Realising that the anti-corruption war is not a battle government can win on its own without the input of the people, CORA plans to mobilize citizens as the critical success factor in the war against corruption in Nigeria, and staff unions and officials in the target agencies.
Some of the activities that will be undertaken under this project include public sensitization on the whistle-blower guideline, operation of an online platform (www.corruptionanonymous.org) to aggregate the challenges and issues emanating from the implementation of the whistle blower policy, training for targeted project associates, staff unions and officials, advocacy, media engagement (including mobilisation of youth on social media) and technical support to administrators of the whistle-blower guideline.
CORA will address the inherent weakness in the prevention/control mechanism of the war against corruption. It will refocus the anti-corruption war by placing citizens in the forefront of the campaign. The idea is to use citizens to win the war against corruption by building their confidence and support for the whistle-blower guideline in a way that is acceptable, credible and effective.
The project will address the usual fear nursed by potential whistle-blowers that their safety may be compromised, or that they could be short-changed (where there is a recovery) and officials in agencies responsible for managing and implementing the policy may undermine the rules of the system, among other things. We want to seize the opportunity of the moment, that is, the launching of the federal government’s Whistle Blower guideline, and some of the breakthroughs already reported to consolidate the gains, empower those in charge of the process, and boost support for the guideline in major government agencies.
Goals of CORA:
The goal of this project is to promote implementation of the new whistleblower guideline by educating and mobilizing active involvement of citizens, citizens’ groups and staff of key federal revenue agencies, and engaging the Federal Ministry of Finance and anti-corruption agencies to improve critical architecture for the safety of whistle-blowers and integrity of the guideline. In this regard, CORA will pursue the following specific objectives:
- Promote active citizens’ involvement in the whistle-blower guideline,
- Canvass for proper implementation and accountability in the guideline
- Promote partnership among critical stakeholders involved in the implementation of the guideline
Key beneficiaries and target audiences:
To achieve these set goals, the project will work with broad spectrum of civil society, leadership and staff unions of federal revenue agencies (including the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, and staff unions of commercial banks) to sensitize Nigerians on how to make use of the window of anonymous reporting provided by the whistle blower initiative to report corruption. The project will also engage anticorruption agencies and the federal government of Nigeria to strengthen capacity on utilizing the new initiative and ensuring follow ups on cases reported by anonymous reporters.
The primary beneficiaries are staff unions, and officials of the federal revenue agencies, government officials, anti-corruption networks and activists, and journalists. AFRICMIL was part of the civil society advocacy on the Freedom of Information bill. Working with the Open Society Justice Initiative, AFRICMIL has sought to test the effectiveness of the law by making FOI requests of the asset declarations of past and present top public officers in Nigeria. AFRICMIL has a long-standing working relationship with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and has started working with the Commission in ensuring that whistle blowers receive attention.
This is a platform where issues of whistle blowing, including challenges that whistle blowers face, will be documented. The site will help raise awareness about the impact of corruption and the need for the public to be involved in the fight against corruption. Corruption Anonymous will aggregate the reports, information, documents, views and perceptions of Nigerians on corruption and financial impropriety in various sectors of the Nigerian society as well as the different tiers of government. It will also receive and transmit reports of alleged corruption to anti-corruption agencies and monitor their response.
Building partnership and coordination among anti-corruption agencies and the Federal Ministry of Finance:
The goal is to ensure a standard operating system for handling reports by whistle-blowers. At the moment, there are no clear rules on how or which agency is actually responsible for managing reports. While the Federal Ministry of Finance currently hosts the website, the ministry has no investigative powers and would have to liaise with the anti-corruption agencies (including the EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau and the Police, among others) to act on reports. AFRICMIL will facilitate discussions among the relevant agencies to generate coordination and information sharing mechanisms. This is an important part of ensuring proper implementation and boosting public confidence.
Training for targeted project partners:
CORA will train targeted project partners for the purpose of increasing their understanding and ensuring their active involvement in the promotion of the whistle blower policy. Focus will be on revenue generating agencies, including leaders of staff unions and officials of Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, and staff unions of commercial banks. Several allegations of corruption involve some of these agencies. By mobilising staff and union members, and officials of these agencies, AFRICMIL hopes to take the fight against corruption to the doorstep of the people most involved.
CORA will embark on focused advocacy targeted at MDAs, anti-corruption institutions, media and relevant CSOs to protect and ensure transparent implementation of the whistle-blower policy. In this regard, it would partner with other Foundation grantees to provide technical assistance to agencies and groups responsible for ensuring a Whistle Blower Act in Nigeria. The advocacy would take the form of regular roundtables to assess performance and gaps in the implementation of the whistle-blower policy, expert forums to discuss public engagement, the role of media, the role of legislators, the role of citizens, etc.
Part of the advocacy will be to follow up on reported cases of corruption, particularly those of public interest to ensure they are acted upon. We will monitor reported cases and reach out to the relevant anti-corruption agency to act on these cases.
