Civic groups blast Nigeria’s foreign ministry for sack of whistle-blower

GEOFFREY-ONYEAMA [Photo credit: guardian.ng]
GEOFFREY-ONYEAMA [Photo credit: guardian.ng]

Two Nigerian civic groups have called for the reinstatement of Ntia Thompson, a whistle-blower at the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One of the groups, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, said it is giving the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, a seven-day ultimatum to recall Mr. Thompson who was sacked after exposing a $229,000 fraud.

In an open letter sent to Mr. Onyeama, SERAP requested the minister to use his position to facilitate the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson was fired after sending a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, asking it to probe an allegation of fraud involving some top officials of the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, DTCA.

Mr. Thompson, an assistant director with the DTCA in charge of the SERVICOM Unit, who blew the lid on how $229,000 and N800, 000 were allegedly diverted, was sacked on February 7.

The move came just two months after the Buhari administration, through the Executive Council of the Federation, approved the whistle-blowing policy, promising full protection and restitution for any informant against harassment, intimidation or victimisation.

SERAP in its letter signed by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale, said, “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 Akinwumi Adesina, President of the AfDB, 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.”

SERAP argued that Mr Thompson’s treatment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a fundamental violation of his right to freedom of expression and breach of President Buhari’s whistle-blowing policy, stressing that the allegations of fraud should never be supressed or withheld as a matter of public interest, transparency and respect for the rule of law.

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

Information revealed that officials of the DTCA allegedly 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.

About N800,000 was also allegedly spent for SERVICOM “sensitisation seminar” in the Directorate.

Amid concerns the funds may have been diverted, Mr. Thompson petitioned the EFCC to investigate the allegation. He also petitioned the Police Inspector General, Ibrahim Idris, expressing concerns about his safety.

The anti-graft agency launched an investigation into the petition, but its effort only resulted in compelling the officials to refund about N800,000, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

Shortly after, the DTCA management issued Mr. Thompson a query, accusing him of leaking official information to the Commission and thus subjecting the agency to public ridicule and embarrassment.

On December 19, 2016, Mr. Thompson was served a suspension letter and, after two months on suspension, he was sacked on February 7, 2017.

Another civic group, the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, AFRICMIL, also condemned the victimisation of Mr. Thompson.

In a statement signed by the coordinator of the centre, Chido Onumah, AFRICMIL said it views the action of the ministry not only as most unconscionable but also as another devastating blow to the war against corruption under the current administration.

Mr. Onumah noted that the sacking of Mr. Thompson shows that some top government officials are planning to ensure that the government’s whistle-blower policy and the fight against corruption, do not gain any meaningful traction.

“Clearly, the Minister of State and other key officials of the Ministry were thoroughly embarrassed by the whistleblower’s revelation and the only way to respond was through his illegal dismissal from service,” Mr. Onumah said.

The civil society group, therefore, urged the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, not to approve the dismissal of Mr. Thompson.

It also called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Police to properly investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.


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