The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, may have killed Nigeria’s groundbreaking whistleblower policy after he revised the ground rules.
He has now put on whistleblowers the burden of physically recovering a suspected loot and paying the money into the Central Bank. Reporting a suspected account is no longer enough.
In a statement on Sunday, the Justice Ministry said whistleblowers will only be paid a commission
“after successful recovery not for mere tracing or exposure of suspected illegitimate funds”.
Malami was reacting to a news report where a whistleblower, John Okupurhe, has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, accusing the AGF of denying him commission after exposing over $1bn (N420bn) hidden in Unity Bank Plc.
Okupurhe, through his lawyer, Aliyu Lemu, said he expected his share after he exposed the account that was secretly being operated by the Nigerian Ports Authority to collect revenue from vessels.
He said he provided the details to the Office of the AGF of the secret account in line with the whistleblower policy, and that an agreement was signed.
The agreement stated that Okupurhe would be entitled to a commission if the information provided turned out credible.
The whistleblower said after playing his own part, the AGF’s office began to give excuses.
According to a Federal Ministry of Finance website on whistleblowing:
“A Whistleblower responsible for providing the Government with information that directly leads to the voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds or assets may be entitled to anywhere between 2.5%-5.0% of amount recovered.
“In order to qualify for the reward, the Whistleblower must provide the Government with information it does not already have and could not otherwise obtain from any other publicly available source to the Government.
“The actual recovery must also be on account of the information provided by the Whistleblower”.
These ground rules made by the Finance ministry four years ago, and that led to recovery of N594 billion as at December 2019, appeared now to have changed with the Sunday statement made by Dr Umar Gwandu, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami on Media and Public Relations.
In the statement, Malami did not say whether Okupurhe’s information was genuine and whether it led government to recover the hidden funds. Rather, he threatened legal action against the petitioner, who claimed he was cajoled to forfeit 60 percent of his commission.
“The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice wants to make it categorically clear that one does not get payment on account of exposing looted assets, but on successful recovery and lodgement of same into the designated assets recovery account at the Central Bank of Nigeria’’.
He said the procedure for engagement of a whistleblower or recovery agent as it relates to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation is as follows:
‘`A Proposal is submitted to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, a Letter of engagement is issued to a whistleblower or recovery agent where the disclosure is assessed to have some prospects of success.
“The recovery agent or whistleblower is expected to notify in writing the acceptance of the engagement.
“The recovery agent or whistle blower is expected, upon acceptance, to not only trace the assets but recover same and have it deposited in a designated asset recovery account maintained by the federal government in the Central Bank which is usually provided to the recovery agent in writing’’.
He added that where these funds are eventually claimed to have been lodged by a whistleblower or recovery agent, the Central Bank issues acknowledgement of receipt of the fund to the Office of Attorney-General on demand.
“It is the satisfaction of the above elements that entitles the whistleblower or a recovery agent to a claim of success fee and the payment is usually effected by the Federal Ministry of Finance and not the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
“The role of the Office of the Attorney-General in essence is simply that of processing the above listed documents to the Ministry of Finance which is the ministry saddled with the responsibility of effecting payment’’.
Malami explained further that recovery is not about exposing the existence of certain assets in an account purported to have belonged to an agency of the government.
“It is about establishing that the funds in the account are looted assets or illegitimately warehoused and following that up with actual recovery and lodgement of the funds in the designated Asset recovery account through judicial and extra judicial means.
“Entitlement to recovery fees is for all intent and purposes contingent on lodgement of the purported/exposed assets constituting the subject of recovery into the Federal Government Recovery designated Account.
“This account is maintained at the instance of the President at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the details of the account are contained in the engagement letter.
“The agreed remuneration shall become due and payable to the whistleblower within thirty (30) days of the receipt of the recovered/looted funds by the Federal Government of Nigeria and payment shall be made to the designated/nominated account provided in writing by the whistle-blower’’.
Malami advised that if the whistleblower in the circumstances of this case feels strongly that there is any claim of wrongdoing associated with the alleged claim relating to recovery process, the whistleblower should consider lodging a complaint with the relevant institutions of his choice for the matter to be properly investigated and or consider a judicial redress in the alternative.
“The claim by the whistle-blower, as published by the newspaper, that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federal cajoled them into signing of an agreement forfeiting sixty percent of the whistleblower fees amounts to criminal allegation which the whistleblower is encouraged to lodge a complaint about before the appropriate law enforcement agencies for full-scale investigation’’.