Why Obono-Obla Is In Trouble With Presidency

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Okoi Obono-Obla

Innocent Oweh, Paschal Njoku

Abuja – It emerged on Thursday that the activities and conduct of the suspended chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Okoi Obono-Obla, had been under critical review of the presidency for a long while.

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Specifically, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister had earlier recommended to the presidency, among others, “that a thorough investigation be conducted into the allegations of forgery levelled against Mr. Obono-Obla”, while also proposing his suspension from office.

The presidency has also received more recently an indicting report on the panel chairman bordering on acts of forgery and misconduct.

According to the Office of the Attorney-General, Obono-Obla has been accused of various acts “ranging from abuse of office, intimidation and unauthorised malicious investigations, financial impropriety, administrative misconduct, and allegations of forgery/falsification of records, to mention but a few”.

Late last year, the matter of the mandate of the panel became an issue of judicial interpretation at the Appeal Court in the case of Tijjani Musa Tumsah V. the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In that case, the Appeal Court held that the panel headed by Obono-Obla lacked prosecutorial powers and could not seize properties belonging to anyone or obtain forfeiture orders against any public official.

The court also held that the duty of the panel, upon conclusion of an investigation, was to submit its report to the head of government, and that the panel, as against the conduct of the chairman, could not act outside its enabling statute, the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act of 1984.

According to sources, when once confronted with some of his alleged acts of misconduct and other allegations, Obono-Obla pleaded profusely and was made to sign a written undertaking to mend his ways.

However, no sooner had he signed than he abandoned the undertaking and continued singularly violating the law and regulations in place in the conduct of the work of the panel.

The source said: “Following a series of violations for which he was queried, Mr. Obla submitted a written undertaking to the effect that the panel under his leadership would only act on a written mandate received from the presidency, and will seek authorisation from the presidency to undertake fresh mandates in accordance with the extant laws of the federation.”

The main grouse against the panel chairman was that while the panel was supposed to investigate only cases referred to it by the government, according to the law establishing the panel, the chairman single-handedly took on cases outside its mandate and in gross violation of the rule of law, including violations of people’s fundamental human rights.

The source continued: “In spite of the specificity of the mandate of the panel, the Federal Government has been inundated with complaints against Mr. Obla.

“These include complaints of violation of the specific mandate of the panel, human rights abuses and conduct unbecoming of an official of government, which conduct and actions had a number of times subjected the panel and the government to ridicule.”

Matters, however, came to a head when the other four members of the five-man panel wrote a petition against Obono-Obla, asking for urgent action to curtail the “several identified unlawful conducts of the chairman of the panel”.

According to the panel members, while two cases involving NEXIM Bank and CBN, Finance Ministry, Nigerian Ports Authority were referred to the panel, the chairman single-handedly took on over 50 cases outside the mandate of the panel.

They also stated that “contrary to the fact that the panel is an investigative panel by its enabling law, which lacks prosecutorial powers, Mr. Obla has unlawfully engaged lawyers to file charges against suspects without recourse to the Attorney-General’s office”.

“The man has been busy extorting money running into millions from suspects and engaged in excessive behaviour towards individuals, government agencies, private companies and even foreign missions in Nigeria,” another government source noted.

For instance, after an illegal secondment of over 100 policemen to himself, Obono-Obla attempted to arrest the Executive Secretary of TETFUND “with a truck of mobile policemen which led to the petition written to the Attorney-General’s office over the incessant illegal harassment”.

Among several petitions against Obono-Obla which has caused considerable concern in the government was the one by the Human Rights Writers Association bordering on allegations of forgery of WAEC result used for admission into the Law Faculty of the University of Jos.

The Office of the Attorney-General, in its recommendation to the presidency, also mentioned “unauthorised investigations of several judges initiated by Mr. Obla through the issuance of notices to them to declare their assets, an obligation which these honourable judges had hitherto complied with through the authorised agency – the Code of Conduct Bureau”.

It was also stated that Obono-Obla had used the panel to arrogate the powers and functions of the EFCC and the ICPC to himself.

After the initial report of Obono-Obla’s suspension from office on Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday, made the government’s action official.

This followed the receipt and consideration of the interim investigative report of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) on allegations levelled against him.

A statement by James Odaudu, Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Justice, disclosed that Obono-Obla’s ordeal started following the crisis arising from series of petitions from legal practitioners, concerned public spirited citizens and public officers, alleging abuse of office, intimidation, unauthorised malicious investigation, financial impropriety, administrative misconduct and forgery/falsification of records by him.

Consequently, President Buhari directed that the ICPC conclude its investigations and proceed to prosecute Obono-Obla.

Meanwhile, the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, has been directed to immediately take over the affairs of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP).

Source: independent.ng