Can Buhari’s Whistle-Blowers’ Policy stem corruption in Nigeria?

29 August 2017

The prevalence of corruption in Nigeria's public and private sectors is the bane of development in the country. According to a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report, corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37% of GDP by 2030 if it is not dealt with immediately. It is a matter of either Nigeria kills corruption or corruption ruins Nigeria. Can President Buhari’s recently introduced Whistle-Blower Policy set the country on the right path?

Poster of Nigerian presidential election 2015 candidate Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari administration is well known for his anti-corruption campaign after assuming office on May 29, 2015. In order to corroborate Buhari’s administration anti-graft war, the Federal Ministry of Finance initiated Whistle-Blowers Policy in December 2016.

The policy was designed to encourage anyone with information about a violation of financial regulations, mismanagement of public funds and assets, financial malpractice, fraud, or theft to report them to relevant authorities.

To incentivise such reporting, the rewards for whistle-blowers are generous: 5 percent of any amount up to N1 billion; if it’s between N1 billion to N5 billion they will get 5 percent for the first N1 billion and 4 percent of the remaining N4 billion and any amount over N5 billion will attract 2.5 percent reward. The Ministry of Finance has also set up a Whistle-Blowing portal, where tip-offs can be submitted anonymously.

Additionally, the federal government made provision for protection of whistle-blowers against intimidation and harassment in order to encourage citizens to expose such nefarious acts that fall under the policy.

And ultimately, the government should benefit too: the policy was initiated so that more looted funds will be recovered into federal government coffers.

So far, the whistle-blower policy has yielded positive results

The whistle-blower’s policy has been impactful and it has yielded some positive results. Over 5,000 cases of misappropriation have been reported since the formulation of the policy. And, according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, over N50 billion in looted funds have been recovered due to the policy.

These include

The federal government has also tried to fulfil its obligation by paying N375.8 million to 20 providers of information under the whistle-blower policy. The payment was for recovered assets that had been declared free of litigation by the Attorney-General of the Federation.

Protection of whistle-blowers against intimidation and harassment is vital for continued success of the policy

For the policy to be successful, there is a need for a provision of law to ensure both its effectiveness and enforcement, and the protection of whistleblowers against intimidation and harassment.

Senator Biodun Olujimi saw this and sponsored a bill to provide adequate protection for whistle blowers from reprisals, victimisation, isolation and humiliation as well as ensuring that disclosures were properly investigated. The bill was eventually passed by the Nigerian Senate and now serves as the legal framework for the Whistle-Blowers Policy.

Enacting the protection law will give hope to a whistle-blower that he/she will be protected by the government. If the federal government fails to protect the whistle-blower against intimidation, he/she can file a lawsuit against the government for violating the law.

Whistle–Blowers’ Protection Law is not limited to Nigeria as there are other countries where such laws already exist. These include; Turkey, South Africa, South Korea, Australia, the United States of America, India to mention but few.

Improved accountability and transparency in the management of public funds

The federal government has opened a central recovery account to manage all the looted funds so that the money recovered will not be re-looted.

The account is being managed by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, with the idea being that the recovered money will be used to fund capital projects in the national budget. The Government has not yet given specific examples of what these capital projects will be, as it claims it is still analysing the budget to see what can be funded by the recovered money.

Two outstanding concerns with how the policy is being implemented

However, there are some issues that have been raised concerning the policy.

1. While the Whistle-Blowers Protection Bill has now been passed by the Nigerian Senate, there is a question over whether Nigeria Police Force is up to the task of guaranteeing the safety and security of Whistle-Blowers.

There is a risk of retaliation against them by those whose secret of looting the public treasury has been blown open. Despite the passage of the protection bill, enforcement or implementation has been a problem. Some people have been victimized for exposing looted funds in the public sector.

For instance, Ntia Thompson was sacked for exposing an alleged $229, 000 and N800,000 fraud in the Department of Techical Cooperation in Africa in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although he was reinstated after 4 months.

2. There's also the risk of false information being given against prominent individuals for political gain. When Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and former Vice President, Namadi Sambo recently had their houses raided by law enforcement officials as a result of information given, no stash of money was found in their possession.

The fake whistle-blower was subsequently arrested and prosecuted.

However, is there also a possibility that they could have been warned of the raid and changed the location of the cash before the law enforcement officials arrived to search their houses?

Whistle-blower policy will do more good than harm in the long-run

Despite these concerns, my view is that, overall, the Whistle-Blowers Policy has done the country more good than harm and hopefully, more of such policies will be initiated by the federal government to promote transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors, and eventually help make Nigeria a corruption-free society.

Image credit: Clara Sanchiz/RNW

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