Mr Okoi Obono-Obla, the controversial chairman of the Special Investigations Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), has finally been suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari over allegations of forgery and corruption pending the outcome of investigations by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). In the letter of suspension signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, the government said: “This suspension subsists pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation into the cases of alleged falsification of records and financial impropriety against your person.”
The SPIP was set up in 2017 by the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. Prior to Obla’s suspension by President Buhari, the office of the vice president had issued several warning letters to him on his modus operandi, including the use of “The Presidency” in letterheads. He had also been accused of involvement in various forms of abuses, including intimidation and unwarranted possession of people’s properties. But he had refused to budge, saying that he was answerable only to President Buhari and claiming that he was being persecuted for probing high-profile persons. In addition, for quite a while, Mr. Obono-Obla had been embroiled in a certificate scandal which cast a slur on his career as a lawyer. His School Certificate qualifications were disowned by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Testifying before the ad hoc panel of the House of Representatives investigating his alleged certificate forgery, Mr. Femi Ola, a WAEC deputy registrar, declared the certificate presented by Mr. Obla when he enrolled for a degree in law at the University of Jos, Plateau State, as having been altered and therefore invalid.
The WAEC deputy registrar explained that the actual candidate with certificate number 09403/247 of Mary Knoll College, Ogoja, Cross River State, is Ofem Okoi Ofem. The examination number and subjects were the same as presented on the certificate by Obono-Obla, except for Literature-in-English in which he claimed to have scored C6 despite being marked absent in the certified true copy presented by WAEC. The deputy registrar added: “Considering the results, particularly what is before me, I would say that what I have brought here is the authentic and genuine one. His (Obono-Obla’s) is not because it has been altered and such alteration renders it invalid.” With that disavowal, it remains to be seen how Obono-Obla could validly claim to be a lawyer without the basic qualifications.
In any case, the setting up of a presidential panel to recover stolen public property was entirely superfluous given the existence of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the ICPC, two separate anti-graft agencies which have been empowered by law to function in the roles specified for the panel, as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the country’s major anti-crime agency. Worse still, in word and deed, Mr. Obono-Obla proved to be a gross misfit in the anti-corruption matrix of the current administration. Certainly, his appointment wasn’t made with due diligence and having him in such a sensitive position actually casts a slur on the sincerity and integrity of the administration.
While explaining the reason for the suspension, the Federal Government said that it premised it on the interim report by the ICPC on Mr. Obono-Obla and the many petitions against him alleging malicious use of authority, intimidation and falsification of documents. It therefore asked the Solicitor General of the Federation to take over his functions as chairman of the SPIP in the interim. Truth be told, the Obono-Obla matter festered for this long only because of the slow and plodding style of the president. The House of Representatives rolled out its report on the same subject over a year ago, recommending Obono-Obla’s sack and prosecution.
If the president had any doubts about the report, he could have requested the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to commence investigations into the matter then. However, his hesitation unduly delayed the consequences of Mr. Obono-Obla’s indiscretion and lack of circumspection in his role as chairman of the SPIP. Why did the president have to wait until now to suspend the SPIP chairman? And why does he need to retain a panel that is only a replica of the properly constituted anti-graft agencies?
Asking the Solicitor General of the Federation to take over Mr. Obono-Obla’s role amounts to a perpetuation of the misbegotten outfit. The president should dissolve the panel forthwith.