SERAP demands explanation from Buhari over N13bn Ikoyi recovery

With the controversy surrounding the ownership of the $43.4m, N23m and £27,000 discovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, a human rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), on Sunday, charged Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to consider addressing the nation with the intention of clarifying the issue, and resolve lingering doubts among Nigerians regarding the real owner(s) of the recovered money.

SERAP also called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to ensure legal backing for his government’s whistle-blowing policy by vigorously pursuing the passing by the National Assembly of the Whistle-blower Bills.”

SERAP in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, pointed out that government’s increasing reliance on whistle-blowers’ tips to fight corruption has to be backed by some level of transparency and accountability in the real identities of those claiming recovered cash.

“Clearing the doubts surrounding the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul would demonstrate that the president values transparency over secrecy, provide further encouragement to blow the whistle on governmental corruption, and enhance the public right to know.

“Democracy abhors secrecy, and for Nigerians to be able to hold elected leaders accountable, they must have access to information such as on the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul.

“This transparency is fundamental to the operation of the government’s whistle-blower policy, and inextricably rooted in the notions of good governance and the rule of law under the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended).

“No good comes from secrecy in governance, as officials who have become accustomed to operating without accountability are loath to relinquish the power that comes from conducting their business without public scrutiny.

“When public authorities resist efforts to shine a light on their activities, it gives the impression that there is something to hide.

“It’s counter-productive to overstate national security based secrecy needs, as secrecy encourages poorly informed and under-vetted decision-making.

“Public scrutiny is a prerequisite for changing harmful, entrenched practices.

“Rather than operating the whistle-blowers policy as hidden, mysterious mechanism at the far edge of democracy, this government should make the operation of policy more transparent and accessible to the public.

“The ‘sky will not fall’ if the true identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul are revealed.

“It’s clear that as the EFCC continues to uncover more suspected looted or ill-gotten cash, those blowing the whistle will need greater level of protection.

“But without outlawing retaliation and attacks against whistle-blowers, and taking a firm stance on protecting them, the incentive of bounty rewards would be negated, as potential whistle-blowers may be discouraged from performing invaluable public interest service.

“Continuing delay in the passing of the Whistle-Blower Bill would have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers and hinder the public’s ability to learn about the kind of cash haul found in Ikoyi and elsewhere across the country.

“It’s also contrary to Article 33 of the UN Convention on Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified.

“The convention obligates the government to put in place appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with the convention,” Mumuni pointed out.