Two bills aimed at protecting whistleblowers and witnesses directly involved in the prosecution of certain criminal cases scaled second reading for committee level consideration at the Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate harmonised the two bills on the ground of similar intendment, following the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume’s advice.
Isiaka Adeleke (APC-Osun) originally proposed the bill for an Act to provide for the establishment and operation of a programme to enable certain persons to receive protection in relation to certain inquiries, investigations or prosecutions (SB. 157).
The second bill, one for an Act to protect persons making disclosures for public interest and other forms reappraisal, 2016 (SB. 158) was proposed by Abiodun Olujimi (PDP-Ekiti).
In his lead debate, Mr. Adeleke said a law protecting witnesses was usually required in the prosecution of organised crimes like terrorism.
In such trials, Mr. Adeleke said the witnesses would be allowed to wear masks, bear pseudo names and receive protection from authorities.
On her part, Mrs. Olujimi said “this is a cardinal bill in the fight against corruption.”
She said fighting corruption hung on effective protection of whistleblowers.
She mentioned three instances at the Ministry of Aviation, Women Development Centre and the Police Service Commission where whistleblowers were fired.
Similarly, Abdulmumin Jibrin, former chairman of the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives, was just recently suspended for 181 legislative days on the ground he breached members’ privilege.
Mr. Jibrin had hit Speaker Yakubu Dogara and other lawmakers with wide ranging accusations of abuse of office and corruption in the 2016 budget process.
Dino Melaye, APC-Kogi, expressed support for the harmonised proposed legislation.
Mr. Melaye said a similar bill was presented in the sixth and seventh Assemblies, but that paucity of funds and lack of political will prevented the passage of the bill.
“The ritual of presenting and representing this bill will end with this Assembly,” Mr. Melaye said.
Although Messrs. Adeleke and Olujimi said the proposed bill did not have financial implication, Senate Whip, Sola Adeyeye, said it was impossible to protect whistleblowers and witnesses without funds.
“Those who step out to speak in good conscience should be protected,” Mr. Adeyeye said.
Only two persons – Messrs Adeyeye and Melaye – contributed to the debate before Senate President Bukola Saraki called for voice vote.
There was unanimous support, and consequently, Mr. Saraki ruled the “ayes have it!”
He referred the two bills to Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for harmonization and review.
The committee should report back in two weeks, Mr. Saraki ruled.