Before the New Whistleblower Template Sets Off

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The proposal to extend the frontiers of the whistleblower policy to arms, initially suggested by the Senate, is good because it could help to curb arms proliferation and indiscriminate possession of it. Importantly, however, the policy needs to be standardised before it becomes a tool for mischief. Damilola Oyedele writes

 

As the whistleblower policy gains more popularity across the country in the fight against corruption, the federal government, on April 23, 2017 announced that the policy would be extended to arms, to encourage citizens to squeal on any persons they know to be in possession of small arms and light weapons.  The intendment of the policy, an initiative of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), is to disarm communities, particularly those with propensity for violence, and enhance the general security of the country.

The presidency in a statement, said it was in the process of formulation of the mechanism to guide the policy, whose success in the anti-graft war is fast generating controversy. Where the whistleblower for anti-graft gets five per cent of the recovered money, the incentive for squealing on illegal arms possession, would be a yet to be announced reward.

“The ONSA initiative may be an independent line of inquiry or in active collaboration with what the government is doing in finance. This will be a sort of searchlight on weapons ownership in the country. Whatever form or shape it takes, the administration wants to take a tough line to curtail the large number of illegal weapons in circulation used in intra and inter-communal conflicts,” the statement issued by presidential spokesperson, Mr. Garba Shehu, read.

It is however important to note that the whistleblower policy is not a new thing to this clime, or any other clime for that matter, it simply means providing information to relevant security agencies about all forms of illegal activities, except that the reward part is making it more popular.

Enter the Arms Template

Not many however recall that the proposal to extend the policy to arms was first mentioned, at least publicly, in the Senate by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, during a contribution on the Southern Kaduna crises. On April 11, 2017, Ekweremadu, who was reacting to some deficiencies of a Senate Committee report on the crises, said unless steps are taken to mop up or reduce the amount of illegal arms in circulation, Nigeria would never be able to deal with incessant communal clashes, armed robbery and other crimes involving the use of weapons.

In a separate statement after the announcement that the policy is being considered, Ekweremadu called for the formulation of a general framework for whistleblowing, covering all areas FG wants to apply the policy on, such as corruption, illicit arms, kidnapping, and terrorism.

“It should predetermine the compensation, not necessarily on the basis of percentage, and apply it across board from a pool of fund set aside from percentage deducted from recovered loot. That is to say that whatever compensations or motivations should be paid from recovered loot, irrespective of the crime a whistle is blown on,” he said.

The Motivating Successes

Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, said recently that the whistleblower policy has led to the discovery of about N17 billion in the last four months. He spoke at the 2017 Association of National Accountants of Nigeria Week/Award held in Abuja on April 24, 2017, where he detailed some of the recoveries to include N521,815,000, $53,272,747, £122,890.00 and €547,730.00.

“There have been major recoveries in recent times: $9.8 million owned by former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Andrew Yakubu, on February 3, 2017, in a house in Kaduna; alleged interception of N49 million cash at the Kaduna airport; discovery of N4billion in a bank account allegedly linked to a former deputy governorship candidate in Niger State; discovery of N250.5 million from a Bureau de Change office in Balogun Market, Lagos, and the biggest haul of $43million in an Ikoyi apartment.

But aside the Yakubu haul, the commission has been unable to reveal the identities of the owners of the other monies, leading to speculation that the discoveries may have been a stunt after all.

Whistleblower and Abuse of Policy

There are fears that the policy may cause more problems than successes in the long run, particularly if security agencies do not carry out some due diligence before acting on information given to them.  For instance, the police last week, acting on ‘credible information’ by a whistleblower that huge sums of monies, allegedly proceeds of crime, were in the home of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, raided his home, and carted away a personal laptop, some files, and N18 million.

Goje alleged that some of the files included documents on the 2017 budget, adding that the committee could no longer deliver on its promise to lay and ensure the passage of the budget, immediately after the Easter recess due to the raid.

The police have since returned all files, and monies seized in the raid, but as Senate President Bukola Saraki rightly noted, an alleged whistleblower misled the police, but has now publicly embarrassed a Senator. He added that the police have the responsibility to publicly accept responsibility for the blunder.

