Musings on whistle-blowing

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

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