Before we dive into our discourse, it is essential to establish a thorough comprehension of the concept of "whistleblowing".

Whistleblowing is the act of disclosing information, often by an employee, about activities within an organization, whether public or private, that are considered illegal, immoral, illicit, unsafe, or fraudulent. A whistleblower is someone who, without permission, exposes private or confidential information regarding an organization, usually in the context of misconduct or wrongdoing. This disclosure is made in the interest of public safety, accountability, and ethical standards, and whistleblowers often face personal risks for their actions.

Whistleblowers serve as essential agents in uncovering corruption and misconduct within organizations. Their actions expose activities such as bribery, embezzlement, money laundering, and other illicit practices, ultimately contributing to the dismantling of corruption networks. Notably, whistleblower disclosures have resulted in the recovery of substantial amounts in fraud cases, thereby safeguarding taxpayers' funds and ensuring that justice is served. It is evident that whistleblowing stands as one of the most potent tools for both detecting and preventing corruption and various forms of malpractice.

Instances of Whistleblowing

In September 2016, legislator Abdulmumin Jibrin faced a six-month suspension from the House of Representatives after he brought to light allegations of budget manipulation and fraudulent activities within the legislative chamber. Jibrin voiced concerns about the infiltration of corrupt elements within the House, which had turned the institution into a breeding ground for systemic corruption.

In 2014, then-President Goodluck Jonathan took the drastic step of suspending and replacing Lamido Sanusi as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. This move came after Sanusi exposed alleged corruption within the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), revealing the loss or misappropriation of billions in funds. Today, Sanusi has transitioned to a traditional leadership role, having been crowned as the Emir of Kano in June 2014.

Reporting mechanisms

  1. Internal Reporting Channels

Most whistleblowers opt for internal reporting, where they disclose misconduct by a colleague or superior within their organization. This is typically done through anonymous reporting mechanisms, often referred to as hotlines.

Internal whistleblowers bring concerns about the organization's wrongdoing to a higher authority within the company. For instance, an employee may report fraudulent activity by a co-worker to the CEO or the head of the human resources department.

In cases of internal whistleblowing, government investigations are typically not triggered, and there is no formal litigation. The organization addresses the issues internally without involving external authorities. However, there are instances where the company may choose to report such matters to the appropriate government agency to initiate a formal investigation, aiming to preempt more severe sanctions that may be imposed if the government independently uncovers the wrongdoing.

  • External reporting Channels

External whistleblowers take a different approach. They expose wrongdoing within a company to external authorities, such as law enforcement agencies, media organizations, regulatory bodies, and high-ranking government officials, amongst others. For instance, a contractor may divulge a significant fraudulent scheme to the appropriate government agency.

External whistleblowers engage with individuals or entities outside the organization to bring misconduct to light. Depending on the nature of the information, they may report wrongdoing to legal professionals, media outlets, law enforcement agencies, oversight organizations, or various local, state, or federal entities. In some cases, external whistleblowing may be incentivized through the promise of financial rewards.

Highlighting legal protections and considerations for whistleblowers

Nigeria currently lacks a comprehensive whistleblowing legislation that provides adequate protection for individuals who come forward to report wrongdoing. While the concept of whistleblowing has been in operation in the country, particularly within the banking sector, there is no all-encompassing legal framework in place.

In the context of whistleblowing within the Nigerian banking sector, the ethical report for First Bank of Nigeria in 2016 emphasized the significance of both the Central Bank of Nigeria's 2012 Guideline Section 3.1 and Section 5.3.1 of the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses. The former lays the foundation for whistleblowing in banks and other financial institutions, while the latter serves as an additional mechanism specifically within the banking sector. These guidelines collectively contribute to fostering a culture of accountability and transparency in financial institutions, with a focus on promoting ethical practices and reporting mechanisms.

The Whistleblowing Stopgap Policy

The Whistleblowing Stopgap Policy implemented in Nigeria in 2016 marked a pivotal moment in the nation's ongoing efforts to bolster transparency, accountability, and the exposure of corrupt practices. This initiative aimed to stimulate the reporting of mismanagement and the misappropriation of public funds and assets.

The year 2016 witnessed a growing apprehension concerning corruption and the urgent need for effective mechanisms to confront it. The Nigerian government recognized the necessity of providing incentives to individuals willing to disclose information pertaining to corrupt persons activities. To address this challenge, the Whistleblowing Stopgap Policy was introduced as a provisional measure while the development of comprehensive legislation was in progress. In the absence of formal legislation, the 2016 stopgap policy was established by the Federal Ministry of Finance. This policy was crafted to stimulate the reporting of malfeasance and the misappropriation of public funds and assets, with a particular focus on transgressions like corruption, extortion, and fraud.

The Whistleblower Protection Bill

Various attempts have been made to create whistleblowing legislation, including the introduction of Whistleblower Protection Bills in 2019. Despite receiving approval from the Senate, these bills did not evolve into law.

A notable aspect of the 2019 bill is its expansion of coverage beyond the 2016 stopgap policy. While the policy primarily focused on disclosures related to the mismanagement of public funds and assets, the 2019 bill now encompasses improper conduct by individuals, public officials, as well as private and public entities. While the bill represents a significant step forward, it faces scrutiny and limitations that require careful examination.

