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Contrary to speculations that bankers and mainly account officers are set to win big in the new whistle blowing policy of the Federal Ministry of Finance, findings by Business Hilights Banking/Investments Desk in Business Hilights (BH) may put their lives in danger.
In banking and finance, account officers are marketing staff of banks that administer and midwife accounts of individuals and corporate bodies round the clock. They get directives from account owners and always resolve issues on their behalf in the bank branches.
Investigations and undercover interviews with some account officers in select banks in Lagos and Abuja show that many of them that handle accounts of former and current public office holders suspected to have embezzled public funds and laundered same across accounts and banks with company names that are not operational may have been receiving strange calls warning them of disaster if there is attempt to expose them.
An account holder in Abuja without understanding who she is talking to, hinted that some of their staff handling related accounts have been isolating themselves and seating in groups discussing deeply since the issue of whistle blowing came up.
According to her, “Some of our highly respected account officers have been showing signs of momentary depression since the whistle blowing policy started yielding results”.
“I know of one that has filed in resignation letter and I hear that her husband has been pressuring her to resign for them to fly away from the country to avoid being wiped out by some affected account owners who may think that the best way out is to kill them before they let the cat out of the bags.
Another source in one of the new generation banks in Lagos confided in Business Hilights that his bank is now embarking on massive transfer of bank managers as part of efforts to hide the whereabouts of some branch managers that may have been deeply involved.
A branch manager who pleaded anonymity said “It may be difficult for whistle to be blown from inside a bank because it will make or mar the bank for life in the country”.
“Bankers are not first of all under any obligation from any law to divulge the activities of an account just for the sake of blowing whistle. Again, Whistle blowing is just a policy that is yet to be backed by any law.
A former banker who now manages another business after retirement two years ago in Lagos under anonymity said “The best places to get whistle blowers include account departments of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and not even in banks, because before the money arrives any bank, documentation must have been perfected to the level that the account officer who will handle it may or may not know that he or she is handling looted funds”.
Upon several efforts made during the investigation, it was not clear if the management of all the banks have issued discreet warnings to their staff on issues bordering on whistle blowing, but many of the new generation banks that are located within the radius of government offices may be vulnerable to such acts as part of survival strategies.
Findings show that whereas majority of the suspected accounts do not bear their names or names of companies close tracable to the Politically Exposed persons (PEPs), they usually operate the accounts themselves, and their account officers who help them to manage the accounts are aware. Many a time, the account officers are on their payroll year round.
One of the account officers in a new generation bank told our correspondent that it will be much easier and hundred safe for account officers in one bank can blow the whistle in another bank rather than his or her own if he or she had the needed details, but it will be very hard.
This rare scenario from another angle played out in the case of the embattled former Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Andrew Yakubu.
There were insinuations that the $9.8 million recovered by the EFCC from him 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.
From all indication, banking surveillance experts say it would be very rare for whistle blowing to flourish from within the banks, but it can do well from outside. The reason for their permutation stems from the security of the blower and integrity of the bank in handling hard businesses which are the main targets of running banking business.
A retired banker confided in our correspondent that to know the banks that encourage movement of illicit money is very simple.
According to him, “Just note that all those banks that are highly visible within government secretariats and agencies’ locations across the federation. EFCC should look into the books of all those banks that are in the habit of sitting along the corridors of government activities and are rare along the busy streets; they are experts in handling illicit transfers’. In fact, they are only known and seen around streets where government activities are highest in Abuja and all the states’ capitals and to be exact, not just states’ capitals, but inside secretariats.
Analysts say the survival of whistle blowing policy will depend on the true safety of the blowers and the recent case of one Mr. Thompson Ntia has given some insights even though the federal government is lately running up and down to handle.
Ntia, 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.
After several uproar and even court actions by some civil society bodies, his case is now under review by the minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, following the directive of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
Last weekend, the federal government through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, though failed to mention the Ntia case, but made the assurance to the public in a statement, saying “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.