Thursday, March 23, 2017

Whistleblowing, New Profession?

As a junior crime reporter working with the defunct National Concord Newspaper in the 1980s, I was posted to the police and other security agencies beat. While on the beat, I came across a man whose only job was to extract information about criminals, especially robbers, in Lagos metropolis. He was well known among senior police officers and he was referred to as an “Informant.”

His job was to collate information from robbers, their operational hide-outs and, possibly, their next target. Such information was passed to the state Commissioner of Police and he was adequately  rewarded financially. I gathered that, whenever the police were auctioning recovered vehicles, he was always considered. However, the story changed when one of the robbery gangs received information about his activities with the police; he was trailed to his house in Ajegunle and shot dead before his neighbours. The police never disclosed the story to journalists but investigations revealed the incident.
Informants of those days were rough-looking, some of them turned out to be disenchanted members of robbery gangs. Their reports were mainly to expose robbers for easy apprehension and prosecution, but things have changed, the world has evolved and corruption has taken a devastating stand. This was not the situation prior to Independence.

Nigerians, especially government officials, were dedicated and lived within their means. They worked only to take care of their families, train their children and retire and live on their retirement benefits. It was not a life of extravagance but a moderate life of a pious worker. The emergence of the military dictators who saw “sin”  in all the activities of government workers and, instead of using wisdom, applied the iron fist by sacking top-ranking government officials, sending many to jail for alleged corrupt practices, turned things upside down. It was the mass sack that ignited  the devilish trend known as “10 per cent” compensation.
This was the creation of civil servants who collected 10 per cent of every contract awarded and many also awarded government contracts to themselves by proxy. Thus began the trail of corruption in the country. At a point, the police that was brought in to investigate these cases were overwhelmed and a department known as the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) was created.
On his assumption as the first democratically elected president in 1999, Olusegun  Obasanjo noticed the dangerous trend in corrupt practices among Nigerians and established, by an Act of legislation, a body known as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The establishment of the EFCC raised the hope of many Nigerians, who had witnessed the unfortunate effects of corruption on the country. As the years rolled by, it became apparent that  what used to be known as  “Informant” needed to be upgraded for better efficiency and effectiveness. No wonder the idea of whistle-blowing was born.
A  whistle-blower  is anyone who voluntarily discloses information about dishonest or illegal activities in any government organisation or institution across the country. Today, from the look of things, it’s like the government at the center is upgrading whistle-blowing into a “profession.” With the recent pronouncement by the Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, it is obvious that whistle-blowing is a profitable venture that could attract as much as 5 per cent of the total amount exposed and recovered, as benefit and compensation.

Also, government has promised to provide a safe haven for any successful whistleblower, except that there is no mention of the duration for the security. Knowing Nigerians for what they are, I envisage a situation whereby  genuine people in the country who are financially empowered via hard work may turn out to be targets of twisted minds who  would cash in on the situation and  cook up stories on innocent personalities. It is not enough for government to provide shelter for the whistle-blower; it should also start keeping their data with a view  for better organisation as it is in other climes.

Whistleblowers should operate like undercover detectives. Their tentacle should spread from one institution to another. One hopes that, if a whistleblower exposes any dirty deal in the Presidency, or any security agency, being a security personnel, such a person would not be regarded as a saboteur. Every innovation in this country is usually bastardised and abused. The actions of whistleblowers would deter looters and corrupt people, it might also become an avenue for “evil” whistleblowers to arm-twist or blackmail government officials.

It is also pertinent that while government is working towards protecting whistleblowers from retaliatory action, it is also necessary for the same government to enact a law that would prosecute evil whistleblowers with wrong motives. Once that is done, the music can start playing.

*Okezie is a commentator on public issues 

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