According to Wikipedia, a whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public.
Whistleblowing is particularly important in the fight against corruption. Acts of corruption often go unchallenged when people with relevant information do not speak about it. Accounts of witnesses offer invaluable insights into corruption, and are powerful tools in the fight against it.
However in most countries, whistleblowing carries high personal risk because there is little or no legal protection against dismissal, humiliation or even physical abuse. Several controls on information, libel and defamation laws can deter people from speaking out when they have information.
Australia, Canada, Jamaica, India, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States all have safe and confidential mechanisms enabling public servants and the general public to disclose wrongdoings committed in public and private sector.
A number of African countries have recently adopted comprehensive whistleblower laws including Ghana, South Africa and Uganda, while Kenya and Rwanda are also considering enacting it.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2015 ranked Nigeria 136th of 175 countries. Nigeria has struggled to successfully prosecute corruption cases due to the gap in its legal framework, since most corruption cases depend on whistleblowers.
Nigeria’s attempt to have a comprehensive legislation that protects whistleblowers was during the 6th assembly of the National Assembly between 2007-2011. The legislation which was not passed during the period was reintroduced in the 7th assembly between 2011-2015 and also suffered same fate. Its introduction in the 8th assembly of the National Assembly in the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill 2016 and Witness Protection Bill 2016 reignites the hope of getting a legislation that seeks to protect persons who disclose confidential information on the grounds of public interest and will enable the proper investigation of matters disclosed.
The sponsor of the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill in the Senate Senator Biodun Olujimi argued that the provision for protection of whistleblowers would support an open and transparent structure where citizens would be aware of how to report suspected acts of corruption or wrong doing and have the confidence in the reporting procedures free from fear of retaliation. She was of the view that the existing structures of anti corruption agencies appeared insufficient and that the bill, if passed, would improve the country’s poor performance in its fight against corruption.
The Witness Protection Programme Bill, a closely related legislation, sponsored by Senator Isiaka Adeleke in the Senate also seeks to promote law enforcement by facilitating the protection of persons who provide information that assist law enforcement agents. The bill also seeks protection for investigators, prosecutors and members of the judiciary and increases the incentive for persons with useful information to testify. Under the provisions of the bill, a witness may qualify for protection if he or she provides information that directly or indirectly assists law enforcement agencies.
The two bills have been passed for second reading and referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative inputs. The bills may be merged due to their similarities as suggested by some members during debate on the bills.
Having a legislation that protects a whistleblower will be a giant stride in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.