Godwin Tsa, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to prosecute the Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, of sundry allegations bordering on abuse of office and financial impropriety.
The directive followed Obono-Obla’s suspension by the President following a series of petitions against him from spirited Nigerians and concerned groups over acts of misconduct.
Meanwhile, president Buhari has directed the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata to immediately take over the affairs of the panel.
This was contained in a statement Thursday by Joseph Daudu, Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Justice.
The statement explained that:
“Folowing the crisis arising from series of petitions from legal practitioners, concerned public spirited citizens and public officers, alleging abuse of office, intimidation, unauthorized malicious investigation, financial impropriety, administrative misconduct and forgery/falsification of records by the Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed his immediate suspension from office.
“The suspension follows the receipt and consideration of the interim investigative report of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on the matter.
“The President has also directed that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) should conclude its investigations and proceed to prosecute Chief Okoi Obono-Obla.”
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 suspending him 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, Mr Obono-Obla has been accused on various issues “ranging from abuse of office, intimidation and unauthorized malicious investigations, financial impropriety, administrative misconduct, and allegations of forgery/falsification or records, to mention but a few.”
Credible sources from the Ministry who spoke with Daily Sun on condition of anonymity said Obla overreached his powers as Chairman of the panel.
According to the source, “while the Panel was supposed to investigate only cases referred to it by the government, according to the law establishing the panel, the Chairman has single-handedly taken on cases outside of its mandate and in gross violation of Rule of Law, including violations of people’s fundamental human rights.
“In spite of the specificity of the mandate of the Panel, the FG 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.”
Daily Sun findings also revealed that members of the 5-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, Nigeran 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 Obono-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 Obla which has caused considerable concern in the government is 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 Obono-Obla’s “unauthorized investigations of several judges initiated by Mr Obla through the issuance of notices to them to declare their assets, an obligation which these Honorable Judges had hitherto complied with through the authorized agency-the Code of Conduct Bureau.”
It was also stated that Mr Obono-Obla had used the Panel to arrogate the powers and functions of the EFCC and the ICPC.
“In the circumstances, the Government is left with no choice than to review his appointment and possibly prosecute him for allegations of forgery and possibly also for criminal extortion,” a source noted.