Anti-Corruption: Whistleblowing Law Long Overdue – Civil Society Activists, Lawyers Counsel FG

Civil society organizations, the Progressive Impact Organisation For Community Development (PRIMORG) and the Africa Center For Media And Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) have, in the last five years, advocated for the legal strengthening of whistleblowing in the country after the government introduced whistleblower policy in 2016.

The latest call for the Federal Government to urgently enact a law to protect whistleblowers and strengthen whistleblowing came during a radio town hall meeting organized by PRIMORG in partnership with AFRICMIL at the weekend in Abuja.

Speaking during the meeting, AFRICMIL’s Program Manager, Godwin Onyeacholem, said replacing the whistleblowing policy with the law was long overdue, urging members of the National Assembly and President Tinubu-led executive to summon the courage to gift Nigerians a whistleblower legislation.

Onyeacholem stressed that for an effective fight against corruption, “all that the country needs now is a standalone whistleblowing law.”

He noted that federal legislators and executives lacked ‘political will’ to fight corruption, hence the inability to pass whistleblowing into law over the years.

His words: “My advice to the Federal Government will be that they should summon the will to give us (Nigerians) whistleblower protection law because it’s long overdue.

“We are advocating for a standalone whistleblower legislation that will be made up of all the features of protection – this is the recipe for effective whistleblowing.

Recall the policy was introduced in 2016 and generated plenty of enthusiasm, and ever since, it has remained a policy, which is a major stumbling block for effective implementation since it has not become a law yet”.

Onyeacholem called on civil society groups and citizens not to relent in engaging the government and pressurizing them to enact laws protecting whistleblowers, urging citizens who wish to report corruption to seek the support of lawyers as their services are essential.

Towing the same line, a legal practitioner, Ebuka Aneke-Agu, stressed that Nigeria needs a whistleblowing law, describing the lack of legislation as a significant setback to the fight against corruption, alluding that leaders lacked the political will to pursue whistleblowing law.

He decried the impact of corruption on the country’s development and faulted past administrations’ nonchalant attitude toward strengthening the war against corruption.

Aneke-Agu urged whistleblowers to always liaise with lawyers given the high risk involved in exposing corrupt acts, adding that citizens must continue having conversations around corruption and keep demanding the passage of whistleblowing and whistleblower protection laws.

“One of the challenges of the policy since 2016 had been the absence of a law backing it up, and if you recall, it wasn’t a tool to fight corruption per se.

“Whistleblowing is suffering setbacks because the immediate past federal government didn’t see it as a tool to fight corruption; it merely was an intervening policy to know where the government will get money.

“We need legislation on whistleblowing. There are no two ways about it. Everybody wants to cover their interests. If there is legislation on whistleblowing, some of the big guys or politicians will be the culprits, so I think one of the reasons the government has not found it fit to have a law is that they feel that the law might come back to haunt them,” Aneke-Agu said.

Human rights lawyer Mojirayo Ogunlana, while joining calls for enactment of a law to protect whistleblowers, said one of the best ways legal practitioners can pressure the government into passing whistleblowing law is through strategic litigation.

Ogunlana tasked lawyers in the country on seriousness with the fight against corruption by having engagements and conversations about it, stressing that lawyers have a significant role in curbing graft in the public sector.

“Lawyers must ensure the promotion of the rule of law. A lawyer is a minister in the Temple of Justice. If somebody comes out to report corruption and doesn’t have protection, he falls back on the fact that there is injustice in the land, so lawyers need to be the vanguards; we need to be at the forefront of situations like this”.

On her part, Assistant Secretary of the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Labara Murey, lamented the reluctance to report corruption by many Nigerians.

While acknowledging that the media in Nigeria has an enormous role in pushing for a whistleblowing law, Murey decried the lack of protection for journalists who are whistleblowers by the nature of their job.

She called on the media practitioners to use everything at their disposal to continue reminding the government of the need to strengthen the anti-corruption fight by enacting a whistleblower law.

“The media can do editorials. The media can do features, and the media can do vox pops, hold town hall meetings and discuss the hindrances, the challenges and why the whistleblowing law has not been passed,” Murey asserted.

Prince Chris Azor, AFRICMIL’s Southeast Coordinator on  Whistleblowing and Anti corruption, said there have been deliberate efforts to take the campaign to the grassroots through sundry engagements, a mechanism he believes is yielding desired result.

The Radio Town Hall meeting series is aimed at increasing citizens’ active participation and involvement and encouraging the government to institutionalize the whistleblowing policy.

The program runs with support from the MacArthur Foundation.

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