When Okoi Obono-Obla, chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the recovery of Public Property (SPIP), decided to probe alleged wrongdoings in the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), little did he know that he was digging his grave. His cup was already full and running over.
He had not been in good books of some powerful forces in the presidency because of his activities, according to insiders. His decision to probe PEF, in the process stepping on sacred toes, ignited a coalition of forces against him. His situation was compounded by his “persistent abuse of power” which had caused considerable discomfort in government circles.
Among several petitions against Obono-Obla, which caused considerable concern in the government according to a presidency official, is the one by the Human Rights Writers Association, HURIWA bordering on allegations of forgery of WAEC result said to have been used by him to gain admission to read law at the University of Jos.
A WAEC official testified that Obono-Obla did not sit for Literature in English, a prerequisite subject to study law but presidency did not take any action thereafter despite pressure from federal lawmakers.
His ouster from SPIP, according to insiders, was however accelerated by his decision to probe PEF officials in whose personal accounts the panel reportedly found N3 billion.
The panel zeroed in on Goody Nnadi, the general manager, corporate services, and Aisha Fanya Usman, the general manager, administration and personnel department. She is elder sister to MS Usman, an air vice marshal and the chief of defence intelligence.
Obono-Obla came under intense pressure to drop the investigation. After a search on the woman’s residence in Abuja, she raised the alarm that police officers stole $30,000 from her room. Shortly thereafter, Mohammed Adamu, the inspector-general of police, withdrew some of the policemen attached to SPIP.
“Events suddenly took a dizzying turn,” according to a presidency source. “The IGP went to Saudi Arabia for hajj. Usman also went on August 1. So both of them were in Saudi Arabia together. Before you could say ‘Jack’, police went and sealed off Obono-Obla’s office and in a matter of days, he was fired as the chairman of SPIP.”
Another presidency source who briefed reporters off-the-record on Wednesday night said Obono-Obla’s sacking was “inevitable” because his “activities and conduct have been under critical review for sometime in the presidency”.
“Specifically the office of the attorney-general of the federation and justice minister (Abubakar Malami) 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,” he said.
He was accused of “abuse of office, intimidation and unauthorised malicious investigations, financial impropriety, administrative misconduct, and allegations of forgery/falsification or records, to mention but a few”.
The official, who chose not to be named, said the appeal court had already ruled that SPIP lacks prosecutorial powers and cannot seize properties belonging to anyone or obtain forfeiture orders against any public official in the case between Tijjani Musa Tumsah and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The court also held that the duty of the panel is to submit report of its investigations to the head of government.
“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 he abandoned the undertaking and continued singularly violating the law and regulations in place in the conduct of the work of the panel.
“Following a series of violations for which he was queried, 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.
“The main grouse against the panel chairman was that while it 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 federal government has been inundated with complaints against Obla. These include 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.”
Four members of the five-man panel wrote a petition against him and asked for urgent action to curtail his “several identified unlawful conducts”.
He was said to have taken over as many as 50 cases outside the mandate of the panel.
The other panels members said “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”.
He was also accused of extortion and may now be referred to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) over the allegations.
“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,” the official said.
For instance after an illegal secondment of over 100 policemen to himself, 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.”
Obono-Obla is accused of being a “loose canon” who has disregarded even Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who, as acting president in 2017, empowered the panel “in the first place”.