Whistle-blowers: Treasury looters dilemma
“If the amount of money stolen from Nigeria in the last 30 years was stolen from the UK, the UK would cease to exist”. Those were the words of David Cameron, the immediate past prime minister of Britain. Cameron drove home that point when in a hearty discussion with the Queen prior to the 2016 conference on corruption he casually remarked that Nigeria was “fantastically corrupt”.
Cameron is not alone in his worries about corruption in Nigeria. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) who presided over the fantastically successful banking consolidation exercise in 2005, only to bungle it by watching helplessly as bankers ran down the system through brazen insider dealings, also captured the magnitude of corruption in Nigeria with the following words: “Whoever wins 2015 (presidential election) will NEVER find it easy to govern. Over N30 trillion is mismanaged, unaccounted for or missing under Jonathan”.
Many had dismissed those expressions as exaggeration until the whistle-blower scheme of the federal government started uncovering the huge sums stashed away in private vaults and secret bank accounts by public treasury looters.
The CBN has a whistle-blower scheme designed to expose fraud within the banking system. But the apex bank scheme which has lasted almost a decade now could be assessed as a colossal failure because it lacked the incentive that gave fillip to the federal government whistle-blower scheme.
Whistle-blowers are mostly cheated relatives, close associates and domestic workers of treasury looters who helped them to haul the loots to their hidden places. Most of them were getting little or nothing for protecting the stolen funds. They wallowed in the poverty imposed on the country by the looters who they know like their palms.
The whistle-blower scheme has changed all that. Now a whistle-blower who leads the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to hidden landed property or cash stashed away by a corrupt public servant gets five per cent of the value of the recovered loot. The person who led EFCC to the recovery of N449 million in Lagos would casually smile to the bank with N22.4 million.
He would never have earned that from the big thief he was protecting. The whistle-blower scheme is the most deadly weapon ever deployed in the fight against endemic corruption in Nigeria. Since its deployment the response by those who know where the loots are, has been tremendous. Aside from the huge caches of cash thrown up by the whistle-blowers, hitherto hidden landed properties are also being uncovered.
An artisan, who maintained a fleet of government cars stolen and hidden by a former permanent secretary, led EFCC operatives to the discovery of 47 vehicles and 100 motorcycles.
Another whistle-blower uncovered the hideout for 17 armoured sport utility vans (SUVs) hidden by a former comptroller-general of customs. The sum of $151 million was recovered in Abuja while $9.3 million was recovered in Kaduna from a former managing director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
America’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York forced Switzerland and other havens of stolen funds to open up their banking system thereby making it extremely difficult for public treasury looters to take their loots out of Nigeria.
For some time they were hiding the loots in secret accounts in Nigerian banks. The bank verification number (BVN), introduced by the CBN has made it extremely difficult for anyone to operate a secret account in Nigeria. All accounts are mandatorily linked to someone’s BVN. Even the fraudulent bankers who were instrumental to the operation of secret accounts by public treasury looters can no longer aid and abate the fraudulent practice.
Consequently, there are claims that close to one million accounts are waiting in Nigerian banks to be linked to their owners’ BVN. The basic fact that could be deciphered from that development is that those accounts contain the proceeds of crime. The CBN should set a deadline for all accounts in Nigerian banks to be linked to their owners’ BVN. After the deadline, the sums in any account that is yet to be linked to a BVN should be forfeited to the federal government as proceeds of crime.
Besides, to sustain the current momentum in public response to the whistle-blower scheme, EFCC and the Ministry of Finance must ensure prompt payment of the incentives promised to those who provided information that led to the discovery of looted funds. Whistle-blowers must get their money as soon as the courts declare the recovered money or property permanently forfeited to the federal government.
They must not be treated like retired civil servants who are owed several years of pension arrears. Such ill-treatment would simply take the wind off the sail of the scheme and encourage public treasury looters to return to business as usual.
Above all, whistle-blowers need the protective shield of the law. The law that would give legal teeth to the scheme is yot be enacted by the National Assembly. The whistle-blowers bill should not suffer the misfortune of the ill-fated Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has languished in the National Assembly for a decade now.