Okoi Obono-Obla, the chairman of presidential panel on recovery of public assets, has finally been served a letter of his immediate suspension from office.
The letter, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, corroborated this newspaper’s previous reports of Mr Obono-Obla’s removal from office for a series of allegations, including falsification of WAEC result and corruption.
Mr Obono-Obla had spent the past few days dismissing the exclusive reports as unfounded and sponsored by powerful elements. He also insisted that he remained in office because he had not been informed of his suspension.
The emergence of the letter comes hours after PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr Obono-Obla had been finally asked to stop all activities as the chairman of the asset panel.
His trouble was linked to an investigation by the anti-graft agency, ICPC, which found that he had falsified his WAEC result to enrol at the University of Jos, where he studied law in the 1980s. He also attended the Nigerian Law school on the back of the fake high school records.
Several administration officials who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES expressed strong concerns that Mr Obono-Obla could not be allowed to continue in office and expanding a career he began on fake academic credentials.
The findings of the ICPC also corroborated a previous inquiry by the House of Representatives in 2018. A House committee that investigated Mr Obono-Obla’s WAEC documents found that it was fake and asked Mr Buhari to remove him from office.
The lawmakers also said Mr Obono-Obla’s university degree and law school certificate should be withdrawn and he should be handed over to federal authorities for prosecution.
Another matter that worried administration officials was the growing claims that Mr Obono-Obla had used his office to enrich himself. The House also reached similar conclusions in its December 2018 report.
Mr Obono-Obla has strongly denied all allegations of certificate forgery or corruption, saying he was a victim of vindictive powerful interests who are offended by his anti-corruption fight.
He said he had recovered billions in cash and asset from corrupt present and former officials into the federation account.
Although his work has been widely praised by anti-corruption campaigners, the tactics often deployed by Mr Obono-Obla had also been a major ground for concern.
He had also been largely controversial on duty, taking on top administration officials like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami.
The letter suspending Mr Obono-Obla had been dispatched to him, administration sources said. It was, however, unclear whether he had received and acknowledged it as of Wednesday evening.
He did not immediately answer calls seeking comments Wednesday night.
See letter below:
In an earlier report on how Obono-Obla got into trouble, Premium Times reported that activities and conduct of the Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recoveryof Public Property, Okoi Obono-Obla have been under critical review for sometime in the Presidency and his outright dismissal and prosecution was imminent, according to a top government official.
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 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.”
In fact 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. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.
In that case, the Appeal Court held that the Panel headed by Obono-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, Mr Obono-Obla pleaded profusely and was made to sign a written undertaking to mend his ways. However, no sooner he signed that he abandoned the undertaking and continued singularly violating the law and regulations in place in the conduct of the work of the Panel.
According to an authoritative source, “following a series of violations for which he was queried, Mr. Obono-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 authorization from the Presidency to undertake fresh mandates in accordance with 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 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.
Said the source, “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.”
Matters, however, came to a head when the other four 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.
Reports by Premium Times