A civil society organization, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to resolve the controversy surrounding the ownership of the N13billion ($43.4million N23million and £27,000) found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos.
In a statement signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP said President Buhari needs to urgently address Nigerians on the matter and resolve doubts about the real owner(s) of the cash found.
Both Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and the National Intelligence Agency have claimed ownership of the cash, raising doubts on the real owners.
SERAP also called on President Buhari to vigorously push for the passage of the Whistleblower's Bill by the National Assembly, so as to give the whistleblowing policy a legal backing. “The government’s increasing reliance on whistleblowers’ tips to fight corruption has to be backed by some level of transparency and accountability in the real identities of those claiming recovered cash. Clearing the doubts surrounding the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul would demonstrate that the president values transparency over secrecy, provide further encouragement to blow the whistle on governmental corruption, and enhance the public right to know,” SERAP stated.
The civil society organization explained that for Nigerians to be able to hold elected leaders accountable, they must have access to information such as the real identities of those behind the huge sums found in Ikoyi. "This transparency is fundamental to the operation of the government’s whistleblower policy and inextricably rooted in the notions of good governance and the rule of law under the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended,” noted SERAP.
It maintained that secrecy will hurt governance in the country, noting that government officials, who have become used to conducting their affairs without public scrutiny, will be further encouraged to be less than transparent.
"When public authorities resist efforts to shine a light on their activities, it gives the impression that there is something to hide. It’s counter-productive to overstate national security based secrecy needs, as secrecy encourages poorly informed and under-vetted decision-making,” the organization noted.
SERAP counseled that the Federal Government should make the whistleblower's policy less opaque because transparency and accountability are necessary to fight corruption. SERAP maintained that the sky will not fall if the true identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul are revealed.
“It’s clear that as the EFCC continues to uncover more suspected looted or ill-gotten cash, those blowing the whistle will need a greater level of protection. But without outlawing retaliation and attacks against whistle-blowers, and taking a firm stance on protecting them, the incentive of bounty rewards would be negated, as potential whistleblowers may be discouraged from performing invaluable public interest service,” it added.
While in agreement with the policy of giving whistleblowers a percentage of recovered loot, which it described as the game changer, SERAP, however, wants the Federal Government to address risks to which whistleblowers are exposed, especially reprisals and attacks.
“The government should ensure that the National Assembly expedites the process of passing the Whistleblower Bill, as ensuring that the bill is passed without further delay would recognize the necessity of whistleblowers and the value they add to the anti-corruption fight by reporting otherwise unknown corruption-related information. It would also ensure that whistleblowers are fully protected from any retaliation and attacks they may experience and that the government fully appreciates the information they provide,” SERAP stated.
Delay in the passing of the bill, it warned, will adversely affect potential whistleblowers and hurt the chances of the public to have information about the kind of cash haul found in Ikoyi and elsewhere across the country.
SERAP added that further delay is also contrary to Article 33 of the UN Convention on Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified.
"The convention obligates the government to put in place appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offenses established in accordance with the convention,” said SERAP.