…threaten legal action
… NPA denies claim
An aggrieved whistle-blower, Mr John Okupurhe, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami to redeem the commission accruing to him after exposing over $1bn (N420bn) hidden in a bank by the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).
This is just as a coalition of civil society organisations in the South South has threatened to join Mr Okupurhe to sue the Federal Government over the unpaid commission.
The civil society organisations, under the auspices of the South South Anti-Corruption Watchdog (SACW), vowed to ensure that Mr Okupurhe obtains justice and those behind the hidden account exposed.
In a letter dated June 22, 2020 addressed to President Buhari through his lawyer, Mr Aliyu Lemu, Mr Okupurhe accused the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation of refusing to redeem the commission as agreed after exposing the secret account being operated by NPA through which vessels were made to remit illegal monies into.
In line with the whistle-blower policy agreed on and signed, Okpurhe, the whistleblower, would be entitled to a commission if the information provided turned out credible.
The whistle-blower, in the letter by his lawyer, said after playing his own part successfully by exposing the illegal account, the AGF’s office began to dilly-dally in its commitment.
The letter read in part, “Pursuant to the whistleblower policy of the Federal Government, our client approached the Office of the AGF with confidential information in respect of hidden public funds concealed in a commercial bank in Lagos contrary to the Treasury Single Account policy which requires all public revenue or funds to be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“Our client presented the Office of the AGF with qualifying information on a cloned account with the Nigerian Ports Authority which was being used to illegally collect revenue from vessels by the signatories who are no longer in the service of the NPA.
“Upon establishing that our client’s information qualified under the whistle-blower policy, the Office of the AGF signed a whistle-blower agreement with our client through his appointed counsel- Mamman, Maiyaki & Co.
“The information provided by our client eventually led to the exposure of the hidden/concealed funds to the tune of $1, 034, 515, 000.”
The whistle-blower said the Office of the AGF had been making flimsy excuses as to why the commission has not been paid, saying the Head of Asset Management and Recovery Unit, Mrs Ladidi Mohammed, informed him that the matter was in court and that plans had changed.
Okuprhe said when asked who filed the suit, she (Mohammed) could not come up with the answer neither would she disclose in which court the matter was pending.
He added, “On the next day, one Ms Bunmi, who deputises for Mrs Mohammed, called our client and asked him to come alone without a lawyer. Upon arrival, she informed our client that there was no pending matter in court on the account.”
The whistle-blower said he was told that because the money involved was huge, the office of the AGF recommended a private firm with which he should enter into a contract to help him get the funds.
He said upon the insistence of the AGF’s office, he was made to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the company to forfeit 60 per cent of his reward.
He said in a rather dramatic twist, his lawyer was attacked by armed policemen in his office who allegedly robbed him and made away with the original copy of the agreement signed with the AGF.
Okpurhe, therefore, called on President Buhari to quickly intervene as failure to pay him could compromise the whistle-blower policy and affect public trust in the government.
National Coordinator of SACW, Prince Kokori Edjegba, in a statement, expressed shock at the manner aides of President Buhari are making a mockery of his administration’s anti-corruption fight.
Prince Edjegba noted that if the accounts of Okupurhe were true, the Nigeria government ought to have played its part well by paying him for exposing hidden funds.
Edjegba stated that ridiculing Okupurhe’s patriotic work could prevent others from coming forward with authentic information about stolen cash or exposing corruption in public service.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has reacted that the office only pays whistleblowers after a successful recovery, not for mere tracing or exposure of suspected illegitimate funds.
Dr Umar Gwandu, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami on Media and Public Relations, made the disclosure in a statement on Sunday in Abuja.
The Minister in the reaction to the letter by Aliyu Lemu, Esq. lawyer to Okuprhe, said the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice did not pay whistle-blower commission on “account of exposing looted assets, but on successful recovery and lodgment of same into the designated assets recovery account at the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
Malami advised the whistleblower to consider lodging the complaint at the relevant institutions of his choice for proper investigation or approach the courts for redress.
NPA, however on Monday, denied the existence of any such account warehousing $1bn as alleged by Okupurhe.