In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the ownership of the N13bn ($43.4m, N23m and £27,000) found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “urgently address country on the matter so as to clarify the issue, and resolve lingering doubts among Nigerians regarding the real owner(s) of the cash.”
The organization also called on the president to “ensure legal backing for his government’s whistle-blowing policy by vigorously pursuing the passing by the National Assembly of the Whistle-blower Bills.”
Both Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and the National Intelligence Agency last week reportedly claimed ownership of the cash, casting doubts on the ‘real claimants.
In a statement today by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organization said that, “The government’s increasing reliance on whistle-blowers’ tips to fight corruption has to be backed by some level of transparency and accountability in the real identities of those claiming recovered cash. Clearing the doubts surrounding the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul would demonstrate that the president values transparency over secrecy, provide further encouragement to blow the whistle on governmental corruption, and enhance the public right to know.
According to the organization, “Democracy abhors secrecy, and for Nigerians to be able to hold elected leaders accountable, they must have access to information such as on the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul. This transparency is fundamental to the operation of the government’s whistle-blower policy, and inextricably rooted in the notions of good governance and the rule of law under the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended).
The statement read in part: “No good comes from secrecy in governance, as officials who have become accustomed to operating without accountability are loath to relinquish the power that comes from conducting their business without public scrutiny. When public authorities resist efforts to shine a light on their activities, it gives the impression that there is something to hide. It’s counter-productive to overstate national security based secrecy needs, as secrecy encourages poorly informed and under-vetted decision-making.
“Public scrutiny is a prerequisite for changing harmful, entrenched practices. Rather than operating the whistle-blowers policy as hidden, mysterious mechanism at the far edge of democracy, this government should make the operation of policy more transparent and accessible to the public. Both transparency and accountability are necessary to uphold the rights of victims of corruption and ensure that suspected perpetrators are held to account. The ‘sky will not fall’ if the true identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul are revealed.
“It’s clear that as the EFCC continues to uncover more suspected looted or ill-gotten cash, those blowing the whistle will need greater level of protection. But without outlawing retaliation and attacks against whistle-blowers, and taking a firm stance on protecting them, the incentive of bounty rewards would be negated, as potential whistle-blowers may be discouraged from performing invaluable public interest service.
“It shouldn’t be the case that the government knows the risks of whistle-blowing and yet fails to provide the needed legal protection against retaliation and attacks, regardless of whether whistle-blowers are entitled to bounties.
“The policy of giving whistle-blowers some percentage of recovered loot would seem to be a game changer in the fight against corruption but this government now has to squarely address the significant risks that those who blow the whistle face by urgently working with the National Assembly to ensure the necessary legal backing that would ensure protection against reprisals and attacks.
“The government should ensure that the National Assembly expedites the process of passing the Whistle-Blower Bill, as ensuring that the bill is passed without further delay would recognize the necessity of whistleblowers and the value they add to the anti-corruption fight by reporting otherwise unknown corruption-related information. It would also ensure that whistle-blowers are fully protected from any retaliation and attacks they may experience, and that the government fully appreciates the information they provide.
“Continuing delay in the passing of the Whistle-Blower Bill would have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers and hinder the public’s ability to learn about the kind of cash haul found in Ikoyi and elsewhere across the country. It’s also contrary to Article 33 of the UN Convention on Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified. The convention obligates the government to put in place appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with the convention.”