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Provide legal support to whistleblowers, lawyers charged

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Lawyers in Nigeria have been tasked to provide legal support to victimised whistle blowers.

The importance of whistleblowing as a tool for fighting corruption and checking other forms of wrongdoing in the society, advocating honest implementation of the policy, and ensuring effective protection for people who are courageous enough to blow the whistle was also emphasised.

Speaking at a capacity building workshop for lawyers on protection for victimised whistleblowers, Coordinator, African Centre For Media And Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) Chido Onumah, stressed the need to institutionalise whistleblowing as a vital mechanism for transparency and democratic good governance in Nigeria.

He added also that the workshop aimed to create a network of pro-bono lawyers who will subscribe to providing legal services that will ensure protection for whistleblowers.

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He said: “AFRICMIL believes that by the nature of their job, the primary duty of a lawyer is to secure legal protection and equitable justice for all, including victimised or about-to-be victimised whistleblowers.

“Lawyers are also whistleblowers and so should have as much stake, if not more, than any agency in not only the entrenchment of the culture of speaking up against wrongdoing, but also in the practice of standing up for anyone facing reprisals for doing so.”

According to him, AFRICMIL, under its project titled Corruption Anonymous (CORA) has built strategic alliances with relevant stakeholders like the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA), a unit in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget & National Planning, that is charged with the responsibility of managing the whistleblowing policy, anti-corruption agencies, civil society organisations, a coalition of public interest lawyers and the media.

As part of activities for achieving a desirable outcome for the CORA project, AFRICMIL has, over the last four years, organised training programmes and stakeholders’ meetings at different times with different institutions.

Onumah said it is in furtherance of deepening the component of activities lined up for this project that the training is being organised purposely for lawyers that they painstakingly selected.

Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability (SERAP), Kolawole Oluwadare, noted that the Nigeria’s whistleblower policy, in its scope of reporting suggests that anyone with “authentic information about violation, misconduct, or improper activity, which can impact negatively on the Nigerian people and government” can report it through SMS, Email and a dedicated portal.

He added that the violations include, but are not limited to mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets; financial malpractice or fraud; collecting/soliciting bribes; diversion of revenue; fraudulent and unapproved payments; and procurement fraud (notably, kickbacks and over-invoicing).

According t him, the policy states that the whistleblower will get between 2.5 per cent and five per cent of the recovered loot, provided that “there is a voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds or assets on the account of the information provided”

He said the policy doesn’t give clarity on how the exact amount of the reward will be calculated.

The policy, he said, is also silent on whether whistleblowers will be entitled to a share of the loot recovered after the looter has been convicted.

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According to him, Article 33 of United Nations Convention Against Corruption, “Each State Party shall consider incorporating into its domestic legal system appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention.

Convener, Criminal Justice Network of Nigeria, Nathaniel Ugwu, stressed that individuals, who want to raise alarm against corrupt practices should partner with any network of lawyers, who would evaluate the facts to have cases that can be verified.

He added that lawyers have a huge role in the advocacy of protecting whistle blowers.

“Firstly, a lawyer must be able to verify the facts and relate it with the requisite agency, which undergoes thorough investigations and that lawyer should monitor the investigation process. They should also partner with the government to find out areas that could grant conviction,” he said.

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