The Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) has dismissed two of its top officials who were suspended nearly a year ago for initiating investigations against Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu.
Director and Chief Executive Officer of the agency, Modibbo Tukur, notified the two officials of their dismissal in separate letters sent to them on June 29, PREMIUM TIMES was reliably told by insiders, who have also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the NFIU boss’ action.
The NFIU boss, Modibbo Tukur, placed the agency’s associate directors on suspension for initiating investigations against Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu, almost a year ago.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Mohammed Mustapha, the associate director, Intelligence and Investigation, and Fehintola Salisu, associate director, Compliance and Analysis, were suspended by Mr. Tukur in August 2020 for initiating the probes against Mr. Abubakar, a former Vice President , and Mr. Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State.
Although both Messrs Abubakar and Tinubu are big guns in the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the All Progressives Congress (APC), respectively, both men are believed to be eyeing the presidency in the forthcoming 2023 elections.
Mr. Tukur levelled other allegations against the two senior NFIU officials, but initiating separate investigations against the two politically-exposed persons appeared to be the driving force for the action taken against them.
According to him, Mr Mustapha wrote to the Inspector-General of Police and the Chair of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Mr Abubakar without authorisation in violation of his standing directive.
He had added that launching such investigation was not part of Mr Mustapha’s departmental briefing.
On Ms Salisu’s role in the former Vice-President’s case, the NFIU Director stated in a document relied on by PREMIUM TIMES for the previous report, “she claimed to have minuted the request on the investigation of Atiku Abubakar to Mustapha AbdulRahman (Mr Mustapha) who went ahead to write IGP and the EFCC Chairman directly, all without approval while I was actively on duty as the Head of Agency.”
Mr. Tukur also alleged that Mr Mustapha sent a request to the United States of America based on an old Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) case against Mr. Tinubu.
“Significantly, after his suspension, it was discovered that he initiated a request to the U.S on Bola Ahmed Tinubu which he extracted from an old case of CCB,” he had stated.
In 2011, during the then President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration, the CCB accused Mr Tinubu of breaching Nigeria’s code of conduct law by operating foreign accounts while serving as Lagos State governor between 1999 and 2007.
The case was eventually dismissed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Accusing Mr Mustapha of violating procedure, the NFIU Director said his approval as the CEO of the agency was not sought before the move to initiate a probe against Mr Tinubu was initiated.
‘Outcome of investigation’
Insider sources , who are privy to the goings-on at the Nigeria’s number one financial intelligence agency, told our reporter that Mr. Tukur had queried, suspended and ordered the probe of the two officials August 11, 2020, for their roles in initiating investigations against Messrs Abubakar and Tinubu, among other allegations.
He said in the letters seen by our insider sources that they were given the opportunity to defend themselves in line with the principle of fair hearing.
The investigative committee recommended the dismissal of the two officials, Mr Tukur was said to have written in his letters of dismissal sent to them.
He also specifically accused Mr Mustapha of conniving with an unnamed staff member of the agency to enjoy full salaries and benefits during the period of his suspension.
Our source said the NFIU who alleged that such conduct “is both criminal and prosecutable in the service”, demanded that he “make a full refund to government.”
Mr. Mustapha was also directed to return all NFIU’s property in his possession immediately.
Our reporter reached to Mr Mustapha and Ms Salisu for their comments in vain. They did not answer calls or respond text message enquiries sent to them on the matter.
A law firm, C. Chris Ekemezie & Associate, had sent a petition to Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) , accusing Mr Tukur of various infractions including alleged “unexplainable” suspension of two of the agency’s staff members.
In the petition, later dismissed, the petitioner alleged that the two staff members were suspended “for trying to profile a politically- exposed person from his (Mr. Tukur’s) state.”
Mr. Tukur, in his response to the petition, defended his action taken against the officials, but also raised other sundry allegations against the officials.
Concerns over legitimacy of officials’ dismissal
Many insiders and close observers of the NFIU have raised concerns about the legitimacy of Mr Tukur’s action dismissing the two officials, who are just a notch below the CEO in the hierarchy of the agency.
Mr. Mustapha and Ms Salisu are the remaining legacy staff members of the NFIU in the directorate cadre of the country’s foremost financial intelligence body.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the other four associate directors only came on board after the re-establishment of the unit through the new NFIU Act which came into force in 2018.
It is against the norm of global financial intelligence bodies for member Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) to take actions such as disciplining staff members in a manner that appears to be politically-motivated, experts in the field have told our reporter.
“Dismissing staff members, top directors at that, in connection with moves to investigate politically exposed persons, is definitely not global intelligence bodies will frown on,” one of them said.
In addition to that, some insiders have punctured the dismissal for being arbitrarily done.
Section 7(3) of the NFIU Act 2018 gives the agency the power to make staff regulations to provide for staff disciplinary procedure and remunerations.
But three years down the line since the coming into force of the Act, the regulations meant to be issued with the approval of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice “and other appropriate authorities” have yet to see the light of the day, insiders say.
The implication is that the Director takes disciplinary actions in the agency at his whims and caprices.
The public service rules that can also fill in the gap in the absence of the NFIU staff regulations were also not followed in the case of the two NFIU officials, because it confers only on the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) the exclusive power to dismiss any officer in the public service, PREMIUM TIMES’ analysis shows.
Rule 030307 of the Public Service Rules enumerated the strict procedures that must be followed for an official in the public service to be dismissed by the Federal Civil Service Commission.
The procedure stipulated in the Rules begins with issuing a query to the officer stating the grounds for the proposed disciplinary action against him or her.
The officer will be expected to respond in writing, within the period specified in the query.
If the officer submits his/her representations and the Federal Civil Service Commission is not satisfied that he/she has exculpated himself/herself, and considers that the officer should be dismissed, it shall take such action accordingly.
“Should the officer however fail to furnish any representations within the time fixed” the Rules say, “the Commission may take such action against the officer as it deems appropriate.” This could be a breach Mr. Tukur hid under
But it goes further to state that “If upon considering the representations of the officer the Commission is of the the opinion that the officer does not deserve to be dismissed from the Service but deserves some other punishment, it shall impose on the officer such punishment as it considers appropriate”.
It adds that “where necessary, the Commission may set up a board of inquiry which shall consist of not less than three persons one of whom shall be appointed chairman by the Commission.”
The members of the board are to be selected with due regard to the status of the officer involved in the disciplinary case and to the nature of the complaint which is the subject of inquiry.
The findings of the board, if it decides that the officer be dismissed, must be approved by the commission for the dismissal to take effect. If not approved, the officer must be immediately reinstated.
The rules provide that the disciplinary procedure must be completed within 60 days.
Contrary to the provisions of the rules, the procedure for the dismissal of the two NFIU officials started and ended between him and the agency’s investigative committee.
No regulations were cited in the letters of dismissal sent to the officials. (Premium Times)