Protections Offered

  • The Whistleblower Protection Bill enshrines several crucial protections for whistleblowers. These include provisions that prevent victimization by employers or fellow employees.
  • According to section 3 of the bill, individuals who make disclosures can access the provided protections as long as they possess a reasonable basis to believe that the disclosed information is accurate, to the best of their awareness. In cases where an investigation is initiated under the bill, section 16(d) of the bill stipulates that those found providing misleading information may face penalties, including imprisonment for up to 1 year or a fine of NGN 100,000.
  • Whistleblowers are also granted the right to take legal action if they face victimization, dismissal, suspension, redundancy, involuntary transfer, harassment, or intimidation. These legal protections serve as a deterrent against retaliation.
  • Section 18 of the Bill deals with safeguarding whistleblowers, with a significant emphasis on protection against retaliation. An interesting aspect of this section is that it shifts the burden of proof onto the individuals who are the subjects of the complaint, requiring them to demonstrate that they did not engage in victimizing the whistleblower. Furthermore, if a whistleblower's disclosure places them in jeopardy of retaliatory actions, which could potentially harm their property, family members, or even their life, section 23(1) of the bill grants the whistleblower the right to request police protection.
  • This Bill stands as a paramount safeguard for the lives of those who risk themselves to expose corrupt practices in Nigeria.
  • Furthermore, the legislation explicitly stipulates that individuals who make disclosures should not face victimization from their employers or fellow employees. Moreover, it affirms that those who make such disclosures possess the legal right to take action if they encounter victimization, dismissal, suspension, redundancy, involuntary transfer, harassment, or any form of intimidation.

It is worth noting that the momentum generated by this interim policy is diminishing due to the absence of statutory backing. As of December 2, 2021, the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) released a five-year report on the 2016 policy, indicating that the initial progress made by the policy is waning.

The report acknowledges that, while many Nigerians are aware of the whistleblowing policy, they are hesitant to come forward as whistleblowers. This hesitancy may be attributed to the lack of comprehensive legal protection, which has led to a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of the current framework.

Furthermore, in November 2021, appeals persisted for the government to Pass the bill, as it remained in a state of inactivity, without progress or action.

The Significance of Anonymity in Whistleblowing

Anonymity is a critical element in whistleblowing as it allows individuals to come forward with information while shielding their identity. This protection empowers potential whistleblowers to reveal wrongdoing without fearing personal repercussions.

While anonymity is vital, it must be balanced with the need for Verifiable evidence. Maintaining a careful equilibrium between protecting whistleblowers' identities and providing sufficient evidence can be challenging but is essential for investigations and legal proceedings.

Legal protections are in place to safeguard the identities of whistleblowers. These safeguards ensure their confidentiality and safety, encouraging them to report misconduct without fear of retribution.

Retaliation and Legal Remedies

Nigeria lacks a designated whistleblower law that protects employees and citizens from retaliation if they report crime, corruption, or public health threats. Furthermore, Nigerian law does not recognize people who make such reports as whistleblowers. Consequently, there are no legal mechanisms to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

There is no dedicated government agency that receives and investigates reports from workplace whistleblowers, lends support or legal advice to whistleblowers, or offers them protection from retaliation and adverse consequences.

Whistleblowers can encounter various forms of retaliation, including job termination, demotion, harassment, isolation, and damage to their professional reputation.

To safeguard whistleblowers, various legal protections are in place, including anti-retaliation laws and whistleblower policies within organizations. These measures are specifically designed to shield individuals who report wrongdoing from facing adverse consequences.

In the event of retaliation, whistleblowers have access to legal remedies. These remedies often encompass compensation for damages, reinstatement to their previous position, and protection against any future retaliation. These provisions aim to encourage individuals to come forward with information about misconduct or illegal activities, ensuring their protection and promoting a culture of accountability and transparency within organizations

Preparing to Blow the Whistle

Before deciding to become a whistleblower, individuals should thoughtfully consider the potential consequences and ethical implications of their actions. It is crucial to obtain legal guidance to understand the rights, protections, and potential risks associated with whistleblowing.

Taking specific measures to safeguard one's well-being and interests is essential before blowing the whistle, helping to mitigate potential repercussions. This thoughtful approach involves a careful evaluation of the situation, seeking legal advice, and implementing strategies to minimize personal and professional risks. By doing so, individuals can navigate the complexities of whistleblowing with a better understanding of their rights and protections.

The protection of whistleblowers is essential for upholding transparency, accountability, and ethical standards in Nigeria. While the Whistleblower Protection Bill 2019 is a significant step, it requires refinement and clarity to offer more robust protections. Whistleblowers, potential and existing, must be aware of the available legal safeguards and considerations, as well as the evolving legal landscape. Their actions are essential in the fight against corruption and misconduct, and ensuring their rights and interests are protected is not just a legal duty but a moral imperative.

In conclusion, the legal considerations for whistleblowers in Nigeria reflect the broader global effort to nurture an environment where "truth-tellers" can come forward without fear of retribution. By continually enhancing these legal frameworks, Nigeria can bolster its commitment to good governance, accountability, and the welfare of its citizens. Whistleblowers remain the critical linchpin in achieving these objectives, and their protection should be paramount.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.