By Uche Diala
When I was seeing case upon case being thrown up by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla and his Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) involving highly placed and connected Nigerians from the big man and woman at Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) who had a mere N3B in their bank accounts to the two senior civil servants who vomited 86 brand new vehicles alone to the seizure of a classy Hotel owned by a Legislator in Gudu Abuja to the arrest a month ago of Oil magnate Femi Bajomo who’s company First Hydrocarbon Nigeria limited is owing the Federal government a mere $3Million amongst others to recently the investigations that led to the sack of NFF Boss Amaju Pinnick, I knew sooner than later, he will be made to dance to the tune of the old school music titled ‘Unleash The Dragon’.
Was I right or what?
Since yesterday when the Foundation Against Fraud, Indiscipline and Corruption and Buharists HangOut issued a a joint Press Release on reports of the sealing of the office of the Panel allegedly on “orders from above”, I have read a lot of things particularly and curiously from Premium Times which seems to have a particular interest in the matter going by its numerous submissions on it. A few hours after the FAFIC/BHO Press Release, Premium Times made a report on the development in which they copiously quoted unnamed “source close to Aso Rock”.
This is in the tradition of Premium Times in it’s reportage on this issue. In an earlier report, the online Newspaper continuing in its tradition of quoting “sources”, “multiple sources”, and “source who does not want to be named” catalogued what could be considered as the sins of the Chairman of the Panel, Okoi Obono-Obla. I carefully went through the report which has gone viral looking for a smoking gun but I could not find any except that there is clearly a running battle bewteen the Chairman of the Panel and the office of the Vice President, apparently fuelled by fringe elements.
Premium Times relying on its “sources” catalogued issues like refusal to remove ‘Presidential’ from the name and letter Head of the Panel, “refer all cases of asset recovery to the AGF after investigation, adhere to the approved budget and due process in its dealings” and the “Panel ‘cannot arrest and detain suspects, but must refer them to relevant law enforcement agencies when necessary.’ “
The Newspaper’s report quoted “sources privy to the activities” as saying that “the presidency expects the panel to regularly give updates of its activities and recoveries and that the SPIP “boss continues to run the panel without recourse to the presidency.”
It went on to state that “The AGF (Abubakar Malami) said his office had received at least five petitions against him (Panel Chairman)” and that “Issues raised in the petitions were part of the activities the panel carried out without taking directives from the Presidency, even after warnings.”
Premium Times further quoted its “sources” as saying Obono-Obla is also accused of “acting as a sole-administrator without consulting other panel members.” It said the VP’s Office had “been inundated with complaints from various sources, including members of the panel… “. Yet the Newspaper reports that when it “contacted two other members of the panel, they declined to comment on this report.”
This is the very same sin Premium Times accused Obono-Obla of committing when he told them that he would not comment on his response to petitions against him and requested for a copy of the petition from the AGF for him to respond to the alleged breach of the Vice President’s directive. In Obla’s own words – “I will not like to talk to the media about this. These are official issues,”
As Premium Times further reports through its “sources”; “Following complaints of unauthorised activities of the panel, Mr Obono-Obla in a January 25, 2019 letter was asked to suspend all activities of the panel until further directives.” It reports, yet “he (Obono-Obla) has continued to investigate unmandated cases,”. It stated that “despite a January directive to stop work, Mr Obono-Obla has continued the Panel’s operations.”
Such “work” as reported by the Newspaper include for the records;
- “The prosecution of Adedayo Thomas, Executive Director of the National Film and Video Censor Board (NFVCB), who was arrested for allegedly stealing a multi-million naira generator set. He has been granted bail.
“Mr Thomas was arrested after SPIP recovered a Turban generating set in Lagos on November 13, from where he allegedly sold it.”
- “Apart from this, the panel has continued its legal battle with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials over an allegation of mass corruption in the country’s football house.”
I have taken time to pretty much lay out the allegations against the Chairman of the SPIP, Okoi Obono-Obla, even though I find it uncomfortable that Premium Times of all people is acting as the ‘mouth piece’ of our government in this regard because I have not read any official communication on this matter from the expected sources.
That said, while I agree intoto and without any prevarication that the office of the Vice President deserves all the respect due it but in all sincerity and with all due respects, I see mainly Administrative issues here that could be easily resolved if we are all on the same page as far as the anti corruption fight of the present adminstration which we are all commmited to is concerned.
I have a read quite a few submissions by some people (even some Buharists) and in fact conclusions already drawn solely based on these Premium Times submissions (which is what everyone is referencing) and I find that most unfair as everyone is entitled to the right of fair hearing. Do we really know those fighting for us?
I will just ask; What should be our concern as citizens and progressives? Is it that the anti corruption war is actually fought (of course with due process) or to massage the egos of government officials?
Talk of forgery of O’level certificates relating to the Panel Chairman (even though unproven) had been given undue prominence in the past over the actual job the Chairman and the Panel are doing. I feel like weeping at times at how we are easily carried away as a people.
I must say it is pitiful that we would rather tear down the few who are focussed on getting results for us on the alter of shenanigans. Everyone can attest to the fact that the work done by the Obono-Obla-led SPIP has complemented the terrific job the Magu-led EFCC is doing and such a combination can only bode well for our anti-corruption fight.
If the Panel is actually acting outside its mandate as alleged without conceding, do we need all the drama to set things right since the Panel has not been proven to engage in illegal activities? (I stand to be corrected). The cases it is investigating and unearthing are genuine and may never have been exposed. Meanwhile how long does it take for such restructuring or reorganization, if that is the actual motive and if we truly appreciate the urgent and dire situation we are in?
Premum Times quoted its “source” as saying “For instance, if there is a case of litigation, the panel is supposed to seek guidance from the AGF but he doesn’t do that before acting, ..”.
But we know of at least two cases that the office of the SGF had taken over from the Panel (one of them involves Senator Hope Uzodinma). Both of them have systematically being on silent mode since then. Why do we play the ostrich?
It doesn’t matter what anyone says, we want to see proof of the Chairman of the Panel being corrupt. We will be the first to jump on it. Otherwise these other talks might just be merely giving a dog a bad name to hang it. At best they are clearly issues that can be resolved appropriately in the greater interest of the nation. One cannot be riding a bicycle and another applying the brakes.
I read the “source close to Aso Rock” in the Premium Times report of yesterday say the Panel is not disbanded but it is the Chairman that is being removed. For real?
Let me be clear. The Chairman of the Panel serves at the pleasure of the President. So the President has the right to fire him. But how do we explain sealing off a government office simply because you want to get the Chairman or Head out? If you want to remove the Head, write him a clear letter of sack from the appropriate authority. And if you have any case against him, arrest and prosecute him and let the Panel continue its work. That’s the change we fought for.
But because some people want to achieve whatever other motives, they muddle the waters and look for apian ways and sadly there’s always a ready herdsmedia and defenders to aide them.
I know some people will not like this submission but we have made such a huge sacrifice in supporting this administration and pushing the anti-corruption fight that we would not keep queit when it’s unnecessarily being undermined knowingly or unknowingly.
Removing Chief Okoi Obono-Obla from the SPIP at this time that we have gotten verifiable traction will not be in the best interest of the nation and President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war but I humbly appeal to the President and indeed my beloved Vice President, if he must be sacrificed so be it but please let him and his family be safe.
Dr. Diala is Lead Admin, Foundation Against Fraud Indiscipline and Corruption (FAFIC)