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Lawyers concerned over identity disclosure, safety of whistle-blowers

By Joseph Onyekwere
02 December 2017   |   4:35 am
Lawyers have expressed concern over the dangers of exposing whistle-blowers who have to press for the payment of monies government promised...


• ‘They Have Legal Right To Sue Government’
Lawyers have expressed concern over the dangers of exposing whistle-blowers who have to press for the payment of monies government promised them as compensation by going to court.

They said although whistle blowers have the legal right to sue government if it fails to honour its word, it was not good for them to go to court because it would expose them.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Tony Odiadi, who expressed his views on the dilemma of whistle blowers, described the difficulty in paying them by government as very worrisome.

He said the situation was like the devil and the deep blue sea, adding: “That is what
whistle blowers all over the world face when they comply with the policy.

“It was supposed to be a secret business not open to the public. It is not in the interest of the person to go to court. The person cannot sue with a pseudonym because he did not use the pseudonym in blowing the whistle.

“The name you use in blowing the whistle is the name you will use in suing because that is the name that will earn you the money, otherwise, they will deny you in court.

“Strictly speaking, it is not in the interest of the whistle-blower to go to court. It is a very dangerous thing because those who stashed the money are ‘big men’ who have capacity to do a lot of terrible things.

“In our own case, the government presented it as part of its programme to fight corruption and also pledged to maintain the confidentiality of the identity of those who give information that could lead to recovery of funds.”

Odiadi lamented that a situation where arguments arose from government trying to keep its own side of the bargain when some people have tried to help by exposing corrupt people, did not augur well for the anti-corruption crusade.

“The Ikoyi case and the case of the former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu in Kaduna are good examples,” he said.

He noted that the way things stand, it would appear as if the controversies are orchestrated or that the government was fighting corruption in a corrupt manner because if there was no objectivity, then the government could not to be trusted.

Odiadi, however, said people have the legal right to sue on a matter that is purely policy-based, insisting that the arrangement was contractual in nature.

“People can sue over a government policy that has the force of law because government has several protocols pronounced on it, which makes it a policy. So, you can sue and argue that you acted based on a particular government policy. It is like a contract to the whole world.

“The government has said anybody that brings information that leads to the actual identification, location and seizure of funds is entitled to certain percentage of the funds and that is the motivation. Therefore, anybody can sue for complying and not getting the entitlements,” he said.

He, however, said such people could sue as aliens in order to protect their identity because they could be endangered, adding: “They can also sue with a pseudonym and they may be smart enough to also protect their identity and use their counsels to represent them in court.”

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Tayo Oyetibo, said the government should keep its promises, insisting: “If you make a promise to someone that if he does something you will give him something and he relies on it, he deserves to earn the promise when he keeps his own side of the bargain.”

The enforceability of such contracts, he stated, depended on the terms.

“There was a promise made by the government and it is bound to keep its promise. In any event, you can look at the morality of the case.

“If you induce people to give you information on the promise that you will reward them and they risk their lives, their relationships and whatever to give you the information, I think it behooves the Federal Government to honour its words by paying those who have risked their lives to give information,” he said.

Oyetibo, therefore, advised the government to honour its obligation in that direction, otherwise, the whole programme would become a total disappointment because people would lose faith in government since they cannot keep their words.

“So, apart from the legality of it, we also have to look at its morality. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is anything wrong for anyone trying to enforce that promise,” he stressed.

Also, Emeka Okpoko (SAN) believes whistle blowers have a right to sue, not minding that the policy has not yet been enacted as a law.

“It doesn’t matter that it is not yet a law. It is a policy and that policy is on paper. Why will someone not sue on it? Is there anything wrong there? There is nothing wrong because it is like a contract. Anyone who has fulfilled the obligation should be given his money. It is contractual in nature,” he said.