A section of the media was awash last week with news of a whistleblower, one John Okupurhe, who had written a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari accusing the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), of refusing to pay him his reward after he had exposed over $1 billion hidden in Unity Bank Plc.
Okpurhe, through his lawyer, Aliyu Lemu, in a letter dated June 22, 2020, had alleged that the said account was secretly being operated by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to illegally collect revenue to the tune of the S1bn from vessels.
He added that upon discovery, he informed the Office of the AGF, in line with the whistleblower policy, of the secret account and an agreement was signed on how he would be entitled to a reward if the information he had provided turned out credible.
The whistleblower further alleged that after playing his own part, the AGF’s office “began to play games.”
Following the said allegation, the House of Representatives, in a motion of urgent national importance during plenary last Thursday, gave its committees on Finance and Ports & Harbours a marching order to investigate the secret account allegedly being operated by the NPA with Unity Bank plc.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the NPA was not the owner of the said account number 0013680344, which was cited by the whistleblower, Mr. Okpurhe.
It was discovered that the NPA was actually operating an account with Unity Bank Plc with account number 0013670344 and the account had a total sum of $1,057,772.03 by December 4, 2019 and not $1,034,515,000.00, as alleged by the petitioner.
Further probe into the allegation revealed that the account number 0013670344 had been frozen since August 27, 2010 due to a suit number FHC/L/CS/582/2010 filed against the NPA by Aminu Ibrahim & Co and Anor, which went from the Federal High Court to the Supreme Court over a period of eight years.
The said amount had accrued over time since 2003 when the NPA contracted a consultant to, among others, carry out the following assignments:
1. Identify the various contracts subsisting (or expired) between the NPA and Intel Services Limited. A reconciliation of the financial interest of the NPA in line with contract agreement was to be established and any other payment due to the NPA highlighted.
2. Same as (1) above for NLNG/MOBIL/NPA joint venture projects for the capital and maintenance dredging of Bonny Channel.
3. Consultants to verify contracts between the Authority and some of its joint venture partners, namely Intels, Mobil and NLNG.
4. Reconcile NPA amortization payments in respect of capital dredging and maintenance dredging of Bonny Channels in the NLNG/MOBIL/NPA joint ventures.
5. Check accounting ledgers of the NPA in respect of the projects above to ensure that a true reflection of the state of financial affairs is made for each of the projects.
6. Identify any concessions granted (but which expired) and are used to the detriment of the NPA. 7. Identify any other areas related to the above projects/transactions and make recommendations, and
8. The assignment is on a no-cure, no-pay basis and the fee is fixed at 18 per cent.
Not satisfied that money had not been paid, the consultant approached the court praying it to compel the NPA to pay.
The NPA had, in a letter to the AGF dated January 22 and 23, 2003, with reference numbers HQ/GM/1A/AD/COM/045 and HQ/GM/1A/AD/CON/046, drew the AGF attention to the terms of agreement as stated above.
The plaintiffs, while in court, claimed that they carried out the assignments diligently and submitted their bills for payment, but the Authority failed, refused and or neglected to pay their professional fees.
Worried by the twist of event, the NPA filed its defence, which was predicated on the ground that the Authority did not agree to pay the sums claimed by the plaintiffs as there were discrepancies in the report submitted by the plaintiffs, which made same unreliable for the use of the Authority.
It was observed that the NPA further contended that the subject matter of the suit was being investigated by the federal government vide the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and that the payments of all contracts awarded during the period had been suspended by the EFCC.
“The Authority presented the above position and also requested the court to allow it defend the suit on merit to enable it proffer evidence to confirm that the assignment was not carried out as required and there was no evidence to ascertain how the Consultant arrived at the sum claimed.
This is in view of the fact that the assignment was on a No-cure, No-pay basis, which is to the effect that failure to render services satisfactorily will not inure to the Consultants’ benefit.
“The Court reserved ruling on the above application till the 13th of December, 2006.
However, instead of delivering a ruling on the 13th of December, 2006, the Court entered judgment against the Authority in the exact sums claimed by the Plaintiffs.
The judgment of Court was totally against the weight of evidence and the Authority was of the opinion that the learned trial Judge erred in law and in fact when he held that the Authority had no defence to the suit.
“The Authority’s Solicitor proceeded to file and argue the appeal on behalf of the Authority at the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal delivered its judgment on the 7th of May, 2009, and held that there was no merit in the Authority’s defence, hence it dismissed our appeal.
The above decision of the Court of Appeal came as a surprise as the Court was expected to look into the issues, particularly since there was the issue of the claim being subject of EFCC investigation, which fact the Plaintiffs did not deny and also the issue of computation of fees.
