• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

The double-edged sword of leaks in the presidency

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Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr George Akume, took the battle cry to senior government bureaucrats on March 5, 2024. He urged that they be more circumspect and help to plug the current holes through which the presidency has become a sieve. Sensitive government documents leak easily.

Akume spoke at a roundtable for Directors of Reforms Coordination and Service Improvement, organised by the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) in Abuja. He emphasised the need to maintain effective governance that upholds public trust. He acknowledged the importance of transparency in government operations but urged that the Freedom of Information Act should not override the Oath of Secrecy of the Public Service.

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Before then, the secretary to the government had felt the sting of the leaks. A memo the SGF wrote to President Bola Tinubu requesting N1 billion for the activities of a minimum wage committee entered social media. Another document exposed how the suspended minister of humanitarian affairs and poverty alleviation received N3 billion of COVID-19 funds to verify the national social register.

Mrs Folashade Yemi-Esan, head of the civil service, cautioned civil servants about the phenomenon in a February 19 memo. She informed them that the Federal Government “has observed with dismay the increase in the cases of leakage of sensitive official documents in MDAs” and described the trend as “very embarrassing” and unacceptable.

Leaks of sensitive documents from within a presidency can profoundly impact a nation’s political landscape, public trust, and international relations. While they can sometimes expose wrongdoing and spark positive change, they also risk damaging national security, creating uncertainty, and undermining diplomatic efforts.

Document leaks have significance. They can expose wrongdoings through corruption, power abuse, or policy decisions made without proper oversight. This can trigger investigations, hold officials accountable, and lead to necessary reforms.

Leaks spark public debates and scrutiny of critical issues, prompting citizens to discuss policy decisions and government actions.

 “Leaks of sensitive documents from within a presidency can profoundly impact a nation’s political landscape, public trust, and international relations.”

Significantly, leaks can influence public perceptions of the government and its leaders, potentially swaying public opinion and impacting electoral outcomes. They can highlight the need for greater transparency and accountability in government institutions, potentially leading to measures that enhance public trust.

The leakage of government information is not new to the Nigerian government or globally. It has become notable recently because of the gravity and frequency of the leaks.

Famous leaks globally include The Pentagon Papers in 1971, which revealed the US government’s two-decade involvement in the Vietnam War and contributed to public dissent and policy changes.

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The Panama Papers (2016) exposed a vast network of offshore accounts that wealthy individuals and public officials used to hide their assets. It led to global investigations and calls for stricter financial regulations.

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents revealing extensive government surveillance programmes, sparking international debate on privacy rights and government oversight.

Leaks pose challenges and risks. They are a double-edged sword.

Perpetrators may win some victories over their actual or perceived opponents in government. However, the significance and cost of those leaks often go beyond hurting their opponents. Sometimes, those leaks hurt the collective.

The foremost concern for every government is national security concerns, as they can compromise sensitive information related to defence strategies, diplomatic negotiations, and intelligence gathering, potentially jeopardising national security.

Leaks often reflect the political climate and contestation between parties and interest groups. They can create tension and instability by disrupting ongoing negotiations, international partnerships, and domestic political landscapes.

Leaks erode public trust in government institutions, especially when they reveal incompetence or unethical behaviour. Moreover, leaked documents may be incomplete, selectively edited, or misinterpreted, potentially leading to the spread of misinformation and biassed narratives.

The political class needs to agree on certain norms and directions for the government. Nigeria needs healing. Strengthening whistle-blower protections would enable concerned citizens to report wrongdoings without fear of retaliation, leading to responsible disclosures.

The government must promote transparency by proactively releasing information and openly communicating with the public. Open communication will reduce the need for leaks.

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Public discourse surrounding leaks should focus on the issues raised and potential solutions rather than solely on the act itself. We note how the top bureaucrats have only issued diktats and warnings without offering an avenue for the disaffected to embrace the government.