Opinion: EFCC and the case of the ‘crazy’ informant – By ABIMBOLA ADELAKUN
You knew something had to be amiss when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was quoted as saying although the whistle-blower who alerted them to the stash of money in the Ikoyi apartment is now a millionaire, the anti-graft body will still watch him to make sure he makes good use of the money. In the report issued by the EFCC spokesperson and which Magu was quoted as speaking at a forum in Vienna, Austria, the point was not only clear enough; the quote was pretty uniform across the media that reported the case.
One thus wonders how is it the place of the EFCC to monitor what the man does with his reward. Should their obligation to him not be limited to providing him with security, so he is not hounded by vengeful confederates? Why has his prior condition of poverty and now, sudden stupendous wealth, attracted the proprietary impulses of the EFCC chairman that they would appoint him a babysitter? There was a fishy texture to the EFCC’s paternalism towards the informant that begged clarification on how the whistle-blowing policy has been working. The process, so far, has been shrouded in secrecy. For instance, how much has been recovered, from whom, and have those sums been appropriately gazetted?
Only for the informant’s lawyer to contradict the EFCC and state that his client had not been paid! The rest of the tale – and the exchange between the parties – has been pretty bizarre. According to his lawyer, Yakubu Galadima, when the informant got too much for the Department of State Services officials that were protecting him to handle, they pushed him to the EFCC. The EFCC took his client to a psychiatric hospital against his wishes. The lawyer contended his client was not mentally ill; he was only acting passionately because of the way he had been treated by the EFCC. Yet, the EFCC took him to the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital at Yaba, Lagos, where he was confined for a month.
The details are sketchy and therefore confusing. First, how did both the DSS and the EFCC determine this informant was mentally ill? Did they subject him to a professional evaluation and on whose orders did such a procedure take place? Was the medical assessment made without the consent of the man’s family and any input by his lawyer? Does the man have a personal doctor and was s/he present throughout this process, or he was adjudged mentally unstable by the EFCC who then proceeded to act on their judgment of him? One is genuinely puzzled by the gaps in this story because the actions of the EFCC have implications for the future of anti-corruption battles in Nigeria.
The implication of the EFCC designating an informant who gave them valuable information as “crazy” and sending him to a mental institution is grave. It could mean that whenever the EFCC does not want to pay their informant, they can label such a person crazy and have him/her consigned to a mental institution. Putting a question mark on someone’s mental competence is problematic because such a person’s judgment on any issue may forever be viewed through such prism of that accusation. This instance is curious too because it involves government agencies and a government-run hospital, both of who can use institutional powers to collaborate especially against someone they do not like for whatever reason.
Then, it gets more curious when the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, a SAN, interjected in the matter and confirmed that indeed, the Federal Government had withheld payment because they did not want the informant to run mad! Sagay claims that the informant needs proper counselling on what to do with the money, so he does not blow through it in five minutes. He also adds that the man is not “sufficiently stable to receive such a huge sum of money” and by spending it irresponsibly, he would possibly endanger himself, so he needs counselling.
Like the EFCC, Sagay too did not state whether the assessment of the man’s mental condition was based on a professional evaluation. He also did not say whether there is a clause in the law on whistle-blowing that provides for mental health and moral conduct counselling to informants. In fact, Sagay’s statement moved on a spectrum from where he made a definitive judgment on the man’s mental state to where he merely presumed that handing the man a massive sum of money might drive him crazy. So, which is it? Is the informant mad in the physiological sense or they are only projecting what his mental state would be after he has been paid? And why do they keep assuming that because he has been poor, he lacks any judgment he needs to run his own life? Is there any law that says the Nigerian government should teach people how to spend their money? Why are the EFCC and Sagay so paternalistic towards this young man that they infantilise him and cast doubts on the state of his mental stability? Was it ever stated to him from the outset that the reward he would receive had to be spent in the manner they – and only them – had pre-judged as “responsible”?
Sagay says the Federal Government has the responsibility to ensure that the man does not spend the money in minutes because such a bulk sum could also be spent on millions of Nigerians who need government intervention. But, in which book of the law is it stated that the Federal Government has any responsibility – moral or otherwise – towards people’s personal spending proclivities? What is next, the government instructing civil servants how to spend their salaries? Why should the informant be compelled to invest his reward in an enterprise if he has no personal desires to do so or he lacks any orientation in managing a business? What if the informant desires to fritter the entire sum away in a lottery machine in one night; why should they dictate to him to do otherwise?
The real issue, it seems to me, is that the Federal Government did not envisage that the day would come when someone would win a bonanza so huge that they would be forced to make a massive payout than they are prepared to pay. Now that they are faced with such a dilemma, they should perhaps redirect their energies towards amending their policies to limit the amount they can pay out to any whistle-blower. In western countries, especially in the United States, where they have been using the model of financial reward to stimulate the public to give up information on acts of corruption, rewards to informants are flexible. There is a range and what is eventually paid out is usually at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury. The money is also taxable. That is as far as government obligation goes; nobody guides anyone’s moral choices. If the EFCC should endow itself with the responsibility of teaching people what to do with their reward, they will end up creating needless umbilical cords that will permanently tie them to their informants. Nobody needs all the drama that is bound to come out from such connections, the contours of their relationship with their informant should remain professional.
They should pay this informant first and, going forward, should probably refine what anyone could be paid. For instance, what if in the future someone gives them a tip that leads to an N100bn discovery? Would they be willing to pay 2.5 to five per cent of such sum? There should be a clear statement on payment, the tax to be withheld on the money, and what the person’s right to appeal against their judgment looks like. Such details should be highlighted at the outset, so they do not introduce new rules in the middle of the game. Punch