“If truly it was a whistleblower and he gave them wrong information, which is what the IG is telling them, what are they doing about that wrong information? Have they come out to make a public apology for this wrong raid?” Saraki added.

And the Growing Fears of Misuse

One of the biggest fears against the proposal is, of course, its susceptibility to abuse. It would be easier to plant small arms in someone’s home and squeal, than it would be to plant huge sums of money, and prove that it was proceeds of crimes.

Instructively, Ekweremadu has noted that in extending the whistleblower policy to arms, there must be consequences for blowing false whistle else the policy would be deployed for witch-hunt and mischief.

“We must ensure that information are thoroughly investigated before the law enforcement agencies strike and that those who give false information get at least three month imprisonment without an option of fine. We have had many instances, where traders blew the whistle on their colleagues in the big markets, because they are doing better than them; there have also been instances, where people’s homes are broken into and various parts of their homes destroyed in search of non-existent loot due to willful misinformation, and we must take steps to discourage this and any form of political witch-hunt,” he said.

Ekweremadu also noted that the policy should not be a permanent one, but a temporary one to summarily arrest the trends of corruption and violent crimes in the country, in addition to reorienting Nigerians on their role in national security.

“Ordinarily, every Nigerian owes the state the obligation to see something and say something. But that culture is lacking, hence

the need to reorient and motivate citizens over a given period of time. It should not be a permanent feature because blowing the whistle on crimes such as corruption, illicit arms, kidnapping, and other forms of crime is actually a matter of obligation on the side of the citizens and in public interest”, he added.

Hon. Kingsley Chinda, whose state, Rivers, has experienced armed violence in recent years, lauded the proposed extension of the policy to arms proliferation, but also noted that the guidelines must be comprehensive and explicit.  Like others, he agreed that where false accusations are made, the whistleblower must be punished, with the victim entitled to some compensation.

Chinda cautioned that it should not be an excuse for the violation of fundamental human rights, but searches must adhere strictly to the rule of law.

“The fact that information has been given does not validate the fundamental human rights of the victim. My quarrel with the present government is its irresponsive and uncivil posture towards the populace. The Act must specifically require adherence to the rule of law. Once information is given, the agency should discreetly conduct a preliminary investigation to reasonably ascertain the veracity of the information and clear identities of the parties involved.

“After a prima facie case is made, you swing into action by procuring the relevant documents to empower a search before moving into private premises and the intention must be specific and the owner of the premises must be present and notified of the reason for the search and what you are looking for,” he said.

Chinda also expressed fears that it could be a tool for harassment of perceived opponents, but noted that strict adherence to the rule of law will help check abuse, which is prevalent in the system.

Similary, Hon. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, whose state, Cross River, recently experience a herdsmen attack that left 10 dead with 3500 rendered homeless, said the proposed policy is a good one, but should be implemented with caution.

“The issue with it is the fact that politicians have the propensity for mischief. Some politicians could start planting arms on perceived rivals, just to frame them. It is susceptible to abuse. The Security Agencies should be better motivated to deliver,” he argued.

The Unanswered Questions

The government has to realize that the proliferation of small and light weapons in recent times is responsible for the rising insecurity in the land, particularly communal, farmers/herdsmen clashes. As Senator Isiaka Wakili noted in an interview, the proliferation is being driven by a need for self-defence, so it would be rare for a member of any community that is accumulating arms to protect itself to reveal this to the authority.

“Most of the communities are trying to do these (self-determination and self-defence), so they accumulate these arms that they themselves would not want to go and expose themselves. They have taken that as a means of self-defence because of the inter-communal clashes and crises and attacks, so they would not want to expose their defence mechanisms. So, it would be very difficult for it to have much success, no matter the amount of money you are offering,” he said.

It is therefore imperative that government takes necessary steps to enhance security and the welfare of its citizenry, some of whom are driven to illicit acts through desperation. This may likely be the most effective way to curbing arms proliferation and related crimes.