By Joy Baba-Yesufu

The Coordinator, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) Chido Onumah has said protection of the whistleblower is key to the survival of the whistleblowing policy, maintaining that if people are not assured of their protection there is no way they will come out to blow the whistle.

Onumah stated this in Abuja at a capacity building workshop on protection for victimized whistleblowers held in Abuja.

He said AFRICMIL is engaging with lawyers, taking them through international good practice about whistleblower protection and also hearing from them on what they can do as citizens, as Nigerians to support the whistle blowing policy whether is providing support, probono services for whistleblowers or advice for whistleblowers on how they should go about engaging with the process.

According to him “our expectation is that we will form a coalition of probono lawyers who will support whistleblowers. Sometimes it is not about defending the whistle blower, it could just be about providing advice. So all of that will form part of the next stage of this intervention. We had this conversation or intervention with journalists, we have a coalition of journalists around whistleblower protection and advocacy. We are hoping to have something like that with lawyers around whistle blowers.

“What services lawyers can provide; what kind of advice lawyers can provide. Then beyond the protection of whistleblowers, what kind of contributions lawyers can make so that at the end of the day we have a robust civil society regime in Nigeria.

“Protection is not just for the whistleblower, for their families and loved ones because if you blow the whistle and you are exposed and you run away, they can target your spouse, husband, wife, uncle, children and aunties. Protection is all encompassing that whoever blows the whistle, the state and relevant institutions provide the requisite protection”.

Onumah further said another issue affecting the whistleblower policy is that of compensation adding that the government must respect that to encourage more people to come out and expose more acts of corruption.

“Whether we like it or not, the payment of compensation is part of the whistle blowing policy and we hope that eventually when the law is passed it will be part of it. Once it is part of that policy or law, you have to respect that. Is not for you to second guess people. People have the right to say that it is because of the money they want to blow the whistle that’s what the law says.

“The law says when you blow the whistle and money is recovered, you get a certain percentage. Attention to whistleblowing is dwindling over time and that is part of the challenge but another side of the challenge is advocacy around the whole whistle blowing policy” he added.

Also speaking at the workshop, Director, MacArthur Foundation, Kole Shettima said lawyers play a very critical role in the whistleblower policy because at the end of the day, whistle blowers might be taken to court and they need their support.

“We need their experience; we need their knowledge in order to protect those who may not have the resources to protect themselves. I think that legal support, protection for those who are blowing the whistle is very critical and very important” he said.

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