By Dele Agekameh
On December 22, 2016, the federal government launched a policy to expose fraud and other related crimes in the public and private sectors. Known as whistle-blowing, the policy allows the whistle-blower to be compensated with a percentage or fraction of between a minimum 2.5 percent and a maximum of 5.0 percent of the total money recovered.
The policy appears to be working and working well to the extent that the spate at which otherwise “idle or swindled funds,” are being recovered all over the country in recent times is alarming. At the last count, more than N16 billion, in multiple foreign and local currencies, had been recovered through the assistance of whistle-blowers. This humongous amount was recovered from where they were either concealed in innocuous places or hidden in some private accounts.
But by far the greatest haul appears to be the recent recovery of about $43.4 million, N23 million and £27,000 in cash at an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos. When converted using the current Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) rate, the total recovered sum amounts to N13,313,714,000. Now, the money is causing ripples in the polity. A government security agency, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has laid claim to the money. Similarly, Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, South-South Nigeria, is also laying claim to the money. The governor’s argument is that the money belongs to Rivers State and may have been ferried out of the state by his predecessor and hidden in the Ikoyi flat in preparation for the 2019 election.
On its part, the NIA is insisting that the money was actually a discreet allocation released to the agency by the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration for major but covert security projects. The agency maintained that the former president approved the funds for the 30-year old secret agency after Olaniyi Oladeji, its immediate past Director-General, alerted him to the need for some “crucial and covert security projects” to be carried out by the agency. The agency also said the funds was released in cash directly from the CBN so as to make its spending completely secret.
The storyline is that when Ayodele Oke, the incumbent Director General of the NIA, was alerted that EFCC operatives had swooped on the apartment in Ikoyi, he rushed to the anti-graft agency’s headquarters in Abuja to advise Ibrahim Magu, the EFCC chairman, to withdraw his men as the funds belonged to government. Magu was said to have declined Oke’s request and instead directed his men to proceed with the operation. Frustrated, the DG, NIA, later took the matter to the presidency which is now looking into it.
In the meantime, last Thursday, Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos, ordered a temporary forfeiture of the money to the government and adjourned further proceedings on the case brought before it by the EFCC till May 5. This is to allow anyone interested in or wishing to claim the money or make a case why it should not be permanently forfeited to government.
The questions now are: Why the funfair about the recovery of this huge sum when the EFCC could have just cordoned off the place and waited for further developments after the NIA’s DG ran to Magu to alert him? How much was the total or initial money collected for the “projects” since what was recovered last week could have been the remnant or balance of the original stockpile?
It is becoming a common practice for our security agencies to embark on the display of money before television cameras each time they stumble on these during their investigations. The other day, it was the police who called a press conference and displayed wads of naira notes as money allegedly recovered from some staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as bribe offering to them during the re-run election in Rivers State. These days, the EFCC seems to have made it part of its investigation to always rush to the public and display huge sums of money as recovered loots.
The practice is that the EFCC will make arrests and the next thing is that the media, particularly the social media, will be awash with stories about the arrests only to discover later that the persons, whose reputations may have been tarnished, are innocent after all. What is easily deducible from this is that the intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing of our security agencies are very poor. Most of the operatives are either not intelligent or as intelligent as expected. That is why, in most cases, the services merely rely on rumours and pass these to the unsuspecting public for consumption.
Again, if I may ask, why do we have the penchant to display money like primitive people in this country? We should be mindful of the effect of this primitive practice on Nigeria and Nigerians both at home and abroad. Otherwise, how do you think the outside world would look at Nigerians when they travel out of the country? How do you want our development partners to feel towards the country, since Nigeria would be viewed as a country that has too much money than is needed? So much money that everybody is stealing left, right and centre.
From the latest development, it is clear that those in government are using security votes to siphon money from our coffers under fictitious sub-heads. This particularly huge sum of money was said to have been taken from the president’s security votes. If that is the case, you can imagine how much is there in the kitty as the president’s security vote that could be spent as his whim and caprice dictate.
What projects are the huge amount of money stashed away in Ikoyi meant for? This is a question to which Nigerians need urgent answers, if the agency is not to be taken as another conduit pipe through which our common patrimony is being diverted into private pockets.
Remember the $15 billion arms money seized in South Africa, the Abacha loot which General Ishaya Bamaiyi has shamelessly said was reserved for arms procurement, and quite recently the Dasuki arms money that has been a subject of intense criminal investigation all over the place. The worse thing about this so-called security votes is that the president, the state governors and the local government chairmen, have been drawing money without any recourse to account for how it is spent.
Since Jonathan approved the money in question, the public may need to know whether the money was meant for the 2015 election, as the nation has since uncovered the bizarre money spinning for that election under different sub-heads in the Dasuki arms-gate. By the way, why would an agency of government warehouse government money in a discreet private house when there are CBN offices in most state capitals?
The NIA was established by Decree 19 of 1986, which also gave birth to the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the State Security Service (SSS). In addition to that, it derives its powers and functions from the instrument that gave its objective as protection, promotion and enhancement of Nigeria’s policy objectives outside Nigeria.
Its functions include: Obtaining by covert sources or other means, external intelligence on activities of Nigerians or any person, organisation or country outside Nigeria whose conduct is aimed at bringing disrespect to Nigeria and her leaders or undermining the security of Nigeria; Obtaining by covert sources or other means, external Intelligence that is capable of advancing Nigeria’s vital interest. Also: Identifying and assisting in the apprehension of persons outside Nigeria believed to have committed any crime against the security of Nigeria; Monitoring the intentions, activities and foreign country/governments towards Nigeria, among others.
From the above, it could be seen that the NIA operations are largely external in nature. The agency may keep money for its operations, but certainly not such an embarrassing amount of money they cannot easily explain. What projects are the huge amount of money stashed away in Ikoyi meant for? This is a question to which Nigerians need urgent answers, if the agency is not to be taken as another conduit pipe through which our common patrimony is being diverted into private pockets. Nigerians are watching.
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