By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
A bill seeking to protect persons with useful information on corrupt practices and other high profile crimes from undue harassment and persecution scaled second reading in the Senate yesterday.
The bill has as its objectives the necessity to protect individuals who make disclosures in public interest from reprisal attacks and ensure that information provided by such whistleblowers are thoroughly investigated by law enforcement agencies.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South), who described corruption as a threat to economic growth, said the bill had become imperative in view of Nigeria’s consistent rating as one of the most corrupt countries of the world.
She also recalled how a staff of Women Development Centre who exposed corruption in the agency in Abuja in the past was dismissed because there was no enabling law guaranteeing her protection.
She said: “In Transparency International’s 2014 report, Nigeria ranked 136th out of 175 countries with a score of 27/100. Despite slight improvements in the ranking, the lack of progress on high-level corruption cases has brought into question the effectiveness of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies in the fight against corruption and financial crimes.
“The inability of the country’s legal framework to effectively reduce corruption may be associated with the low number of corruption/fraud cases successfully prosecuted which significantly depends on whistleblowers. When faced with corruption, only few people have the courage to speak up. Reporting questionable practices or abuse of power without protection is simply too risky for many.
“Distinguished colleagues, providing effective protection for whistleblowers supports an open and transparent structure where citizens are not only aware of how to report but also have confidence in reporting procedures without the fear of retaliation for reporting in good faith inspected acts of corruption and other wrongdoing. This is integral for strengthening Nigeria’s anti-corruption and fraud compliance and efforts to combat corruption, safeguard integrity, enhance accountability and support a clean business environment.
“The benefits of whistle blowing may be illustrated in the widespread adoption of the legislation in many jurisdiction, aimed at protecting Whistleblowers from being subjected to any occupational detriment.
“In 2010, the important of whistleblower protection was reaffirmed at the global level when the G20 Anti-corruption Working Group recommended G20 leaders to support the guiding principles for Whistleblowers protection legislation…
“In August 2011, a staff of the National Women Development Centre, Abuja was dismissed from service for exposing the embezzlement by top officials of the N300 million allocated for poverty alleviation programme.”
In the same vein, a similar bill sponsored by Senator Isiaka Adeleke (Osun West) sought “to provide for the establishment and operation of a programme to enable certain persons receive protection in relation to certain inquiries, investigations or prosecutions and for matters connected therewith.”
In his ruling, Senate President Bukola Saraki referred the two bills to Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters with the mandate to harmonise them in view of their similarities and report back to the Senate in two weeks.