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Reviving the whistle-blowing policy

By Editorial Board
22 January 2023   |   3:57 am
There is doubt that the Federal Government has successfully used the whistle-blowing police to fight endemic and systemic corrupt practices in both public and private sectors in Nigeria.

[FILES] The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) official. Photo: BBC

There is doubt that the Federal Government has successfully used the whistle-blowing police to fight endemic and systemic corrupt practices in both public and private sectors in Nigeria. In 2017, the then Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, disclosed that the introduction of the whistle-blower policy by the Federal Government had led to the recovery of about N17billion by the Commission.

But unfortunately the policy, introduced on December 21. 2016, had fallen into disuse in the last six years. One good turn, they say, deserves another. If the Federal government had successfully deployed the policy to recover humongous sums of money from corrupt persons and institutions, why should the government allow the policy to die or become comatose?. Who is responsible for killing the whistle-blowing policy?  Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) alleges that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) are responsible for destroying the policy. The group also alleges that the inaction of the EFCC, which habitually concentrated its efforts in pursuing Internet fraudsters and petty thieves as well as the ICPC’s poor handling of information divulged to it by some whistleblowers, literally killed the policy and made it lose steam.

But at a one-day Town Hall Meeting held in Awka, Anambra State recently, the current Chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, regretted the decline in whistle blowing across the country despite the huge rewards the Commission offers to whistleblowers.

Bawa stated that two of the landmark recoveries from whistleblowers’ information were the $9.8m recovered from a former Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, and the $11m recovered at an apartment in Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos. He then wondered why whistle-blowing policy has been allowed to die.

Rather than waste time apportioning blame, this is the time for the Federal government,  EFCC and other stakeholders to come together to resuscitate and sustain the whistle-blowing policy. While we commend the EFCC for its efforts in fighting economic crimes and corruption, the Commission should be diligent and painstaking in using the whistle-blowing in recovering more stolen funds without fear or favour. Luckily at the Town Hall Meeting in Awka, Mr. Bawa identified the challenges which tend to undermine the effectiveness of the whistle-blowing policy in Nigeria. Bawa said: “To my mind, the most obvious is lack of adequate understanding of the legal and administrative frameworks of the policy, and the difficulties of navigating the labyrinth of bureaucratic processes for claiming the advertised incentives. It is also not impossible that the few false informants, who were prosecuted for wanting to turn a serious programme into a joke, discouraged other would-be informants.”

Whatever are the challenges clipping the whistle-blowing policy, now is the time to resuscitate and sustain the policy. To begin with, whistle-blowers should be guaranteed adequate protection. No whistle blower or informant would want to risk his or her life divulging information leading to the arrest and prosecution of criminal suspects if the protection of his or her life is not guaranteed by the Federal government. Channels for reporting information or for whistle-blowing should be accessible to would-be whistle-blowers. Anonymous whistle-blowing should be encouraged. Whistle-blowers who would like to remain anonymous should be allowed to divulge information.  More importantly, the enthusiasm for whistle-blowing appears to have died down probably because the whistle-blowers are not adequately rewarded for their whistle-blowing. Therefore. the Federal Government should ensure that whistle-blowers are adequately rewarded so that many citizens would readily come out to divulge information leading to the unmasking and dislodgement of the many crime dragnets and syndicates.  We condemn the undue politicisation of the whistle-blowing policy. The EFCC and the ICPC should not convey the impression that there are two criminal justice systems in Nigeria, one for the rich and another for the poor. Consequently, all suspects identified through whistle-blowing should be investigated by the EFCC or ICPC and, if necessary, prosecuted according to the law of the land. There should be no sacred cow. Nobody is above the law if the land.

The executive and the legislature should work together with the EFCC and the ICPC in this regard. Granted that flawed judiciary process has consistently impeded the sweeping measures to combat official graft and official corruption in Nigeria, executive interference in the affairs of the judiciary has also constituted obstacle in the wheel of the criminal justice system in Nigeria which has rendered the judiciary impotent in the anti-graft war. Contrary to the principle of Separation of Power, some members of the executive are suspected to manipulate some anti-graft cases in favour of their friends or political cronies. Not infrequently, former State Governors and political bigwigs in the land are arrested and sometimes arraigned on corruption cases, only for the cases to fizzle out, or the accused persons somehow obtain dubious court injunctions to impede their prosecution. Anti-graft cases are stalled by unnecessary court adjournments. Distressfully, some lawyers handling anti-graft cases, who are supposed to be officers in the temple of justice, throw decorum and professional ethics overboard to bring frivolous court applications aimed at scuttling the judicial process.  Even the EFCC cannot be exculpated from the tardiness and moral degeneration which have flawed our whistle-blowing process and judiciary process. Oftentimes the delay in the prosecution of those suspected to have been involved in graft and official corruption results from poor preparation and presentation of cases by the EFCC. Uncountable charges preferred against some suspects by the EFCC are later dramatically dropped by the same EFCC without genuine reasons. Some of the suspects paraded by the EFCC in the media on allegations of graft are inexplicably let off the hook by the same EFCC.

The ultimate goal of whistle-blowing is to identify, arrest and prosecute thieves in order to build a corruption-free society. The possibility  that  more looted  funds  would  be  recovered  through whistle-blowing should encourage the EFCC, ICPC and others to have more recourse to the whistle-blowing in fighting corruption. It is recognised that whistle-blowing can be used as an instrument to persecute perceived political or business enemies. Therefore, the authorities must ensure that innocent citizens do not suffer for fabricated information or framed information against them. Finally, there is no law at the moment backing whistle-blowing in Nigeria as well as providing for the manner in which individuals may, in the public interest, disclose information that relates to unlawful or other illegal conduct or corrupt practices of others. Therefore it is time to enact a law on whistle blowing in Nigeria.