$229,000 fraud: Group drags Onyeama to Aso Rock over whistle-blower

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  • demands immediate reinstatement

Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, is under fire. Reason: He has been dragged to Aso Rock over the sack of a whistle-blower, Ntia Thompson. Thompson was fired for exposing an alleged $229,000 fraud in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa’s Notice Board.

In a statement issued in Lagos and made available to The National Daily, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has sent an open letter to the embattled Minister requesting him to use his “leadership position to ensure and facilitate the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of the sacked whistle-blower.

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SERAP, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), known for its anti-corruption advocacy, told 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, in the letter by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, argued: “By sacking Thompson, your ministry would seem to shield information on the alleged fraud that the public has a right to know.” The group declared: “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 Thompson.”
The letter copied to Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), 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 Thompson would send a message to all potential whistle-blowers that your ministry lacks the commitment to their protection.”
SERAP is seriously concerned that Thompson’s 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’s 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 Thompson should never be suppressed 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’s right to know. The alleged fraud involving officials of the DTCA should not be kept hidden from public view, especially given the government’s whistle-blowing policy and the fact that Nigerians are entitled to a right to information of all kinds.” 
“Thompson’s public interest and whistle-blowing activity has made him vulnerable to attack, hostility, punishment, and other forms of retaliation. SERAP argues that 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 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 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.”
Efforts by The National Daily to get the reaction of the Foreign Ministry proved abortive as Onyeama or any of his aides was said to be unavailable for any comments.

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