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Africa

Nigeria's whistle-blowers have little to celebrate

On this year's International Anti-Corruption Day, DW looks at the situation of Nigeria's whistle-blowers. They play an important role in the fight against corruption - but as Sam Olukoya reports, it comes at a cost.

While whistle-blowers are important in Nigeria's anti corruption drive, they remain highly vulnerable. Many have been sacked for exposing corruption in their places of work. They also face death threats and attacks.

Stanley Achonu knows that fate from first hand experience. He is an official of Budgit, a civil society group that monitors the implementation of budgets to ensure that Nigeria's public institutions operate in a transparent and accountable manner.

He remembers an incident where his group revealed in a meeting with a local community that a government official had collected large sums of money for a project he did not implement. The government official then sent thugs, Achonu said.

Attacks on anti-corruption crusaders

A portray picture of Stanley Achonu (DW/S. Olukoya)

Stanley Achonu fights corruption with his group Budgit

"They disrupted our meeting, attacked my colleagues who had gone to engage that community. Death threats were made, it turned violent. They insisted that we must leave or they would kill us. Someone had to ferry us out of that community," he told DW.

Many Nigerian journalists are also involved in revealing corrupt practices, even at high levels. Stella Nwofia of the International Press Centre in Lagos says many have paid a high price.

"Many times journalists who are involved in whistle-blowing are arrested, detained and nothing comes out of it. For example one journalist was beaten to a point of stupor and nothing was done about it. Many times, journalists are at risk for doing their job, bringing information to the people," Nwofia said.

Nigeria currently ranks 116 out of 180 countries on the press freedom index of international charity Reporters without Borders.

Calls for a law to protect whistle-blowers

With whistle-blowers facing a lot of risks, there are now calls for a law to protect them.

Nigeria Symbolbild Muhammadu Buhari Anti-Korruptions-Offensive (picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Owen)

Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari has promised to root out corruption

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is a government agency that prosecutes people involved in corrupt practices.

The commission's Rashidat Okoduwa says the lack of a law to protect whistle-blowers has seriously affected the ICPC's ability to prosecute corruption.

"We do hope it will be enacted very soon because it is a major obstacle to our work. People are afraid that when they blow the whistle on a corrupt act, they will be victimized and even their lives might be in danger. You will find that when you protect them and they know that their families are protected then they will come out more. We still have people reporting now, but they are doing it under a lot of fear," Okoduwa says.

The irony perhaps is that while on the one hand the government is fighting corruption, many attacks on whistle-blowers are being instigated or perpetrated by government officials who still want to remain corrupt inspite of the anti-corruption drive.