Citizens are said to have become very reluctant about blowing the whistle against corrupt acts in the public sector for fear of victimization and persecution. The Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) had alluded to this concern earlier in the year when the commission stated that it was worried about the declining number of whistleblowers across the country despite rewards offered to informants.
The renewed call for enactment of a whistleblower law in Nigeria was made during a town hall meeting organized by the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) in collaboration with the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development (PRIMORG) at the weekend in Abuja.
A Former Bursar and Chief Lecturer at Yaba College of Technology, Joseph Akeju, who is a victim of whistleblowing, revealed that given his experience and the persecution he faced, “he will feel very reluctant to blow the whistle against corruption unless double-assured of protection.”
Akeju, who said whistleblowing truncated his career at Yaba College of Technology and put his family under severe stress, vowed that he could only be a whistleblower again if he is sure of protection.
“If I am sure I will be protected, I will blow the whistle. But if I am not sure, I don’t think I want to expose myself to the same problem that I went through. Even if I am convinced now, I will be more careful.
To encourage whistleblowing, it needs protection, a deliberate effort to protect the whistleblower, the journalist, and everyone involved. Because these people usually are very powerful, they have the background,” Akeju emphasized.
Speaking during the radio town hall meeting, a human rights lawyer, Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, acknowledged that the whistleblower policy introduced by President Buhari’s administration in 2016 recorded remarkable feats immediately, with money recovered in several places.
She, however, noted that the frenzy and willingness of citizens to expose corruption kept diminishing following poor management of rewards for informants, as well as their safety.
“Immediately, the whistleblower policy was put into place. People were eager to participate in whistleblowing. Of course, we can remember the Ikoyi case, where a lot of money was retrieved.
“But there was a part where the government relented on their part, in a way they tell you (informants), you’ll get ten percent, and they’ll come back to the negotiation table and try to reduce the money involved or the percentage the informant is entitled to.”
She faulted the government for not doing enough to strengthen the fight against corruption which it promised Nigerians, adding that rather than fighting corruption, “this government has allowed so much impunity.
“We file cases in court, but witnesses refuse to show up because they are afraid for their lives. There is no protection. I think the whistleblower policy so far can be better with legislation on the ground. The whistleblower needs to be protected,” Ogunlana-Nkanga stressed.
On her part, Communications Officer at Cleen Foundation, Anna White, accused the Federal Government of not being intentional in the fight against corruption, saying that the failure to enact a whistleblower law made it dangerous for citizens to participate in the anti-corruption war.
White said, “a government who came out publicly to call citizens to participate in the fight against corruption and doesn’t provide any measure of protection isn’t doing anything possible to fight corruption because if you are asking someone to come to a fight, it means you are intentional about participating in that fight.”
She warned that Nigeria’s anti-corruption fortunes would continue to dwindle if the government does not convince the people of its commitment to the fight against corruption while urging Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to synergize and advise the National Assembly to enact a whistleblower in the shortest possible time.
“I need to trust the government. The government needs to show us that they are ready to protect us. Someone needs to be held responsible. If someone blows a whistle today and they are protected, a lot of people are going to be coming out,” White stated.
Musa Muazu Musa, a Person With Disability (PWD), lamented that they are the greatest victims of the failings of the whistleblower policy while questioning the government’s anti-corruption intentions.
Musa said he is not optimistic that enactment of whistleblower law is still possible under the current administration. He said, “We all know the processes taken to come up with the law, and to be sincere, if it comes as an executive bill to the National Assembly, it’s possible, but from the body language of the executive, I’ve not seen anything coming out of it.
There is no intention to fight corruption in Nigeria. Some people have been convicted, and this present administration gave them a presidential pardon. How do you want to convince me today that if I speak against certain corruption, the person being prosecuted and convicted will not come out tomorrow,” Musa said.
The Radio Town Hall meeting Series is a collaborative effort between AFRICMIL and PRIMORG, aimed at increasing citizens’ active participation and involvement and encouraging the government to institutionalize the whistle-blowing policy.
The MacArthur Foundation supports the project.