By Cecilia Ijuo
Kaduna – The Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee has called for the speedy passage of the Whistle Blower Bill currently before the National Assembly.
The Co-Chairman of the committee, Prof. Muhammed Tabiu, made the call at a three-day Network Meeting of Justice Sector Reform Teams Conference in Kaduna on Tuesday.
The meeting was organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with other stakeholders and funded by the European Union.
The meeting, which is aimed at addressing various issues in the justice system for a more effective justice delivery, has participants drawn from 25 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Tabiu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said that speedy passage of the bill had become expedient in view of the achievements of the present policy on whistle-blowing by the Federal Government.
He commended the government for its effort in that regard, but stated that it was expedient to enact a law to make it more effective.
According to him, the essence is to ensure that it outlives the life span of the present administration.
The don also commended the National Assembly for passing the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill and other relevant laws towards improved governance.
He urged the lawmakers to extend the zeal put into passing other bills to the whistle-blower bill in view of its importance.
According to him, given the implementation of the policy, there are strong indications that when enacted, it will serve as a veritable tool in the fight against corruption.
“We commend and appreciate what the Federal Government has done even though the bill on the policy has not been passed.
“ We should have a law on it. There has been a bill in the National Assembly for some years now and it is high time it was made a law.
“The effort, advocacy and lobbying to see that the bill is passed into law is still continuing, including from my organisation, the Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee, the UNODC, DFID and others.
”We are all engaging with the National Assembly to see that this law is enacted.
“Yes, having a law may not be all but it is very important because it means that the policy has been institutionalised and it will last beyond any particular administration.
“Also, making the policy a law will create clarity about what it involves because there will be a piece of written legislation that people can look at and there will be interpretation by the courts,’’ he said.
Tabiu said that the advantage of the current implementation of the policy was that it would enable the national assembly to include or expunge items relevant or irrelevant items in the bill already before it.
He stressed that implementation of the policy would help the legislature in passing an all-encompassing bill, adding that lessons and experiences gathered through the implementation process would be helpful.
The chairman urged the legislature to collaborate with relevant stakeholders in making this effort a reality.
On the meeting, he explained that it was for participants to exchange ideas to review the reform effort being undertaken by the various teams in improving the justice system in the country.
He pointed out that the meeting was also aimed at taking a critical look at emerging issues and agreeing on common actions in addressing them.
“The people here came from various components of the justice system in various states and as such, we are addressing a variety of issues which boils down to having a more effective justice delivery system.
“The Federal Government has shown the way by introducing the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and about four or five states have introduced the same law.
“But you know Nigeria is a federation and as such, we need more states to introduce that law because it addresses the major problems in our legal system.
“For instance, the law takes care of delay in justice delivery process and rights violation.
“It also takes care of lack of coordination among various actors in the system, including police, prisons authority, Justice Ministry, lawyers among others.
“Other issues we are dealing with include sexual violence. A system has been developed where sexual assault referral centres are being created.
“We have some of the centres in Kaduna, Kano, Niger and a few other states, while we are working to have them in all the states of the federation,’’ he said.
Tabiu also said that the teams were working on removing burdens from the formal justice system by way of institutionalizing Alternative Dispute Resolution system, adding, ”It is not every issue that required attention of the court”.
He said that mediation centres and community law centres among others had already been established in states.
The Secretary of the Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee, Mr Felix Okojie, said passing the whistle-blower bill would not only help in fighting corruption but ensure good governance.
He noted that with the momentum and public interest the policy had generated, passing it into law would fine-tune some grey areas that might affect its implementation.
“Let us hope that the momentum the policy is gathering will further engender the national assembly to look into the bill with a view of passing it.
“This is so that we can have legislation in place for dealing with whistle-blowing. We will continue to advocate and interface with the national assembly with a view to persuading them to do the needful,’’ he said.
Okojie added that “we are constantly working with the national assembly.
“In fact, the national assembly is represented in our committee and we engage with the institution in ensuring articulation of bills that the executive transmits for legislative action.
“That is how the Administration of Criminal Justice Act came about.’’
Okojie assured that the committee would continue to work to reposition the justice system in the country, given its impact on governance generally.
He also said that the committee would continue to take a look at various challenges in the sector, proffer solutions and ensure implementation of the solutions.