With the federal government’s whistle blower protection policy, the Muhammadu Buhari administration appears ready to take the fight against graft to an all-new level, write Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James
Nations around the world, including Nigeria, are working round the clock to curb the menace of corruption among public office holders, simply because it is directly tied to several social vices such as poverty, insecurity and escalating crime rates among others.
As Africa’s largest nation, Nigeria is blessed with massive wealth coupled with very large population that can boost commerce. It boasts one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, put at 7.4 per cent in the Nigerian economic report of July 2014 by the World Bank. Yet, poverty rate is still as high as 33.1 per cent. Such condition can only be explained by the notoriety of past government officials, who have willfully looted the country, thereby dwarfing development rate.
While corruption continued to thrive, successive governments in Nigeria since the country attained independence in 1960, paid lip services to fighting graft and rather than consciously tame it, each of the governments had loads of unresolved corruption cases till date.
However, the current All Progressives Congress (APC) under the President Muhammadu Buhari leadership – a man renowned for his unfavourable disposition to corruption – who came in on the mantra of ‘change’, promised to tame the hydra-headed scourge. Aside the fact that the government is believed to have shown the political will to pursue the agenda; it has also recovered considerable sums from suspected corrupt persons.
Even with this, public opinion is still divided on what could be said to be the success of the Buhari effort. Some have argued that it is selective, targeting only members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and deliberately leaving APC members, believed to have enriched themselves with public funds.
But one major unpalatable fact is that despite the volume of media trials that have generated palpable anxiety among millions of poor Nigerians, when they hear the staggering amounts stolen by some, and yet, there has not been any conviction of any important personality.
Apart from the celebrated arrests, long detentions, bail, re-arrests and protracted litigation, Nigerians have still not seen a departure in the current tactics used in fighting corruption. Not a few Nigerians are interested in how the anti-corruption war is fought. Hence, the whistle blower protection policy quickly became a burning discussion among opinionated Nigerians.
The aim is to allow Nigerians report criminal activities, particularly the looting of public funds through a secured online portal designed to conceal the identity of the blower.
Last week, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, unveiled the programme alongside the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the Minister of Power and Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola after a Federal Executive Council (FEC), presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. She said the FEC had approved the programme.
The specified types of information acceptable under the programme are mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets, financial malpractice or fraud, collecting/soliciting bribes, corruption, diversion of revenues, unapproved payments, splitting of contracts, procurement fraud, kickbacks and over-invoicing. Issues relating to personal matters concerning private contracts or agreements were however exempted.
Confidentiality to the blower is guaranteed within the limitations of the law and five per cent of the looted funds would be paid to the source of information, when the information has been established as authentic and credible.
Since the announcement, it has dominated public discourse. To some, it is an indication that the anti-corruption war has failed and that government is now experimenting with the new policy since there have been channels of reward for informants before now. Another concern is also about the portal that the people are expected to submit information; who would it be attached to who? Is it going to be attached to the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the office of the AGF or the Minister of Finance? And do they have investigative and prosecution powers within the law?
There is also the sentiment that whoever may want to give information cannot be protected until and unless the bill becomes law, particularly, in the aspect of reward. So, the question is, what does the Finance Ministry intend to do when the whistle blower is not protected.
In a sampled public opinion, the most prominent concern is that the duration of cases are too long and may end as endless litigations, where the whistle-blower becomes a prime target. Another caveat is that the information must be such that it could not be obtained by government. Then the percentage must be well discussed and spelt out before a deal is struck and the parties enter into a documented agreement.
Since the announcement, Nigerians have reacted variously to the matter. For Mr. Doueyi Fiderikumo, a Yenagoa Bayelsa State-based legal practitioner, the proposal is a welcome development. He said what this means is that the people can now be involved in the policing of crime and criminal activities in the country.
“The five per cent for whistle blowing on criminals is okay too. In the United States, the fight against crime is 30 per cent for successful whistle blowing on criminals. Although the details have not been worked out, the idea is however good for the country.
“It therefore means that if anybody is living beyond his income, then someone can whistle blow on him and if found culpable he will be tried. However, let’s wait and see the details of the proposal,” he said.
A Lagos-based retired Navy office, Mr. Olomi Fadile, who noted that whistle-blowing is unpleasant to the victim and injurious to the information giver, is of the opinion that if well managed, the idea is capable of helping in the fight against graft. He was particularly emphatic on the need to ensure that the whistle-blowers are well protected.
“All over the world, United States of America and Europe inclusive, being a whistle-blower in any form is frowned at, but in Nigeria it will from now on be seen as easy way to making money. For instance, in the US, a whistle-blower, Edward Snowden is today in exile in Russian for revealing and whistle-blowing on the activities of the United States Secret Service.
“Although whistle-blowing comes in many forms, the Nigerian form is strictly restricted to financial crimes and money laundry. This may suggest that the government will certainly not tolerate any form of whistle-blowing outside this but what form it may take, it is important that government ensures that whoever volunteers information is not only rewarded as promised, their protection should be paramount”.
For the Deputy Publicity Secretary of the Kwara State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Femi Yusuf, it is a welcome idea, inasmuch as it would help fight corruption. His concern is however that as the anti-corruption war is allegedly targeted at the opposition, the whistle-blower policy should not be seen as targeted mainly at PDP members.
“From the onset, we in the PDP have expressed support for the anti-corruption drive of the President Muhammadu Buhari government but at a closer look, not many All Progressives Congress (APC) members have been brought under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) searchlight. It has been a selective anti-corruption war. So, it is why one would want to say anything that would help in stopping corruption is acceptable. What is not acceptable is when the Whistle only blows on the opposition”.
There is also the sentiment that whoever may want to give information cannot be protected until and unless the bill becomes law, particularly, in the aspect of reward. So, the question is, what does the Finance Ministry intend to do when the whistle blower is not protected