President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said that the war against corruption by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government must be won irrespective of temporary setbacks.
Lawan stated this in his remarks after a bill seeking to establish the Witness Protection and Management Framework scaled second reading during plenary on Tuesday.
According to him, the fight against corruption is one that must be vigorously pursued by government to ensure the eventual elimination of graft, given that same is capable of hindering Nigeria’s development.
He added that the Witness Protection bill, if passed and signed into law, would be an incentive that encourages witnesses to testify in corruption cases since their protection is guaranteed under the law.
Lawan said, “Distinguished colleagues, almost every administration in this country would work against corruption that has bedeviled the development of this country.
“The witness protection bill that we are debating today is a way forward to encourage witnesses to testify against corruption. And by protecting them properly, that will incentivise such witnesses.
“The war against corruption is a must, and it must be won. It is not about the quantum of funds or resources that we have, but how we are able to put to use even our scarce resources.
“So, this is a very important bill, and I’m sure all of us would lend our support.”
Sponsor of the bill for an Act to establish the Witness Protection and Management Framework, Senator Suleiman Abdu Kwari, said the bill was first read on February 23, 2021.
According to the lawmaker, it was also listed among the bills of interest and international significance, contained in the recent Executive Communication from President Muhammadu Buhari, which was read on the floor of the Senate on the 19th of January 2022.
“Empirical evidence show that one of the major causes of the inability to successfully prosecute criminal cases in our courts is the lack of witnesses.
“Many of them face intimidation and threats just as prosecutors most times do not have the funds and management framework to safely bring witnesses to testify in court.
“The passage of this bill into law will fill this gap as well as fulfill some of our Country’s international commitments to various conventions and protocols, like the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) amongst others”, Senator Kwari said.
He further recalled that the Witness Protection and Management Bill and Whistle Blower Bill were initially considered as co-joined in a single bill by the 8th National Assembly and passed in 2017.
He added that following a technical stakeholders roundtable comprising of representatives of relevant criminal justice system operators, it was resolved that both bills be unbundled in order to allow Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAS) currently running witness protection programs continue in that wise.
“This necessitates the separation of the two bills and accordingly paves the way for witness protection programmes across the broad spectrum of Law Enforcement Agencies, thereby discouraging duplicity and multiplicity of agencies”, he said.
Section 1 of the bill provides for the establishment of a legal and institutional framework to protect witnesses and related persons, with responsibilities for carrying out all administrative duties relating to witnesses and related persons.
The bill under the section ensures that the relevant agency takes responsibility for entering into a witness protection agreement, regulate the procedure while harmonizing existing laws and policies on witness protection and management.
The Bill in Section 2 also specifies offences and laws in which the bill apply, and comprise terrorism, money laundering (prevention and prohibition), economic and financial crimes, corrupt practices and other related offences, drugs and narcotics and their trafficking, trafficking in persons, Criminal and Penal Code offences.
It further provides for customs and excise management, any legislation dealing with proceeds of crimes, confiscation and forfeiture of assets, and to all justice sector institutions and authorities, including the courts, law enforcement as well as security agencies, and other relevant regulatory institutions towards the protection of witnesses in the course of the investigation, detection and prosecution of offences.
Part 2 sets standard for establishing and managing the witness program, while Section 3 mandates all public institutions having responsibility under their laws of investigating and/or prosecuting offences under any law, to establish a witness protection and management program.
The section further provides for rights, duties, privileges and obligations of other bodies such as courts, lawyers, parents/guardian in relation to witness protection and management.
In addition, Part 3 provides for protections such as allowing a witness to establish a new identity or restore a former witness’s original identity by an application from a relevant agency made to the Court, for a new entry in the birth, marriage or death registry and issuance of a certificate as the case may be.
Part 4 mandates relevant agencies, to designate a Witness Protection office at each of their branch offices to enable the adoption and management of the Witness Protection Program.
On the other hand, Part 5 of the bill provide for the establishment of a Witness Protection Fund to be managed and controlled by relevant agencies.
According to the bill, such funds include moneys appropriated by the National Assembly for payment into the Protection Fund, which shall amount to at least fifty per cent of the total estimated expenditure of the Protection Fund, moneys approved by the President for Witness Protection Programs, moneys accruing to the Protection Fund from any fund or account established by an Act for the lodgment of proceeds of confiscation and forfeited assets.
Other sources include a percentage of the total amount recovered by the Government as direct result of information provided by a protected person, subventions, grants, aid and donations from Federal or State Government, etc.
Part 6 criminalizes certain acts relating to false or misleading and unlawful disclosures, false representation and unauthorized access to a witness.
Part 7 under Miscellaneous provides for legal proceedings such as 30 days pre-action notice, non-compellability of witness, restriction on execution against property of the relevant agency, indemnity of officers of the relevant agency including powers of the Attorney General of the Federation to make regulations in respect of the bill.
The bill after consideration was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters; and Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes.
The Joint Committee is expected to report back in four weeks.
Meanwhile, a bill seeking to establish the Federal Polytechnic Shagamu also scaled second reading in the Senate.
The bill sponsored by Senator Olalekan Mustapha (Ogun East) was referred by the Senate President after consideration to the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND for further inputs.
The Committee was also given four weeks to report back to the chamber in plenary.