The Senate has moved to protect witnesses who testify in anti-graft trials.
The move followed a bill titled “Witness Protection and Management Framework,” scaled second reading at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly.
If passed and signed into law, the bill would be an incentive that encourages witnesses to testify in corruption cases since their protection is guaranteed under the law.
Speaking on the legislation, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said that the war against corruption by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government must be won irrespective of temporary setbacks.
He said that the fight against corruption is one that must be vigorously pursued by government to ensure the eventual elimination of graft, given that same is capable of hindering Nigeria’s development.
According to him, “almost every administration in this country would work against corruption that has bedeviled the development of this country.
“The witness protection bill that we are debating today is a way forward to encourage witnesses to testify against corruption. And by protecting them properly, that will incentivise such witnesses.
“The war against corruption is a must, and it must be won. It is not about the quantum of funds or resources that we have, but how we are able to put to use even our scarce resources.
“So, this is a very important bill, and I’m sure all of us would lend our support.”
In his remarks, the Sponsor of the bill, Suleiman Abdu Kwari, explained that the bill was first read on February 23, 2021.
The lawmaker pointed out that also listed among the bill are items contained in the recent Executive Communication from President Muhammadu Buhari, which was read on the floor of the Senate on the 19th of January 2022.
These teams he added are of interest and international significance.
“Empirical evidence show that one of the major causes of the inability to successfully prosecute criminal cases in our courts is the lack of witnesses.
“Many of them face intimidation and threats just as prosecutors most times do not have the funds and management framework to safely bring witnesses to testify in court.
“The passage of this bill into law will fill this gap as well as fulfill some of our Country’s international commitments to various conventions and protocols, like the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) amongst others”, Senator Kwari said.
He however, recalled that the Witness Protection and Management Bill and Whistle Blower Bill were initially considered as co-joined in a single bill by the 8th National Assembly and passed in 2017.
He added that following a technical stakeholders roundtable comprising of representatives of relevant criminal justice system operators, it was resolved that both bills be unbundled in order to allow Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAS) currently running witness protection programs continue in that wise.
“This necessitates the separation of the two bills and accordingly paves the way for witness protection programmes across the broad spectrum of Law Enforcement Agencies, thereby discouraging duplicity and multiplicity of agencies”, he said.
The legislation further provides for customs and excise management, any legislation dealing with proceeds of crimes, confiscation and forfeiture of assets, and to all justice sector institutions and authorities, including the courts, law enforcement as well as security agencies, and other relevant regulatory institutions towards the protection of witnesses in the course of the investigation, detection and prosecution of offences.
The bill after consideration was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters; and Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes.
The Joint Committee is expected to report back in four weeks.
Meanwhile, a bill seeking to establish the Federal Polytechnic Shagamu also scaled second reading in the Senate.
The bill sponsored by Senator Olalekan Mustapha (Ogun East) was referred by the Senate President after consideration to the Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND for further inputs.
The Committee was also given four weeks to report back to the chamber in plenary.