Presidency Suspends Obono-Obla, Faces ICPC Investigation


Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has suspended Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel on recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla and asked him to await the outcome of an investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

The presidential action was contained in a letter addressed to the embattled SPIP boss by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha.

“I write to convey the directive of His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for your suspension from office as Chairman, Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property with immediate effect,” the letter said, adding: “This suspension shall subsist until the conclusion of the on-going ICPC investigations into cases of alleged falsification of records and financial impropriety against your person.”

It continued: “You are required by this instruction to strictly observe and comply with the provisions of PSR 030405 (a-c) of the Public Service Rules. For the avoidance of doubt, the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice shall be the authority to whom you shall report.”

THISDAY was reliably informed last night that Obono-Obla’s suspension letter was delivered to both the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Obla’s supervising ministry.

A top government official who did not want to be named, said Obono-Obla might face criminal prosecution on matters relating to alleged financial misconduct, as uncovered by the ICPC upon investigation.

“He may in addition, face prosecution with regard to his academic credentials, specifically, the WAEC Certificate issue.

“Government may ask the University of Jos to withdraw his law degree and the Nigerian Law School to debar him from practice. This is owing to the conclusion of the ICPC investigation, the recommendations of which were approved in full by President Buhari,” the source said.

Another top government official told THISDAY in confidence last night that Obono-Obla’s cup of offences had run over, pointing out that his activities had been under critical review for some time.

According to him, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) 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,” and consequently proposed suspending him from office.

The source also disclosed that the presidency had also recently received another report which indicted the suspended panel chairman on other acts of forgery and misconduct.

He further disclosed that the Office of the AGF, had accused Obla of various misdemeanors “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.”

He added: “In fact, late last year, the matter of the madate of the panel became an issue of judicial interpretation at the Appeal Court in the case of Tijjani Musa Tumsah versus the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“In that case, the Appeal Court held that the panel headed by Obla lacks prosecutorial powers and cannot 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 is to submit its report to the head of government and that the panel, as against the conduct of the chairman, cannot act outside its enabling statute, the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act of 1984.

“Actually once when confronted with some of his alleged misconduct and other allegations, Obono-Obla pleaded profusely and was made to sign a written undertaking to mend his ways.” However, no sooner he signed that undertaking, he abandoned the undertaking and continued, singularly violating the law and regulations in place in the conduct of the work of the phone.”

The source further disclosed that “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 extant laws of the federation.”

He disclosed further that the main grouse against Obono-Obla was that whereas the panel was supposed to investigate only cases referred to it by the government, it unilaterally took up cases outside its mandate in gross violation of rule of law, including violations of people’s fundamental human rights.

The source added: “Inspite 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 5-man Panel wrote a petition against 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.”