- FG should reward whistle-blowers promptly for the sake of its credibility
Why has the Federal Government failed to pay a whistle-blower his N1.8bn commission for exposing a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) account with $223m (N80.2bn), 11 months after both parties signed an agreement? A report said the whistle-blower and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), had signed a bond in the presence of one Ladidi Mohammed, the Head, Asset Recovery and Management Unit at the AGF’s office.
The bond, dated June 14, 2018, is said to have stated that, “any recovered amount from N5bn and above attracts a flat/definite reward of two and a half per cent of the recovered sum.” It also stated that the commission shall become due and payable to the whistle-blower ‘within 30 days’ of the receipt of the recovered/looted funds by the Federal Government and payment shall be made to the designated/nominated account provided in writing by the whistle-blower.
The agreement between the parties appears straightforward, but the Federal Government’s default complicated it. The whistle-blower is reported to have informed the AGF of an account named ‘NNPC Brass LNG INV. Fund’ with number 1750027157 domiciled in Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank). The bank was said to have failed to remit the money to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in contravention of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government. Documents showed that the account was opened with the sum of $328, 998, 818.24 on May 31, 2014, at the Asokoro branch of the bank.
The report said: “Upon reporting the matter to the AGF, the whistle-blower was said to have been referred to the Special Investigation Panel and briefed them on his findings. He subsequently accompanied officials of the panel to the bank where top officials were arrested and made statements. Members of the bank’s board were also invited by the panel where they were said to have complained that transferring all the money to the CBN in one fell swoop would affect the bank negatively and pleaded for the option of paying in instalments.” Investigation revealed that $30m was transferred from the said account to the CBN in three tranches on March 1, March 6, and April 25, 2019.
The whistle-blower, through his lawyer, has threatened to sue the Federal Government, lamenting its failure to honour the reward agreement. The government should not have allowed this matter to degenerate to this stage. It is obvious that the government breached the terms of the agreement by failing to pay the commission.
Information, culture and tourism minister, Lai Mohammed, boasted last month that the whistle-blower policy had checked corruption, and helped the government to recover looted funds. He added that the government had recovered several billions of naira and about $53 million through the policy. The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, also boasted last week that the Federal Government had recovered N605bn through the whistle-blower policy.
If the government has gained from the whistle-blower policy, whistle-blowers should also be able to say they have gained from the policy after receiving their reward. When commissions are not paid promptly to whistle-blowers, or not paid at all, it is a breach of faith that is bad for the government’s credibility. It is unfair if anonymous whistle-blowers are forced to fight to get their commission, thereby possibly compromising their anonymity.
This is not the first time non-payment of commission to a whistle-blower has become an issue. For instance, the whistle-blower that provided information leading to the discovery of $43.5 million, £27,800 and N23.2 million at No. 16 Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, in April 2017, was not paid his commission until December that year, after the media had focused on the delay in payment.
In the final analysis, the Federal Government should not work against the whistle-blower policy, designed to increase exposure of financial crimes, by failing to pay up after whistle-blowers have earned their commission.