The efforts toward tackling corruption ravaging the country gained a boost yesterday, as the House of Representatives passed the bill which seeks to ensure that effective and efficient administration of justice in criminal and related proceedings is not prejudiced by the unwillingness of witnesses to give evidence for fear of violence, serious injury, death or for such other reasons.
As stipulated in Clause 2(a–g) of the bill, the main objectives of this Bill are to – establish legal and institutional framework to protect witnesses and related persons, with responsibilities for carrying out all administrative duties relating to witnesses and related persons, including providing temporary protection and related services; ensure that the relevant agency takes responsibility for entering into an agreement with the witness on behalf of the state.
The bill also seeks to regulate the procedure and determine the manner in which the provisions of this Bill shall be carried out; designate places to be utilised as places of safety for the purposes of the Witness Protection Programme; and ensure effective use and nationwide supervision of Witness Protection Officers of the relevant agency; ensure that adequate consideration is given to the rights of witnesses; and harmonise existing laws and policies on witness protection and management.
As stipulated in Clause 29(a–j) of the proposed bill, the legislative framework shall apply to investigation and prosecution of offences relating to – terrorism, money laundering prevention and prohibition, economic and financial crimes, corrupt practices and other related offences, drugs and narcotics and their trafficking, trafficking in persons, Criminal and Penal Code offences, customs and excise management, any legislation dealing with proceeds of crimes, confiscation and forfeiture of assets, and such other offences as may be contained in enactments enacted by the National Assembly and designated by attorney-general by an order published in the Federal Gazette.
On the “Agreements with international bodies, institutions, organisations or foreign countries’, Clause 17(1 & 2) provides that: “Relevant agency may, with the approval of the Attorney-General, make an arrangement with a foreign State, international body, institution or organization on any matter relating to cooperation between Nigeria and that state, international body, institution or organization relating to witness protection.
“The relevant agency may enter into an agreement, either in general or on specific terms and conditions with a competent authority in a foreign country in order to – place a protected person under a witness protection arrangement administered by that country; or admit a protected person to witness protection arrangement under any law applicable to that country.”
Clause 28 which provides for “non-disclosure of original identity of witness”, stipulate that, “Where a witness who has been provided with a new identity under the programme would, apart from this section, be required by or under any law in force in Nigeria to disclose his original identity for a particular purpose; and the relevant agency has given the witness authorisation, in the form prescribed by regulations made under this Act, not to disclose his original identity for that purpose, the witness is not required to disclose his original identity to any person for that purpose.
Clause 30(3a-c) also provides that: “The Court, Tribunal or Commission of Inquiry before which any proceedings referred to in subsection (1) or (2) of this section are conducted may, if it thinks fit, by order direct that no- question shall be asked in the proceedings which might lead to the disclosure of the identity of a witness or former witness or of his place of abode; witness in the proceedings, including a witness or former witness, shall be required to answer a question, give any evidence, or provide any information, which may lead to the disclosure of the identity of the witness or former witness or of his place of abode; and (c) person involved in the proceedings shall, in the proceedings, make a statement which discloses or could disclose a protected identity of a participant or former participant or his place of abode.
On the sources of money accruing into the Witness Protection Fund, Clause 41(d) provides that: “a percentage of the total amount recovered by the Government as a direct result of information provided by a protected person under this Bill shall be a minimum of two percent and not exceeding five per cent of the total amount recovered.”
On the ‘Application of money in the Protection Fund’, Clause 429a-c) provides that: “The money in the Protection Fund shall be applied as follows – towards the basic material support of witnesses and related persons in the programme; for the purpose of giving effect to the operation of the programme; and towards the payment of reward to persons who make public disclosures under the provisions of this Bill where the information provided by the person who makes the disclosure contributes directly to the recovery of stolen or concealed public funds or assets.
As stipulated in PART VI of the bill which provides for ‘Offences and Penalties’, Clause 47 provides that “A person who makes a statement to the relevant agency or to an appropriate or competent authority intending that it be acted upon as a public interest disclosure and in the statement, or in the course of inquiries into the statement, intentionally gives information that he – (a) knows is false or misleading; or (b) is reckless about whether it is false or misleading in a material particular, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of not less than 12 months or to both.
On the ‘Prohibition of false representation’, Clause 49 provides that: “A person who, without prior written approval of the relevant agency, in connection with an activity carried on by him, takes, assumes, uses or in any manner publishes a name, description, title or symbol- (a) conveying or purporting to indicate or convey; or (b) which is calculated or is likely to lead other persons to believe or infer, that the activity is carried on under or by virtue of the provisions of this Act or on behalf of the relevant agency, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N1 million or to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years or to both.