By Chioma Gabriel, Editor, Special Features
While controversy rages over the ownership of $38 million, £27,000 and N23 million discovered by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Wednesday, in a private residence in Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigerians have continued to express shock over how such monies would be lying fallow in a house while many suffer hunger and abject poverty.
The media had Wednesday reported how another whistleblower took security operatives to an address where the quantum of money was discovered.
Before this time, the Federal Government had spelt out the benefits awaiting whistleblowers as it also pledged their protection. Any whistleblower whose information leads to the recovery of up to N1 billion will receive five per cent of the amount. The reward for any amount between one and five billion naira would be five per cent for the first N1 billion and four per cent of the remaining N4 billion, and any amount over N5 billion will attract 2.5 per cent reward. The Federal Government had promised that any whistleblower, whose information led to the recovery of cash or assets worth N5 billion, would earn N210 million.
The latest discovery at Ikoyi was alleged to belong to a former Managing-Director, Operations at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation , NNPC, Mrs Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue.
But shortly after the media report, Mrs Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue issued a statement denying ownership of the large sums of money.
Through a statement by her lawyer, Emeka Etiaba, SAN, Mrs Ogbue had expressed shock at the said recovery and saluted the courage and efforts of the EFCC in the war against corruption but said the money was not her own.
The statement issued on her behalf read: “The attention of our client, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue has been drawn to the news making round in the news media to the effect that the large sums of money to wit: $38,000,000.00 (Thirty-Eight Million Dollars), N23,000,000.00 (Twenty-Three Million Naira) and £27,000.00 (Twenty-Seven Thousand Pounds) uncovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) from an apartment in Osborne Towers, Osborne Road, Ikoyi Lagos, Lagos State belong to her.
“By this release, we inform the public that the said sums of money and/or the apartment where the sums of money were found do not belong to our client. Our client is as shocked as many other Nigerians at the uncovering and recovery of the said sums of money and wishes to salute the courage and efforts of the EFCC in the war against corruption. She also wishes to commend the whistle blowing policy introduced by the Federal Government in the fight against corruption which policy has resulted in large scale uncovering and recovery of monies and assets.
“It is our client’s belief that the source and ownership of the said uncovered sums of money is known or eventually will be known by the EFCC in due course. There is therefore no need for conjecture or speculation”.
But on the same day she issued the statement, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, announced her retirement , giving no reason for its action.
In the throes of corruption
Indeed, Nigeria’s problems with corruption are no longer news. Anywhere he goes, a Nigerian is perceived corrupt and treated with disdain until he proves otherwise.
In rue of this, the Ministry of Finance came up with the whistleblowing policy which allows citizens who report corruption-related offenses to earn a cut from the recovered loot.
And so far, Nigerians have taken the bait. Since the policy came to be, this appeared to be paying off. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been on the voyage of discovery and recovery of looted funds.
Before the recent discovery at Ikoyi, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the whistle-blowing policy has led to the recovery of over $180 million from various corrupt individuals.
Whistle-blowers are required to provide key information via a secure online portal involving mismanagement of public funds and assets, violation of financial regulations, solicitation of bribes, and manipulating data and records. When tips lead to the successful recovery of ill-gotten funds, whistle-blowers are entitled to between 2.5-5% of the recovered loot. Whistle-blowers were also promised confidentiality to the fullest extent possible within the limitations of the law.
Catalogue of discoveries and recoveries
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Federal Goverment has recovered over $151m (N46bn) and N8bn in looted funds courtesy of whistle blowers.
Looted funds recovered through whistle-blowing included €547,730 and £21,090 which were recovered from three sources excluding the $9.8m recovered from a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr Andrew Yakubu and the recent recovery at Ikoyi Lagos , Wednesday.
The Minister said that the biggest amount of $136,676,600.51 (N42bn) was recovered from an account in a commercial bank, where he said the money was kept under a fake account name.
This, he said, was followed by N7bn and $15m from another person and N1bn from yet another.
Mohammed had said, “When we told Nigerians that there was a primitive and mindless looting of the national treasury under the last administration, some people called us liars. Well, the whistle-blower policy is a few months old and Nigerians have started feeling its impact, seeing how a few people squirreled away public funds. It is doubtful if any economy in the world will not feel the impact of such mind-boggling looting of the treasury as was experienced in Nigeria.Yet, whatever has been recovered so far is just a tip of the iceberg.”
After the recovery in his premises on February 8, 2017, Mr. Yakubu had reported to the EFCC’s zonal office in Kano and made a statement wherein he admitted ownership of the recovered money, claiming it was gift from unnamed persons and had challenged the temporary forfeiture order obtained by the EFCC from the court .
What however has never been known is how much whistleblowers have been paid since the commencement of the policy. It is believed in some quarters that one way the government could encourage more whistleblowing is by being transparent on how much has been paid to individuals who have gone on a limb to expose illicit transactions without disclosing their identities.
Bankers to the rescue
Nigerian bankers and mainly account officers, are perceived as the most useful instruments of the Federal Government’s whistle blowing policy and are expected to report the wrongdoings of former and current public office holders suspected to have embezzled public funds and stashed them in several Nigerian banks.
Several former and current public officers who had allegedly stolen from the treasury either hid the physical cash in safe houses or used shell companies, close aides, associates and family members to stash the ill-gotten funds in bank accounts using the names of the companies or their friends, family members and associates.
These looters although they use several account names usually operate the accounts themselves, a fact that is well known by the bank account officers who help them to manage the accounts.
However, since the federal government unveiled the whistleblowing policy as a means of recovering stolen public sector funds, a number of junior and middle-level bankers have been quietly ratting on the true beneficiaries of the accounts in order to cash in on the rewards derivable from the policy.
As for the latest loot recovered at Ikoyi, the case has been resolved by the court that the money be returned to government until real ownership is established.