“The only option available to the Authority at the time was to appeal to the Supreme Court and contest the decision of the Court of Appeal.
This was in view of the enormous sums awarded against the Authority and the apparent bias exhibited in the judgment.
To this end, and in order to prevent the Plaintiffs from enforcing the judgment, the Authority filed an appeal and the application for stay of execution of the judgment.
This was done on the 11 th May, 2009,” an impeccable source at the NPA submitted.
A letter signed by the NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, to the office of the AGF claimed that while at the court of Appeal, the Authority raised the issue of jurisdiction that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter which was a case of contract to recover professional fees.
Usman said that in the letter that, however, the Supreme Court, in its judgment delivered on the May 11, 2018 found that the plaintiffs rendered service to the Authority, which was not paid for and dismissed the Authority’s appeal.
“The Supreme Court, contrary to its earlier decisions in similar cases that the Federal High Court did not have thecjurisdiction to hear suits predicated on simple contract, held that the present case was not one of simple contract but an administrative decision of an agency of the federal government.
The Authority had been optimistic that the
The Supreme Court would direct that the matter be referred to the appropriate trial court for hearing to enable justice to be done in the matter.
This was particularly in view of the Authority’s position that the service said to have been rendered by the plaintiffs was not in tandem with the Contract.
“Consequently, the Authority was directed to pay the plaintiffs the following sums:
(1) $9,186,701.00 plus pre and post-judgment interest at the rate of 10% per annum, with effect from 27th of April 2004 until date of payment.
(2) N144,303,981.OO, together with pre and post-judgment interest at the rate of 10% per annum, effective from 27th April, 2004 until date of judgment.
The above stated sums translated into:
$22,507,417 only as at 23 rd October 2018 based on the 10% interest awarded by the Court from 2004; and
(b) (Three Hundred and Fifty Million, Five Hundred and Forty-Four Thousand, Seven Hundred and Fifty-Three Naira and Forty-Five Kobo) only as at 23 rd October 2018 based on the interest of 10% awarded by the Court from 2004.
“Following the judgment of the Federal High Court in 2010, the Judgment Creditors approached the Court vide the Garnishee procedure to enforce the Judgment of the Court.
“The Federal High Court, Coram Honourable Justice E. Abang granted the Garnishee order nisi against the following Banks; Guaranty Trust Bank, Access Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc (Former Skye Bank), Union Bank Plc, Bank PI-IB, Ecobank Nigeria Plc and 1ntercontinental Bank Plc,” she added.
Usman revealed in the letter that the court, while granting the order, directed the banks to freeze the sums standing to the credit of the Authority pending when the garnishee order would be made absolute.
“The Authority opposed the order of the court on the ground that the suit was on appeal to the Court of Appeal, Lagos.
“Based on the Authority’s position, the Court suspended the hearing of the Garnishee procedure until the resolution of the appeal. The suit proceeded to the Supreme Court and upon the judgment of the Supreme Court, which was against the Authority, the Judgment Creditor resuscitated the Garnishee process.
“Some of the banks relying on the Garnishee order nisi which was granted in 2010 held on to the sums standing to the credit of the Authority as at the date of the Order and apparently refused to transfer same to the TSA account when directed to do so.
“The Federal High Court on the 30th May, 2019 made the Garnishee Orders absolute against the Authority’s account with Access Bank and GT Bank, the effect of which is that the Banks may in satisfaction of the Judgment debt transfer the sums to the Judgment Creditors.
“It was on the Garnishee Order absolute that necessitated the debit of the Nigerian Ports Authority’s account with Unity Bank account no.013670344 and the Bank statement revealed that on the 4th of December, 2019 the sum of $1,057,772.03 was debited in favour of Suit no. FHC/L/CS/582/2010 GARNISHEE ORDER NISI- AMINU IBRAHIM & CO & ANOR. VS. NIGERIAN PORTS AUTHORITY SUIT” she explained in the letter”.
The General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications of NPA, Jatto Adams, told our correspondent that upon the determination of the case at the Supreme Court, the judgment creditors continued with the garnishee process, which resulted in the credit of the amount $1,057,772.03 in favour of Suit No FHC/L/CS/582/2010 GARNISHEE ORDER NISI- AMINU IBRAHIM & CO & ANOR. VS. NIGERIAN PORTS AUTHORITY on December 4, 2019, in line with the Garnishee Order absolute.
Adams said it was, therefore, obvious there was no cloned account as speculated in the alleged whistle blowing effort of Mr Okpurhe.
The account under discussion was frozen on the strength of a court order in August 2010, and following the completion of the case, the money was consequently transferred to the judgment creditor on December 4, 2019, in line with the Garnishee Order Absolute.