CORA has started doing this, for example, by contacting the EFCC on the ongoing case of Ntia Thompson, the Assistant Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was dismissed in January 2017 for reporting financial fraud in the Ministry to the EFCC in April 2016. We took up his case with the anti-graft agency and this has led to a renewed investigation into the case. Public confidence in the whistleblower policy will be reinforced when the public gets assurance that their reports will be acted upon.
Social-media engagement (including mobilisation of youth on social media):
This will involve active engagement with young bloggers and youth (boys and girls) active on the social media. CORA will collaborate with young bloggers (with large followership) to educate the public and get citizens’ feedback on the whistle-blower policy. CORA plans to hold a number of online dialogues, conferences with relevant agencies where young people and the general public will be able to ask questions and provide regular feedbacks on their experience from engaging the whistle-blower guideline. The forums will provide useful feedback necessary to refine and/or strengthen implementation and architecture of the policy.
Public feedback system:
CORA will organize town hall meetings, interactive radio sessions and use the online platform, Corruption Anonymous to track reported cases and actions and report back to anti-corruption agencies the feedback received from the public. The feedback received from the anti-corruption agencies will also be communicated to the public to improve transparency and strengthen public confidence in the whistle blower policy.
Technical support to administrators of the whistle-blower policy:
CORA, working with its partners, anticipates providing training and assistance to the agencies responsible for administering the whistle blower guideline. We will work with the agencies to ensure relevant staff in charge of receiving, reviewing, documenting and analysing reports have the required competences. We will canvass a centralised data/information collation and processing system to avoid duplication. It will also contribute to safety and integrity of reports and reporters (whistle-blowers). We will facilitate learning exchanges between the agencies and other countries (with functional whistle-blower policy/legislation).
Policy implications of CORA:
The aim of this project is to empower citizens to become the catalyst in the fight against corruption by supporting the Whistle Blower Initiative of the government. The success of this project will show that government policies can be effective if they get the desired input from relevant stakeholders and that winning the war on corruption requires urgent holistic attention and a creative response that is both civil society oriented and sustainable.
The policy implication is that the public and civil society are critical partners in any effort by government to win the war against corruption and enhance accountability in public office. Corruption reduces public revenue, resulting in poor spending in education, healthcare and other social services. Corruption impedes businesses and endangers the banking and financial sectors. Corruption feeds organised crime and radicalization. It undermines the rule of law and democracy and, above all, has been identified as the main destructive force against the development of Nigeria.
Considering Nigeria’s weak institutions and the endemic nature of corruption in the country as well as the cost and challenge of prosecuting corruption, the success of this project will highlight the importance of prevention in the war against corruption. It will show that given the opportunity, citizens can do something about corruption. And if the atmosphere is conducive, they are willing to report cases of corruption and demand accountability from the state as well as its institutions.
Lessons of CORA:
There will be many lessons to learn from this project. For several years, the war against corruption in Nigeria has been limited or perceived to be one that government alone has the capacity to prosecute. The citizens largely out of ignorance or lethargy under-estimated their own capacity to significantly impact the outcome of the campaign. They lament the problem and simply move on with normal life. The civil society engagement on its part, robust as it may be, has largely been limited to talk without action. Civil society groups are often restricted to advocacy roles with demands that are hardly met by those who should act.
Although government has continually urged the citizens to complement its effort by playing active role in the anti-corruption war, it has never consciously enlisted the citizens’ support by way of a policy decision. The whistle-blower initiative represents the first-time government would be using a policy instrument to ask for citizens’ participation in the war against corruption. Its announcement underscores the current administration commitment to engage in a more concrete manner a menace that has been identified as the central reason for Nigeria’s under-development. The whistle blower initiative presents a unique opportunity for Nigerians and civil society elements to take the front seat in prosecuting the fight against corruption by reporting corrupt activities and sustaining the pressure to ensure action is taken.
The most important thing AFRICMIL expects to learn from this project is to see how this new experiment of will change the face of Nigeria’s fight against corruption. We would like to experience the impact of the funded activities in terms of scope, acceptability, effectiveness and the general attitude of the citizens towards the idea of reporting retail corruption under anonymity.
Similarly, it will be interesting to learn how, and under what condition if any, citizens will subscribe to this initiative and therefore champion the fight against corruption. Another area of interest will be the effect of the synergy between government, civil society and the media in the fight against corruption. This is the first time these three groups will be combining to take action against corruption.
Looking forward; institutionalizing whistle blowing:
One of the things from this project that could be institutionalized is the encouragement of revenue-collection agencies like Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, and staff unions of commercial banks, as well as the Ministries and the MDAs to adopt the whistleblower guideline as a way of fighting corruption and ensuring accountability in the public sector. The other is the concept of civic engagement and citizen reporting.
Replicating this project can lead to increased accountability and transparency in the management of public funds. It is hoped that the more accountable the government becomes, the higher will be Nigeria’s ranking on the indicators of openness and ease of doing business.
We also intend to stepdown the initiative for grassroots community-based (CBOs).
The next stage of this work is to sustain the notion of whistle blowing across board; the passage of the Whistle Blower Act as a basis for strengthening the war against corruption by protecting whistle blowers and the encouragement of the formation of a civil society coalition around whistle blowing to ensure broad acceptance of the whistle-blower initiative.