THE Whistle Blowers Bill pending in the Senate promises to be landmark legislation in the country. The consensus appears to be that Whistle Blowers Protection Law has become imperative for the survival of the country.
The bill failed to fly in the sixth and seventh Senate. Senators of the two sessions blocked the bill on the resolution that it could be used as a tool for witch-hunt. It was also the understanding of some of the lawmakers in the sixth and seventh Senate that the country was not ripe for unrestrained whistle blowing.
On Wednesday however, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill to allow it scale the crucial second reading. The mood of Nigerians about the fight against corruption might have impacted heavily on the senators to back the bill.
Two bills, “A Bill for an Act to protect persons making disclosures for public interest and others from reappraisal” sponsored by Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South) and another entitled “A Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment and operation of a programme to enable certain persons to receive protection in relation to certain inquiries, investigations or prosecutions and for matters connected therewith, 2016” proposed by Senator Isiaka Adeleke (Osun West) were consolidated.
Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, moved that the two bills should be consolidated since they are similar.
The ensuing debate was exciting as the promoters of the bills took turns to convince their colleagues to put sentiment aside and embrace the bills, especially in the light of the renewed onslaught on graft in the country.
Essentially, the bills seek to give fillip to the anti-graft campaign as well as to embolden Nigerians to report acts of commission or omission considered injurious to the socio-economic growth of the Nigerian.
Olujimi in her lead debate said the bill if passed, seeks to protect persons making disclosure for the public interest and others from reprisals.
She noted that the bill provides for the matters disclosed to be properly investigated and dealt with and for other purposes related therewith.
Olujimi said that in 2010, the importance of whistleblower protection was reaffirmed at the global level when the G20 Anti corruption Working Group recommended G20 leaders to support the guiding principles for Whistleblowers protection legislation.
She is worried that although the anti-corruption agencies have internal mechanisms and made provisions for the protection of whistleblowers, the protection appears insufficient, given the country’s poor performance in the fight against corruption.
The enactment of a comprehensive and dedicated law as the basis for providing Whistleblower protections, she said, is generally considered the most effective legislative means of providing such protection.
A comprehensive and stand alone legislation also gives the law heightened visibility, thereby making its promotion easier for governments and employers, she added.
The Ekiti State lawmaker prayed her colleagues to support and pass the bill in order to give the anti-graft campaign the needed bite.
Senator Adeleke, a former Osun State Governor, in his own lead debate, recalled that the bill was first read on the 9th of December, 2015.
Adeleke explained that the bill, witness protection programme Bill, when enacted, seeks to promote law enforcement by facilitating the protection of persons who are involved directly or indirectly in providing assistance in law enforcement matters.
He explained that “The lack of a witness protection programme has meant that terrorism related cases have been inconsistent and produced mixed results.
He mentioned some high profile Boko Haram cases that had remained inconclusive in the courts.
The bills were not without opposition. Some senators opposed to the bills could not however muster the courage to speak against the proposed legislation on the floor of the upper chamber.
The fear they raised was about the application of the law if eventually passed and assented to by the president.
They argued that the bills did not make provision for malicious and false whistle blowing.
One of them asked rhetorically, “what happens to a whistleblower whose allegation is found to be entirely false; what happens to a whistleblower who conducts his business out of malice and hatred; what happens to a whistleblower who thrives in damaging people’s reputation.”
A possible abuse of the law by security agencies was also raised. The fear of manipulating the law to achieve a certain purpose by interested security agencies, they said, should be guarded against.
No doubt, protecting and strengthening the capacity of Whistle Blowers will go a long way to assist the country in the fight against corruption. What should also be protected is a situation where unguarded whistle blowing is used for pecuniary interest. A situation where Whistle Blowers are deployed to run down others should equally be avoided.
As they say, the law is an ass; efforts should therefore be made to block all lacuna in the legislation to ensure that the bill does not serve unintended purposes.
Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who commended the sponsors for a job well done, referred the bills to the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative action. The committee was given four weeks to report back to Senate in plenary.