The Nigeria Senate recently passed the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill. The Bill was passed to help ensure the safety of citizens who blow the whistle against public officers and public bodies that indulge in improper conducts. This is a welcome development.
But what’s not welcomed about the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill is the embarrassing absence of provisions on data protection and privacy.
For a Bill that was passed in July 2017 and a Bill that greatly depends on sensitive information—usually confidential information—to achieve it’s statutory purposes, it’s shocking to find that the Bill has just a single section on a data-protection related matter. Section 17 of the Bill only generally criminalizes the act of revealing confidential information under the Bill. And the penalty for misusing confidential information? A negligible fine not exceeding N100,000 or imprisonment for a term not more than one year, or both! It’s shocking. It’s a thumb down on data protection and privacy.
The drafters should have ensured that whistle blowers are adequately protected with elaborate provisions on handling of protected disclosures under the Act. Without any elaborate data protection under the Bill, how does the Bill protect a whistle blower from the detrimental actions of human agents who receive these protected disclosures in a digital age? How about the whistle blower’s right to privacy after making a protected disclosure to the Public Complaints Commission?
Data protection and privacy are serious issues. From the point of view of a data protection and privacy analyst, the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill’s inadequacy in this regard calls for serious whistle blowing—urgent whistle blowing on its alarming threat to data protection and privacy before it’s too late.
And talking about being too late, it is perhaps late in the day to shout down the restriction of the provisions of the Bill to improper conducts of public officers and public bodies only.
The Bill has restricted itself to improper conducts by public officers and public bodies only. How about the private sector? Improper conducts are like foot soldiers of corrupt practices. The former does the dirty job; the latter sets the dirty agenda, in both public bodies and private businesses. Corruption breathes everywhere, even in Lucifer’s Heaven.
I think the Bill should have covered improper conducts by both public officers (with public bodies) and private companies. Corruption is not a public servant. It walks and indeed works everywhere improper conduct fuels a system.
For a functional system and society, public servants must understand what public service is all about.
Whenever I read some of the bills being churned out from our legislative houses, I’m convinced our lawmakers—predominantly—are in the Agricultural Age. First, our lawmakers must learn to consult widely, not just for consultation sake but to really improve their legislative contents. Second, our lawmakers should invest more in publicizing their draft bills. We can’t all be at the floor of our legislative houses, but we can be in our houses flooring legislative bills. Social media is a great place to drive public participation, not just Saraki’s tweets. With the power of the Internet, we can open up our legislative houses to 21st-century contributions from citizens wherever they are.
So rather than keep amending new Acts and Laws every now and then, let’s learn to get public participation in legislative business right right from the start.
For now, we must start by blowing the whistle on the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill before the Bill blows whistle blowers out of existence.
This is me blowing the whistle on the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill. Thumbs up for the passage of the Bill, but thumbs down particularly for leaving out data protection and privacy in such as data-sensitive Bill passed in 2017!
Senator Iyere Ihenyen is the Lead Partner of Infusion Lawyers. He became one of Nigeria’s expert contributors on data protection and privacy compliance to DataGuidance in 2016. Senator completed a comprehensive data protection overview for Nigeria in 2016 available to subscribers in over 100 countries.