BY VICTOR BUORO, ABUJA – The whistleblower policy of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is still experiencing some hiccups owing to lack of clear cut direction particularly for reward system to possible beneficiaries of the system.
This is as captured by the Punch newspaper which reported that a whistleblower, John Okupurhe, has written a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, accusing the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami SAN, of not only refusing to pay him his reward after exposing over $1bn hidden in Unity Bank Plc but frustrating his efforts.
The letter by Okuourhe, dated June 22, 2020, which was written by his legal counsel, Aliyu Lemu, stated that he blew a whistle on a secret account that was being operated by the Nigerian Ports Authority to illegally collect revenue from vessels.
The whistleblower said that upon discovery, he informed the Office of the AGF in line with the whistleblower policy of the secret account and an agreement was signed and sealed.
Okpurhe said that the agreement clearly stated that he would be entitled to a reward if the information he provided turned out to be credible, adding however that after playing his own part, the AGF’s office began to play games and reneged on the signed agreement.
The letter by Okpurhe’s lawyer to President Buhari 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 within 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 whistleblower policy, the Office of the AGF signed a whistleblower 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 in Unity Bank Plc to the tune of $1, 034, 515, 000 (One billion, thirty four million, five hundred and fifteen thousand dollars only).”
Okpurhe said the Office of the AGF had since then been making flimsy excuses as to why the reward was not paid.
He specifically said that the Head of Asset Management and Recovery Unit in the office of the AGF, Mrs. Ladidi Mohammed, informed him that the matter was in court thus the plans had changed.
Okpurhe said when he asked who filed the suit, the same Mrs Mohammed could not come up with the answer just as she could not disclose which court the matter was pending.
According to Lemu, who is lawyer to Okpurhe; “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 whistleblower said he was told that because the money involved was huge, the Office of the AGF recommended a private firm with which he was asked to enter into a contract agreement to help him get the funds.
Okpurhe said that upon the insistence of the AGF’s office, he was made to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the company on a condition to forfeit 60 per cent of his reward.
The whistleblower said in a dramatic twist of event, his lawyer was attacked by armed policemen in his office, who robbed him and made away with the original copy of the agreement signed with the AGF.
In a passionate plea, Okpurhe appealed to President Buhari to quickly intervene, stressing that failure to pay him his due could compromise the whistleblower policy and affect public trust in the government.
When the Punch called the Spokesman to the AGF, Umar Gwandu, he did not respond to calls on Saturday, but a top source at the AGF’s office said the matter is already being investigated by the Department of State Services.
The source said; “The AGF has ordered that the case be investigated by the DSS, so we cannot speak on the matter for now. The truth is that the whistleblower’s information was not accurate. He is just going about trying to intimidate us.”