Alleged $229,000 Fraud In Foreign Ministry: SERAP Gives Onyeama 7 Days To Recall Whistle-Blower

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has given Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Geoffrey Onyeama seven days to ensure and facilitate the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of whistle-blower an Assistant Director, Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa(DTCA) in charge of the SERVICOM Unit Ntia Thompson sacked through a post on DTCA’s notice board for exposing an alleged $229,000 fraud in the Ministry.

The seven days ultimatum is contained in an open letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Geoffrey Onyeama .

The organisation urged Onyeama to act swiftly to comply with the whistle-blowing policy of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and international standards, which guarantee full protection and restitution for any whistle-blower against harassment, intimidation, victimisation or any form of retaliation.

SERAP in the letter dated March 10, 2017 and signed by its Deputy Director Timothy Adewale said that, “By sacking Mr Thompson, your ministry would seem to shield information on the alleged fraud that the public has a right to know. Therefore, should you fail and/or neglect to act as requested within seven days after the receipt and/or publication of this letter, SERAP will be compelled to pursue appropriate legal action against your ministry to challenge the unfair treatment and victimisation of Mr Thompson.”

The letter copied to President of the Africa Development Bank(AfDB) Mr Akinwumi Adesina, , reads in part, “We also urge you to act swiftly to identify those involved in the alleged fraud and hand them over to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation and prosecution, as well as recover any stolen public funds. Impunity for reprisals against Mr Thompson would send a message to all potential whistle-blowers that your ministry lacks the commitment to their protection.”

It continued, “SERAP is seriously concerned that Mr Thompson’s unfair treatment by the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply for disclosing alleged fraud in the ministry is a fundamental violation of his right to freedom of expression, and breach of President Buhari’s whistle-blowing policy, which seeks to protect individuals who make access to such allegations possible.”

The letter added that SERAP also believes that the allegations of fraud disclosed by Thompson should never be suppressed or withheld as a matter of public interest, transparency and respect for the rule of law, adding that harassing, intimidating and punishing whistle-blowers creates disincentives for public disclosure of allegations of fraud and corruption and damages an important tool of transparency and accountability.

SERAP said in the letter that it believes that protecting whistle-blowers encourages accountability, increases the costs for those who might engage in fraud and corruption, and advances the public’s right to know. The alleged fraud involving officials of the DTCA should not be kept hidden from public view, especially given the government’s whistle-blowing policy and the fact that Nigerians are entitled to a right to information of all kinds.

According the body, “Mr Thompson’s public interest and whistle-blowing activity has made him vulnerable to attack, hostility, punishment and other forms of retaliation. SERAP argues that Mr Thompson, like any other whistle-blowers, is entitled to the right to impart information, and ought to be offered adequate legal protection because Nigerians have the right to receive information such as on the allegations of fraud involving senior officials of your ministry. The right to receive information advances several principles that underlie human rights, encourage participation in public affairs, and advance the ability of individuals such as Mr Thompson to seek out information of all kinds. Nigerians should enjoy access not only to information about the policies and practices of the government, but also to information about whistle-blowing.”

“SERAP urged the minister to use his leadership position to promote and ensure within your ministry a culture that values transparency, accountability and public participation and protection of whistle-blowers by facilitating the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Thompson back to his position as assistant director with the DTCA.

It also urged the minister to encourage rather than punish the practice of whistle-blowing by establishing within your ministry effective and protective channels for whistle-blowers to motivate remedial action and effective redress and protection against retaliation, adding that without protection against retaliation and the possibility of redress, few would disclose allegations of fraud and corruption,

SERAP stated that it had  been fully briefed by Ntia Thompson and  that it is in possession of documents including Thompson’s petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) on allegations of fraud and corruption involving some top officials of the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, DTCA.

Mr. Ntia, an Assistant Director with the DTCA in charge of the SERVICOM Unit, was sacked on 7 February 2017 following his petition to the EFCC that $229,000 and N800, 000 were allegedly diverted by top officials of the DTCA. Although the money was withdrawn from the Nigerian Technical Cooperation Fund(NTCF), there was no evidence it was used for the purpose it was meant.

The NTCF is a trust fund domiciled with the AfDB, but jointly managed by the bank and the agency on behalf of the Federal Government.

According to SERAP’s information, officials of the DTCA withdrew the money for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the NTCF, for which $36,852.00 was allocated.

The amount was also meant for the monitoring of various projects executed from the Trust Fund across Africa. N800, 000.00 was allegedly spent for SERVICOM “sensitization seminar” in the Directorate, which the EFCC has asked the officials involved to return.

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