By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
The Whistleblowing Advocacy Coalition has condemned the continued harassment and sack of whistleblowers in the country’s public sector, urging the President Muhammadu Buhari -led All Progressives Congress APC administration to put in place a protective framework for whistleblowers.
It added that several whistleblowers in the civil service have faced adverse reactions ranging from outright dismissal, suspension without pay, denial of salary and promotion, intimidation and harassment.
“Even to exercise the right to refuse participation in corrupt acts attracts punishment from the management of public institutions”, the coalition alleged.
Members of the coalition include Dr Chido Onumah, Coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy AFRICMIL; Augustine Agbonsuremi, Executive Director, Progressive Impact Organisation for Community Development PRIMORG; Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre CISLAC and Botti Isaac, Programmes Coordinator, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action).
Others are Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director, International Centre for Investigative Reporting ICIR, Osai Ojigho, Country Director, Amnesty International Nigeria and Oke Epia, Executive Director, Orderpaper Advocacy Initiative (Order Paper).
At a joint news conference on Thursday in Abuja to mark the 2022 International Anti-Corruption Day, the coalition identified one of the gaps in the fight against corruption as the undue delay in putting in place a framework for the protection of citizens who are courageous enough to report corruption and illegalities in society.
The coalition lamented the dwindling enthusiasm among Nigerians with regards to reporting cases of corruption, noting that whistleblowers in the public sector are faced with harassment, suspension and outright sack.
“Our specific mission as a group is to strengthen advocacy for the passage of the whistleblowing and whistleblower protection bill and its enactment as a law before the Muhammadu Buhari administration winds up next year.
“We note that unlike in the early stages of the whistleblowing policy when people showed tremendous enthusiasm about submitting reports which resulted in frequent recovery of looted public funds, there has been a noticeable severe reduction in people’s interest in passing on information to the anti-corruption agencies. The major reason is that the whistleblowing policy which this administration introduced six years ago has remained a policy, with no framework for protecting whistleblowers who are continually subjected to all kinds of punishment for reporting fraud and corrupt practices in their offices.
“Many whistleblowers in the public sector have been visited with adverse actions ranging from dismissal, suspension without pay, denial of salary and promotion, intimidation, harassment, etc. Thus, because workers see that their colleagues who report crime or refuse to be part of a crime are victimized without any form of protection, many of them are discouraged from making disclosures on wrongdoing even when they see one.
“Therefore, our convergence today is to use this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day to reaffirm our resolve to fill this yawning gap exemplified in the absence of a whistleblowing and whistleblower legislation that offers robust protection for citizens who carry out whistleblowing in the interest of the public.
“A significant step in concretizing this resolve was taken on November 8 in Abuja where the civil society and media partners who have for long demonstrated the passion to curb corruption in our polity and recognized the importance of whistleblowing in achieving this objective, came together to deliberate on whistleblowing practice in Nigeria. The group came up with what is now known as The Abuja Declaration of Action on Whistleblowing Legislation and Whistleblower Protection in Nigeria.
“It is the Abuja Declaration that this coalition has the honour of unveiling today with the generous support of members. The coalition considers this a significant milestone in our struggle to ensure that a whistleblower protection law is enacted as a positive and sincere way of encouraging citizens to join the fight against corruption which is the original intent of the whistleblowing policy.
“The Abuja Declaration features two major highlights. The first is the recognition of whistleblowing as not just a mechanism for addressing fraud and illegalities, but also as a right of freedom of expression which is a fundamental human right that needs to be fully protected. People have a right to both speaking up and speaking out without any hindrance. The second feature is the unanimous endorsement of a strong coalition of duty bearers to intensify the campaign for an urgent realization of protection legislation.
“We are aware from the latest report from the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning which manages the whistleblowing policy that a draft whistleblower bill would this month be considered at a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting and sent to the National Assembly for passage. The coalition looks forward to this meeting and hopes that the FEC acts in the interest of our country.
“However, this coalition will not wait for them. Our resolve is to, as quickly as possible, use the Abuja Declaration as a tool of engagement with all tiers of government, but especially the National Assembly towards having this bill passed and having a law before the tenure of this administration ends in 2023”, the coalition stated.