Corrupt Nigerian officials are being forced to find increasingly desperate ways to hide stolen funds since the government offered financial incentives to whistleblowers.
Anyone who reports wrongdoing will be rewarded with up to 5 per cent of the recovered funds — a potentially very large carrot to be dangled in front of associates of those who have stolen tens of billions of dollars from the “fantastically corrupt” west African nation.
Last week a tip-off resulted in a raid that uncovered more than $43 million in cash from an unoccupied apartment in Lagos, meaning the anonymous whistleblower could be in line for a $2 million payday.
It was just one of many calls to the country’s economic and financial crimes commission under a system which has given new meaning to the term dirty money — quite literally.
“We have been told how looters have resorted to burying stolen funds in their backyards, in deep forests and even in burial grounds,” Lai Mohammed, the minister for information and culture, said. “As the looters continue to run helter-skelter, many of them are even abandoning their booty at unusual places, including airports.
“Thanks to whistleblowers, it is now clear that a rapacious few have pillaged the nation’s wealth through a vicious orgy of corrupt practices.”
Mr Mohammed, however, played down suggestions that whistleblowers were motivated only by greed. “From what we have seen, most of the Nigerians who have come forward with useful leads were driven by patriotism rather than reward,” he said.
However, last week’s highly publicised raid in Lagos has created some fervour in the community, neatly summarised by a newspaper cartoon that showed a teacher asking his students what they wished to be when they grew up. “Whistleblowers!” they shout in unison.
President Buhari made fighting corruption a key plank of his 2015 election campaign, and while there has been a series of high-profile arrests and seizures of money and properties, successful prosecutions are still proving difficult, with most cases proceeding though the corruption-riddled courts at a glacial pace.
“Whistleblowing is very good and everybody is now a watchdog,” Festus Keyamo, a prominent human rights lawyer, said.
“The second part of the anti-corruption fight is that we must strengthen the arm of prosecution if we don’t want corruption cases as an exercise in futility.”
The Lagos raid is likely to prove problematic.
The Nigerian National Intelligence Agency is believed to be claiming that the funds belonged to them, while the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, said he owned the money.
“We need the prayers of the church because there is nothing that prayers cannot do,” he told an Easter church service. “Pray that God should touch the government of Nigeria, so that they will return the money to us.”
Last year David Cameron was filmed telling the Queen that Nigeria was a “fantastically corrupt” country.