BY SOLOMON AYADO and AHURAKA ISAH, Abuja
The whistleblower policy of the federal government got legal backing yesterday as the Senate passed into law the Bill for an Act to protect persons making disclosures for public interest and others from reprisal.
The report on the bill was presented for passage by the chairman of Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and legal matters, Senator David Umaru (Niger East).
The bill is tagged, “An Act to Protect Persons Making Disclosures for the Public Interest and Others from Reprisals, to Provide for the Matters Disclosed to be Properly Investigated and Dealt with and for other Purposes Related Therewith”.
With the passage of the bill, the Senate has concluded work on three anti-corruption Bills. In May 2017, it passed the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, while in June 2017, it passed the Witness Protection Bill respectively.
The bill which is also known as ‘Whistleblowers Protection bill’ seeks to encourage and facilitate disclosures of improper conduct by persons, public officers and corporate bodies, both private and public.
Under the newly passed bill, a person who makes a disclosure shall not be subjected to victimization by his or her employers or by fellow employees or isolation and humiliation.
Also, a person who makes a disclosure has the right to take legal action if he or she is victimized, dismissed, suspended, declared redundant, transferred against his or her will, harassed or intimidated in any manner.
The law, however, asserts stringent punishment to guide against and deter false disclosure by postulating not less than five years imprisonment or a fine of N10 million for false whistleblowers.
On compensation to potential whistle blowers, the law further specifies that five per cent of funds recovered should be set aside as incentives and policy of reward.
Speaking on the passage of the bill, Senate President Bukola Saraki, said “This is a promise kept. Today, we have passed a landmark piece of legislation to fight corruption and protect patriotic Nigerians who are fighting corruption. This Bill will protect the lives of those who risk themselves to expose corrupt practices in Nigeria”.
Senate separates financial intelligent unit from EFCC to avert EGMONT’s expulsion
In a bid to reverse Nigeria’s suspension from the EGMONT GROUP of Financial Intelligence Units and halt its expulsion from the international association of intelligence agencies in December, the Senate yesterday resolved to separate the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFlU) from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
NFIU is the federal government’s agency that represents Nigeria at the financial intelligence Unit meetings but was recently suspended at the July 2017 meeting in China, till January 2018, with a threat of an expulsion if the country fails to meet the standards of the Group with regards to its operations.
Yesterday, the lawmakers hinged the suspension and onward expulsion of the country from the network of NFIU on the ground that the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, was meddling in the affairs of the NFIU by his interference in the operations and staffing of the unit, which led to departure of many competent hands.
Also, the upper chamber said the suspension and expulsion of Nigeria was because NFIU has not been granted operational autonomy as it is still domiciled in the EFCC, adding that confidential information concerning the activities of the EGMONT group was divulged.
Consequently, the Senate vowed that it will not afford to look the other way while Nigeria’s reputation in the international community is being dragged in the mud.
Insisting that the expected expulsion from international financial organizations must be reversed, the Red Chamber quickly mandated its committee on Anti-corruption to draft a bill on the need to separate NFIU from EFCC and submit report within four weeks.
The lawmakers also urged the executive to include in any supplementary budget estimate that may be presented for the NFIU in view of the need to lift the suspension of Nigeria as soon as possible.
It also asked the Ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior to relate with all countries on issues affecting its mandate at the bilateral and multilateral levels.
The Senate is worried that the sanctions from EGMONT will necessitate that Nigeria will undergo the process of fresh application which takes several years to accomplish, in addition to subjecting the country to be listed in the G8 list of Non-Cooperating Countries and Territories (NCCT).
The position of the Senate followed a motion titled ‘Dire implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units’ which was moved by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North).
Leading the debate, Utazi noted that unless the financial Unit is legally and operationally made independent with constitutional powers to employ, promote and discipline its workforce on confidentiality of information, the ugly situation will repeat itself.
On his part, the deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, who stressed the need for a stakeholders roundtable revealed that it was the immediate past AGF, Mohammed Adoke, who moved the NFIU under EFCC because he supervised the anti-graft agency.
In their submissions, Senators Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna Central), Foster Ogola (PDP Bayelsa West) and Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West) concurred that if NFIU is separated from EFCC, it will avert Nigeria’s expulsion from EGMONT and show the country’s seriousness in the anti-graft war.
Senate President Bukola Saraki said, “Nigeria’s suspension from EGMONT Group is a setback in our fight against corruption and, as such, we must move swiftly because we cannot afford to be cut off from the group”.
He assured that a bill that will give NFIU autonomous status will soon be passed by the National Assembly.