• AGF: Justice Ngwuta’s prosecutor was fired due to conflict of interest
By Tobi Soniyi and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
Less than two months after it released its whistleblower policy to expose fraud in the public and private sectors, the federal government has revealed that the policy has resulted in positive outcomes, following the recovery of N47.565 billion ($151 million) and N8 billion, totaling N55.565 billion in looted funds.
Under the policy introduced in December 2016, an informant who exposes financial wrongdoing within an organisation, leading to the voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds or assets may be entitled to a maximum of 5 per cent of the total amount recovered.
A statement yesterday by Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the largest amount of $136,676,600.51 was recovered from an account in a commercial bank under the cover of a fictitious account name.
He added that N7 billion, $15 million and N1 billion, all from different individuals were recovered at the said bank.
Mohammed, however, stressed that the recoveries did not include the $9.2 million in cash allegedly traced to a former Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC), Dr. Andrew Yakubu – also the outcome of the whistleblower policy.
The money recovered from Yakubu was made possible by information provided by three whistleblowers who gave actionable information to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
“When we told Nigerians that there was primitive and mindless looting of the national treasury under the last administration, some people called us liars.
“Well, the whistleblower policy is barely two 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, including the $9.2 million by the EFCC, is just a tip of the iceberg,” Mohammed said.
He assured Nigerians that their confidentiality would be safeguarded if they continued to provide the authorities with useful tips on looted funds, while reminding them of the financial rewards that could be derived by those who make the information available to the federal government.
He restated that where “there is a voluntary return of stolen or
concealed public funds or assets on account of the information provided, the whistleblower may be entitled to anywhere between 2.5 per cent (minimum) and 5 per cent (maximum) of the total amount recovered”.
Meanwhile, the National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) in Abuja provided reasons for the sack of the private legal practitioner, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Phillips hired by the federal government to prosecute Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court for alleged corruption.
A statement by the AGF’s spokesman, who doubles as the head of communications and public affairs of NPCC, Mr. Salihu Isah explained that the impression created by Adeogun-Philips that he withdrew his services was not correct.
The statement said it was the NPCC which engaged his services that actually withdrew the fiat issued to him for non-disclosure of a conflict of interest and for other sundry reasons.
It said reports claiming that Adeogun-Philips withdrew from prosecuting the case in protest over last Tuesday’s withdrawal of charges against the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Gambo Saleh and two other officials of the court – Muhammad Abdulrahman Sharif and Rilwanu Lawal – which he is also handling for the federal government were false.
Isah added that Adeogun-Philips’ sack was conveyed to him vide a letter titled, ‘Withdrawal of your name as a member of Team 16 of the National Prosecution Team handling charges No. FHC/ABJ/C/232/16-FRN vs Sylvester N. Ngwuta’ dated 6th February, 2017 and signed by Sylvester O. Imhanobe, Esq, Special Assistant to the President, Research and Special Projects who also doubles as secretary of the committee.
He also said Adeogun-Philips acknowledged receipt of the letter through an email message dated 8th February 2017 that he sent to the committee secretary and copied to Mr. Muhammed Umar Etsu, the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF).
He quoted the prosecutor’s response thus: “Your letter of 6 February 2017, is received with great relief. I wish you and/or your colleagues at the NPCC, success in the continued prosecution of your ‘high profile’ cases. With my very best wishes.”
The full letter to him by the NPCC read: “I regret to inform you that Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (HAGF) has withdrawn your membership of the National Prosecution Team.
“Consequently, you can no longer lead Team 16 engaged to prosecute the Charge No. FHC/ABJ/C/232/16-FRN vs S.N. Ngwuta. Furthermore, the fiat issued to you in respect of the case you presently handle is withdrawn.
“The Chief Accountant confirmed to me that you have been paid first installment fees which cover services till the close of the prosecution’s case.
“Please return to me all properties of the Ministry/NPCC in your possession, if any.”
Isah also said that the insinuation that the AGF withdrew the case against the three Supreme Court officials because they are northerners was also unwarranted.
According to him, the decision to drop the suit was done in good faith and in the context of a plea bargain to achieve greater goals in the prosecution of the other bigger cases that are ongoing against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, among others.
“So, it is wicked and childish for anyone to allude undue colouration to an action taken in the national interest and reduce it to a North/South thing with a view to confusing the discerning public.
“This is not the first time such process will be entered into in law, especially as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 allows plea bargaining in line with the national interest,” he explained.
He cited the case of Sergeant Rogers during the prosecution of Major Al-Mustapha (rtd.) for the alleged murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, adding that the charge against him was withdrawn to enable him testify against those charged with the murder.
Isah also accused Adeogun-Phillips of “unprofessional conduct” because he was handling a case against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) while at the same time prosecuting cases for the federal government.
NPCC chaired by the AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) was inaugurated by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on May 27, 2016.
It is charged with assisting the AGF in the exercise of his prosecutorial powers under Section 150 and 174(1) of the 1999 Constitution, especially as it involves high profile criminal cases.
The AGF spokesman said besides the non-disclosure of a conflict of interest, Adeogun-Philips had been exhibiting traits inimical and counter-productive to the interest of the NPCC that engaged him.
He accused the prosecutor of visiting a top security official at the presidency to discuss his welfare issues, using his engagement by the committee as instrument.
“As it presently stands, the committee plans to carry out a critical surgery on the present composition of the entire prosecution team to weed out those with question marks around them, because they had been informed before hand that anyone found wanting would be eased out since it is a continuous process,” the statement added.