources, we do not reveal our sources, but in protecting our sources it also puts us at risk.
Recommending what should be done to adequately protect journalists who expose corruption, she said, “Criminalize non-payment of salaries to journalist and let’s see media houses go down or prosecuted and if you are insolvent you declare bankruptcy, our salaries will still be paid let’s have that first, that is the first protection we need.
“let’s have a shield of law that will protect you as a journalist, train journalists for digital and physical safety,” Salami stated.
While in his submission, the Chairman, Association of Lawyers With Disabilities in Nigeria, Kassim Olalekan Lawal stressed that whistleblowers need protection from all strata of society.
“from the journalist, from the lawyer’s angle and from the government especially, for a whistleblower to be encouraged; in the monetary aspect of it, the whistleblower must be protected; this is very key.”
Adding that: “There must be need on provision for emphasis on punishment especially with respect to those who receive the information, the government agency or an official of government who refuses to act on such information because from the last time I checked I don’t think there is any provision on that, so, for it to be a robust and effective piece of legislation that in that aspect must be included,” Lawal averred.
The Radio Town Hall meeting Series is a collaborative effort between AFRICMIL and PRIMORG, aimed at increasing citizen’s active participation and involvement, and encouraging the government to institutionalize the whistle-blowing policy.
The project is supported by the MacArthur Foundation