THE Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has sent an open letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, requesting him to use his -leadership position to ensure and facilitate the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of whistle-blower Ntia Thompson sacked through a post on the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa- notice Board for exposing an alleged $229,000 fraud in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
The organization urged Mr Onyeama to -act swiftly to comply with the whistle-blowing policy of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, and international standards, which guarantee full protection and restitution for any whistle-blower against harassment, intimidation, victimisation or any form of retaliation”.
SERAP said this in a letter dated March 10, 2017 and signed by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale.
It said: -By sacking Mr Thompson, your ministry would seem to shield information on the alleged fraud that the public has a right to know. Therefore, should you fail and/or neglect to act as requested within seven days after the receipt and/or publication of this letter, SERAP will be compelled to pursue appropriate legal action against your ministry to challenge the unfair treatment and victimisation of Mr Thompson”
The letter, copied to Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, reads in part: -We also urge you to act swiftly to identify those involved in the alleged fraud and hand them over to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation and prosecution, as well as recover any stolen public funds. Impunity for reprisals against Mr Thompson would send a message to all potential whistle-blowers that your ministry lacks the commitment to their protection.
-SERAP is seriously concerned that Mr Thompson- unfair treatment by the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply for disclosing alleged fraud in the ministry is a fundamental violation of his right to freedom of expression, and breach of President Buhari- whistle-blowing policy, which seeks to protect individuals who make access to such allegations possible.
-SERAP also believes that the allegations of fraud disclosed by Mr Thompson should never be supressed or withheld as a matter of public interest, transparency and respect for the rule of law. Harassing, intimidating and punishing whistle-blowers creates disincentives for public disclosure of allegations of fraud and corruption and damages an important tool of transparency and accountability.
-SERAP believes that protecting whistle-blowers encourages accountability, increases the costs for those who might engage in fraud and corruption, and advances the public- right to know. The alleged fraud involving officials of the DTCA should not be kept hidden from public view, especially given the government- whistle-blowing policy and the fact that Nigerians are entitled to a right to information of all kinds.
-Mr Thompson- public interest and whistle-blowing activity has made him vulnerable to attack, hostility, punishment, and other forms of retaliation. SERAP argues that Mr Thompson, like any other whistle-blowers, is entitled to the right to impart information, and ought to be offered adequate legal protection because Nigerians have the right to receive information such as on the allegations of fraud involving senior officials of your ministry.
-The right to receive information advances several principles that underlie human rights, encourage participation in public affairs, and advance the ability of individuals such as Mr Thompson to seek out information of all kinds. Nigerians should enjoy access not only to information about the policies and practices of the government, but also to information about whistle-blowing.
-SERAP therefore urges you to use your leadership position to promote and ensure within your ministry a culture that values transparency, accountability, and public participation and protection of whistle-blowers by facilitating the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Mr Thompson back to his position as assistant director with the DTCA.
-SERAP urges you to encourage rather punish the practice of whistle-blowing by establishing within your ministry effective and protective channels for whistle-blowers to motivate remedial action, and effective redress and protection against retaliation. Without protection against retaliation and the possibility of redress, few would disclose allegations of fraud and corruption.
-SERAP notes that article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers. The African Charter on Human and Peoples” Rights enshrines the same right in its article 9, which emphasizes that the freedom applies to information and ideas of all kinds. Similarly, the United Nations Convention against Corruption which Nigeria has ratified protects persons who report corruption offences.
-SERAP has been fully briefed by Ntia Thompson and we are in possession of documents including Mr Thompson- petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on allegations of fraud and corruption involving some top officials of the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, DTCA.
-Mr. Ntia, an assistant director with the DTCA in charge of the SERVICOM Unit, was sacked on 7 February 2017 following his petition to the EFCC that $229,000 and N800, 000 were allegedly diverted by top officials of the DTCA. Although the money was withdrawn from the Nigerian Technical Cooperation Fund, NTCF, there was no evidence it was used for the purpose it was meant.
-The NTCF is a trust fund domiciled with the African Development Bank, AfDB, but jointly managed by the bank and the agency on behalf of the Federal Government. According to our information, officials of the DTCA withdrew the money for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the NTCF, for which $36,852.00 was allocated. The amount was also meant for the monitoring of various projects executed from the Trust Fund across Africa. N800, 000.00 was allegedly spent for SERVICOM “sensitization seminar” in the Directorate, which the EFCC has asked the officials involved to return”