• How former NNPC GMD, Yakubu, was exposed
• FG allays concerns of whistleblowers
By Obinna Chima in Lagos and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
Bankers, mainly account officers, have started to take advantage of the federal government’s whistleblowing policy to report the wrongdoings of former and current public office holders suspected to have embezzled public funds and stashed them in several Nigerian banks, investigations by THISDAY have revealed.
A reliable source with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who disclosed this at the weekend, said that some bankers have been encouraged largely by the reward of between 2.5 per cent (minimum) and five per cent (maximum) of the total amount recovered.
According to the source, 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.
However, though the accounts are not in the names of the political office holders, they usually operate the accounts themselves, a fact that is well known by the bank account officers who help them to manage the accounts.
As a result, 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.
The EFCC source informed THISDAY that once the commission is contacted by a banker, it is usually easy to identify the real beneficiary of the bank accounts through the Bank Verification Number (BVN), since an account holder can only have one BVN for all of his individual and company accounts.
The source said: “Junior to middle-level account officers in the banks are the major whistleblowers. That is why we (EFCC) have been recovering a lot of money since the policy was unveiled.
“They are ratting on politicians and public office holders. Some of these politicians use shell companies; some use companies in which they are not even directors or shareholders. Some also use friends, family members and associates.
“But because the public office holders still manage the accounts themselves, the BVNs can still be traced to them.
“For instance, once there is a suspicious bank account, the account officer informs the EFCC, which in turn carries out the investigation and then gets a freeze order on the account(s), following which the suspect will be invited for interrogation.”
THISDAY also learnt that the $9.8 million recovered by the EFCC from a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Andrew Yakubu, was the fallout of a clash between Yakubu and his political opponents in Kaduna States, who used a very close family member of the former NNPC boss to snitch on him to the anti-graft agency.
A special operation conducted by EFCC operatives on February 3, 2017 on a building belonging to Yakubu in Kaduna, yielded the staggering sum and another £74,000 in cash. The huge cash was hidden in a fire proof safe in the building.
However, the EFCC source explained that the family member, whose identity has been kept under wraps for security reasons, may not be entitled to the reward provided in the whistleblowing policy, because Yakubu who has maintained that the cash found in the house was a gift, has challenged the temporary forfeiture order obtained by the EFCC from the court to the federal government.
“Should he win his case and the amount returned, the whistleblower will not be entitled to anything,” the source said.
The source said one way that 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.
“That way, more people will be encouraged to expose illegal activities in their organisations and in the public sector,” he said.
The federal government last December approved a whistleblowing policy to expose fraud and other related crimes in both the public and the private sectors.
Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had while urging Nigerians to key into the scheme said the policy devised by her ministry was aimed at encouraging anyone with information about a violation, misconduct or improper activity that impacts negatively on Nigerians and government to report it.
According to her, the policy’s objective is to increase exposure of financial or financial-related crimes; support the fight against financial crimes and corruption; improve the level of public confidence in public entities; enhance transparency and accountability in the management of public funds; improve Nigeria’s Open Government Ranking and Ease of Doing Business Indicators; and recover public funds that can be deployed to finance Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit.
She listed information that could be submitted to include: mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets (e.g. properties and vehicles); financial malpractice or fraud; collecting/soliciting bribes; corruption; diversion of revenue; fraudulent and unapproved payments; splitting of contracts; procurement fraud (kickbacks and over-invoicing etc.).
The minister defined a whistleblower as any person who voluntarily discloses information in good faith about a possible misconduct or violation that has occurred, is ongoing, or is about to occur.
The reward for a whistleblower was put at between 2.5 per cent (minimum) and five per cent (maximum) of the total amount recovered.
Meanwhile, the federal government at the weekend reiterated its desire to protect and reward whistleblowers whose information provide leads in the recovery of stolen funds and assets.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the assurance to the public in a statement after concerned citizens drew the attention of the Presidential Assets Recovery Committee to the recriminations whistleblowers were being subjected to in some public establishments.
While reiterating the desire of government to reward whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors, Mohammed assured them that their identity would be protected and the information they disclosed kept secret.
“’For those who may have suffered any backlash as a result of the information they provide, their cases will be reviewed and appropriate mitigating actions taken.
“Whistleblowers have nothing to fear, because the committee has put in place the necessary measures to safeguard those who give useful information.
“As a matter of fact, whistleblowers have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” he said.
Mohammed stressed that in line with the policy, anybody whose information leads to the recovery of up to N5 billion could be rewarded handsomely to the tune of N210 million, calculated as N50 million on the first N1 billion (five per cent) and N160 million which is 4 per cent of the remaining N4 billion.
He added further that any amount that exceeds N5 billion would attract a higher reward.
“For example, if a whistleblower provides information leading to the recovery of N10 billion, he or she will receive 5 per cent of the first N1 billion, 4 per cent of the next N4 billion and 2.5 per cent of the remaining N5 billion.
“What we have done by making this information public is to reassure potential whistleblowers that the plan to reward is real. We are not just saying we will pay all whistleblowers, but we are letting them know in advance what they are entitled to once the information they provide leads to the recovery of looted funds,” he said.
A civil servant working for the Foreign Affairs Ministry was said to have been sacked after exposing alleged theft in an agency of the ministry.
His case is now under review by the minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, following the directive of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.