WHEN THE whistle-blower
policy was outlined by the Minister
of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, late
last year, there was considerable
debate over its viability and
appropriateness. Critics argued
that the policy was yet another
attempt by government to deflect
public attention from the biting
effects of the economic recession.
Others felt the policy would end
up like previous initiatives that
started with much promise but
subsequently progressed in fits and
In her address, the finance
minister announced that whistleblowers
would be rewarded with
five per cent of stolen public funds
recovered with their help. While
explaining the thinking behind
the policy, the minister indicated
that it was impossible for any
public funds looter to undertake
a transaction alone. They would
always require the help of various
professionals and intermediaries.
Therefore, those who
conceptualised the policy must
have envisioned it as a divide and
rule strategy for breaking the code
of silence that was stonewalling
many anti-graft investigations.
These wonks probably felt
that considerable actionable
information resided with bankers,
accountants, lawyers, family
members and co-conspirators of
public funds’ looters. By offering
anonymity and a financial reward
for information, they were sure
that billions of dollars and naira
in looted public funds could be
uncovered and repatriated into
government coffers.
It is still early days yet and more
time may be needed to adjudge the
winners of the debate that greeted
Adeosun’s announcement. But
one fact is unarguable: this policy
has started yielding results, great
results. And given the short period
and the returns so far, the policy
may well be one of the Buhari’s
administration’s greatest legacies.
In the seven short weeks since the
launch of the project by the ministry
of finance, our swashbuckling law
enforcement agency, the Economic
and Financial Crimes Commission,
has made some mind-boggling
recovery. A recent statement from
the government put the recovery
at $151m and N8bn. Some of the
recovered looted funds included
the sum of $136,676,600.51
recovered from a “secret” bank
account in a commercial bank;
N7bn and $15m from an unnamed
individual; and the $9.2m in cash
allegedly recovered from a former
Group Managing Director of the
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Andrew Yakubu. In
addition to the ministry of finance and
the EFCC, the Ministry of Justice/the
Office of the Attorney-General of the
Federation has played key roles in the
execution of the policy.
The range of agencies that have
harnessed the policy shows the
versatility of the policy and its
potential to promote an increasingly
synchronised approach to policy
formulation, planning and execution.
Of course, whistle-blowing as policy
deterrence against corruption in
the public sector is not a Nigerian
construct. Western countries, in
particular, have several time-tested
whistle-blowing initiatives that are
still serving their diverse purposes
long after their initiators have exited
public service. Adeosun and her
team would do well to learn from
best of these systems even as they
execute this policy within a peculiarly
Nigerian environment.
As those who provided information
cash their rewards, the minister
will need to ensure that adequate
safeguards are built in to prevent
abuse. It is important that the details
of whistle-blowers must be wellprotected.
Thus, it is critical that
the payment process is handled
at the highest levels and its details
only known to those with the
highest security clearance. It goes
without saying that those providing
such valuable information are
automatically at risk. The ultimate
test of the policy is the protection
of these informants. It is a test that
government must always pass with a
high A as it will encourage many more
whistle-blowers to come forward.
Additionally, specific controls must
be built in to ensure that rewards
are not claimed for information
that government already has in its
possession. It will be a disservice if
those within the investigative agencies
take credit for the discovery of stolen
funds that they should have recovered
in the ordinary course of their duties.
Every naira recovered can and must
be applied specifically to identifiable
projects that should be branded as
a permanent reminder of what the
funds have been applied to.
President Buhari’s tough anticorruption
reputation has given
rise to a high sense of expectation
that he would rapidly apprehend
the treasury looters and restore the
economy with recovered funds. That
expectation is not entirely misplaced.
The President and his advisers should
see the whistle-blowing policy as a
key driver in the efforts to discharge
this burden of expectation. Sadly, most
Nigerians in their frustrations with the
economy have little sense of exactly
how much was looted and the true
economic impact