Musings on whistle-blowing
IN a society where a common corollary of economic hardship of the people is their affliction with a cringe mentality, it is not surprising why it requires exemplary courage to be a whistle-blower. In fact, in a society where heroes and heroines in this regard are elusive, such courage is easily dismissed as bordering on the quixotic.
Forget about politicians who claim to love the country and that they are willing to die for it. If they were as sincere as they claim, why do they get involved in all manner of egregious financial scams at the expense of the nation? Why have we not seen one politician who has really sacrificed so much to demonstrate his patriotism?
We pretend by not saying it. But the fact remains that a cryptic belief of Nigerians is that the country is not worth dying for. It is not because the citizens do not have patriotic blood flowing in their veins. But it is because the state does not provide the environment to express such patriotism that may incur a tragic fate.
The citizens are sufficiently aware that the leaders who are the representatives of the state who are supposed to provide such a conducive environment would not do so. Or, why would the citizens sacrifice their lives when the leaders and their families are ensconced in ill-gotten cocoons of comfort that are far removed from the misery of the bulk of the population? And this is why even soldiers who have vowed to sacrifice their lives in the defence of the nation do not hesitate to renounce this pledge in the face of danger to their lives. Think of the soldiers who deserted the battlefield of Boko Haram because they were expected to fight with their bare arms and the point becomes clear.
Clearly, cases of whistle-blowing are not common in our society mostly because the whistle-blower can be silenced through job termination, threats, cash or guns. Despite this, out of a sense of patriotism, a citizen may attempt to be a whistle-blower to expose a wrongdoing in a government or private organisation.
But it is after the whistle-blowing that the gravity of the fecklessness of the state would be thrown into sharp relief before the person. Take the case of Justice Olamide Folahanmi Oloyede, a high court judge of Osun State who blew the whistle on the alleged maladministration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola.
From the outset, it is necessary to state that this writer is by no means attesting to the integrity of Oloyede’s allegation. But this writer is only interested in the baleful lot of a citizen who dares blow the whistle to alert the concerned authorities to a wrongdoing.
According to Oloyede, it was because of the financial recklessness of the governor that the state government has been hobbled by a financial crisis that has denied workers and pensioners access to their financial entitlements for months. But the state House of Assembly has exonerated the governor from the charge. The action of the lawmakers is not surprising in a democracy where they rapturously endorse the policies and actions of the executive because of personal gain.
Ever since Oloyede blew the whistle, she has become almost a persona non grata in her state. Even her life and job are now being threatened. A woman has sent a petition to the highest judicial body in the country, the National Judicial Council (NJC) accusing her of husband-snatching. The woman claims to have only ‘recently’ discovered an affair that has been going on since 2011.
The NJC has asked the judge to respond to the query and this she has done. However, there is the notion that the woman’s husband has actually divorced her and that this case has only come up in a bid to discredit Oloyede for daring to embarrass Aregbesola. After this, the NJC has sent Oloyede another query to respond to a petition by a group asking the judicial body to sanction her. Besides, pressure groups have sprung up and they have become sources of strident calls for the sacking of Oloyede.
What runs through the positions of those who are opposed to Oloyede’s stand is that she has been used by opposition politicians to embarrass Aregbesola. But those who canvass this position do not grant the public the details of who exactly used Oloyede to level the charge of financial mismanagement against the governor .
In the citizens’ dealings with the police, one can also see the obstacles to whistle-blowing in this part of the world. A citizen who suspects a crime and reports it often becomes the hunted. Once the person who should actually be considered a suspect musters enough financial resources, dubious police personnel inform the suspected criminal of the person who reports the case.
In the worst cases, the informants have not only been intimidated , they have been obliterated. It is the same situation when it comes to whistle-blowing on the corrupt activities of public office holders. The public officers who have the state powers at their disposal readily deploy them to eliminate the whistle-blower.
At a time global economic crisis has made employment elusive, it would be difficult to persuade a citizen to blow a whistle to expose the wrongdoing of his or her employer whether in the private or public sector. Yet, whistle-blowing should be a crucial part of the ongoing campaign against corruption.
If the government would like to encourage whistle-blowing the citizen who does this should not be the hunted. The government must provide the environment for the protection of the whistle-blower. There cannot be effective whistle-blowing in a society where the caprices of the state and employers are the rules. On account of the developing nature of our society, there are many things that are wrong with our leaders at almost every level of government.
The citizen who attempts to point them out with a view to correcting them is exposed to persecution. The state which the whistle-blower attempts to help may not shield him or her.
The bulk of the responsibility for the success of whistle-blowing rests on the state. It is the state through its agencies like the police that can determine how far whistle-blowing can go.
Even if a whistle-blower has enough money to sustain himself or herself after being sacked from a job, and to respond to litigation that may ensue, to what extent can he or she provide security for himself or herself? To what extent can the whistle-blower ensure that he or she is not eliminated through one of the many means open to the criminally minded persons in the society? It is only when the government is determined to provide protection and get to the root of a wrongdoing on which a whistle is blown that the whistle-blower can be safe and the culture of whistle-blowing fostered.
• Dr. Onomuakpokpo is a member of The Guardian Editorial Board