Whistleblowers Act is unknown to lawyers, says Akpomudje

Akpomudje-SANA lot of countries are building mechanisms to tackle the menace of corruption and the challenges that it poses to their economy. Anti-corruption discourse and the role of the whistleblowers in confronting the vice came to the front burner at a session on corruption during the recently concluded International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Vienna, Austria. Chief Albert Akpomudje SAN, who attended the session shares his thoughts with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE at the sidelines of the conference.

WHAT is your impression about the conference?
Decisionally, I think they have done very well. You cannot compare this with that of Japan last year. They spread out. The way it is, they have a lot of service areas. The whole thing is well spread out such that you don’t have concentration of people in one area. They made it so easy. And this time around, Nigerians did not come in their numbers unlike before, when it used to be more than double what we have now. And you can find out that those who are here this time around are the real IBA people. Unlike before, you see people loafing around, they never attend any session. But this time, we are all going to one session or the other. So, it is well.

What do you think is the reason for this?
I think that the number of people who registered this year for Vienna may not be up to the number for Boston and Japan, generally, apart from Nigeria. The population doesn’t seem to be too high. Maybe because of the prize. I may not be able to assess correctly. It looks a bit sparse this time around. Perhaps, they are learning on yearly basis how to make things easy for delegates.

You attended the anti-corruption session. What elicited your interest in that session?
You know our biggest problem in Nigeria is corrutpion and I wanted to see how other jurisdictions are coping with it. And the way it goes, it appears we have not even started. If you look at the point Nigerians raised, it is like a problem everybody knows. Every country wants to take it up on their own without involving other countries. May be, there should be a kind of convention that if you commit a crime in one country, and the proceed goes to another country, there should be a way the countries can cooperate so that at least the person does not get away with the crime. For example, they said you could start the prosecution here. Maybe the proceed is in another country and for you to get what is in another country, you are going to get involved in another litigation and involve lawyers. The cost of litigation actually puts some people off. You actually find out that once we see it as a common problem, we should globally try to solve it together. I buy that idea so much. The way the US wants to tackle it, is different from that of United Kingdom, it is different from that of Switzerland. It is different from other jurisdictions with minor differences. But if we can harmonise all these, things will be better for our world.

There was a question from a delegate from Canada as to the issue of whistleblower, indicating that they have similar challenge?

They have the same challenge. But in Nigeria, they said that the whistleblowers act has just been passed which most of us don’t know about. In Nigeria, honestly, unless there is a big incentive for whistleblowers, the effect could be very minimal. As they have expound in this session, your life, job, and your business are at risk. So, you could liquidate yourself as a whistleblower. So for you to be a whistleblower, it means that there must a huge incentive that will make you take the risk as a whistleblower as far Nigerian context is concerned. But for persons who have passion to fight corruption, it doesn’t matter if they loose their lives. They will want to do it. But such people are very few. That is the way I look at it.

How do you think that African lawyers in the face of the globalisation of the profession, will be able to brace up to the challenge?

This is where I feel very disappointed with the African Bar Association. The last successful conference was held in Nigeria. That was over 20 years ago in the days of Babangida. Since then, when the leadership came to us, with Idehen being the president of the African Bar, the whole thing died down. And looking at the role we play, that is the Nigerian Bar Association, it is only the NBA that can take the bull by the horn and revive the African Bar Association because, you can imagine our annual conferences, we won’t have delegates more than the IBA. So, if the Nigerian Bar Association can take it up, I am sure they will revive it. If you look at the last conference, we almost getting to the standard of the IBA. We haven’t get there. But we are copying them fast. We are now having sessions, which we were not used to before. In those days in the Nigerian Bar Association conferences, we just have a hall, sit and listen to one speaker. But now, we have sessions wth a wide range of topics. So if we can push ourselves into galvanising all other Africans countries, particularly South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and some of these countries. We can pull ourselves together and we would just go the way the IBA is going.

Which other session do you have interest in apart from the anti-corruption?
Interstingly, I am a litigator. I attended most of the sessions on how to increase your clients, value your clients and how to retain clients. The lady Pippa Blakemore, is always a yearly presenter. I was in her session. I also attended the one of Kofi Annan. It was quite okay and some other ones.

How can we draw from the lessons learnt on the deliberations?
I think on yearly basis because of our active participation on IBA, you find out that our standard is also improving. All we need to do is to get those who can devote time to sit down and give us an action plan, following the programmes of the IBA. Perhaps, relate it more to our peculiar situation in Nigeria. Now, in Japan last year, we had a lot of disscusion on Africa generally. I really enjoyed it. But this year, there was no much attention. With our growing participation on yearly basis, I am sure that we would be able to influence the organisers to put more sessions that are beneficial to us because if you go to some of these sessions, it has nothing to do with you. You just go there and you see abstracts. That is why when we see general interest topics like this, we want to go and listen. So, it is a gradual process. We are moving very fast and will get there.

After waiting for months before President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled the names of his cabinet nominees, a lot of Nigerians reacted as to whether the names worth the waiting. What is your view on this?

There is nothing you do that satisfies everybody, no matter how well-intended you may want to be. With all due respect to the president, some of the people he picked are okay with the exception of Audu Ogbeh. His name came to me as a surprise because I was not really expecting it. But let them go along with the new thinking of the president. The president as a person, I admire him. For one, he looks as someone who gives no damn about how to make wealth. He is simple. He is not aspring to acquire wealth. That is a big plus for him. So, if his ministers can follow his footsteps, because they are equally not poor people, they will make name for themselves. And maybe, that will be the stepping stone upon which this Nigeria will progress. Some people were of the opinion that Fashola will do the bidding of his master and I ask, what does Tinubu want now that he has not got? They also listen to the criticisms of the people. So, when they get there, they will also try to prove everybody wrong by doing against the negative expectation of some Nigerians who feel they are there to do their masters bidding. Go there do the right thing and make your name, and your name will be written in the sand of time.

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