The House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on need to investigate the legality and modus operandi of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel came out with damming report in July 2018 faulting proprietary of the panel, panel’s account statement and the qualification of the panel’s chairman, Okoi Obono-Obla.
While serving as Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo on August 1st 2017, constituted the Okoi Obono-Obla-led Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property.
The Presidency said it relied on the powers conferred on it by the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, 2004. The law was originally Decree No 3, 1984 promulgated by the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari, but with a retroactive effect from 31st December 1983.
But this panel which derives its root from a military decree has been subjected to scrutiny with conclusion that it’s an illegal body. Contrary to its provision that it shall work with petitions from the President, the panel began by soliciting and receiving petitions from members of the public and also invited citizens to fill asset declaration forms, which is a constitutional preserve of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CBB). While Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution captures the CCB as a federal executive body, the 5th Schedule to the Constitution provides greater details of the acts amounting to a breach of the code of conduct of public officers. It also established the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Also, since the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act came into effect some eight years before the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, the latter is deemed a spent law because the functions specified by the Act to be performed through panels established by the president are now performed by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
It has also been observed that the propriety of the panel’s existence side by side with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are mere duplication of functions and ballooning cost of governance.
Furthermore, there is no gazette backing the establishment of the panel, just as there is also no provision for the panel in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
According to House of Representatives ad-hoc committee report, the office of the Accountant General released to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) the sum of N251, 355,000 for the take-off of the activities of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP). The sum of N500,000,000 was released to the office of the National Security Adviser to set up Special Intervention fund to enable ICPC, EFCC and SPIP have a common pool of funds to draw upon when their statutory allocation is inadequate.
The ad-hoc committee however disclosed that following its directive to the Auditor General for the Federation, the panel was audited with mind bungling revelations.
It said contrary to the provisions of the Circular No. SWC/S/04/S.310/105 dated June 10, 2010, the panel chairman (Okoi Obono-Obla) paid himself honorarium of N600,000 monthly and N500,000 monthly each to other members as against sitting allowance of N50,000 and N40,000 monthly to chairman and each member per month. This went on for six months before the .audit Besides, the payment schedules also contained names of persons who are not appointed members of the panel but enjoyed honorarium in unregulated and unapproved sums of N8,185,000.
“It was observed that N4.2 million was budgeted for each of the 3 members of the panel to pay accommodation for 60 days at the rate of N70,000/day totaling N12.6 million. Payments were also seen to be made in this regards on PV/TP/OSGF/CG/ADV/297/2017 dated 20/12/2017 for two of the panel members who could not be identified as their names were not stated in any of the hotel’s correspondences obtained from retirement voucher TP/OSGF/CA/ADV/20D18/2018. The stated documents reveal that the members enjoyed accommodation at Rockview Hotels at a total cost of N4.2 million for 30 days’’.
“The chairman and members of the panel were to be flying business class air tickets at the expense of public funds despite restrictions on such class of tickets in the public service for appointees in their category. This was in defiance to an order by the President vide Establishment Circular with ref no. SGF/OP/1/S.3/X1756 dated 2/11/2016. Consequent to this, all claims for travels made by air in classes other than economy does not constitute a legitimate charge against public funds’’.
The panel members were also observed to have misrepresented special imprest as advances. Policy of government such as e-payment which ensures control and transparency in transaction, the committee said was totally disregarded in virtually in all transactions.
The Ad-hoc committee disclosed that it received a petition from the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) against the chairman of the panel, Okoi Obono Obla, including copies of the statement of result which he was alleged to have used to gain admission to study Law, adding that the committee sent them to the West African Examination Council and University of Jos for verification.
“The University confirmed that the statement of result sent to it was the result Obla used to gain admission to study Law. However, the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the result for CandidateNo:094051247 May/June 1982, showed that the candidate was absent at the exam for literature. In the result with University of Jos, he claimed to have credit in Literature in English in the statement of result issued to him by Mary Knoll College, Calabar
“However, WAEC disclaimed the result in the Certified True Copy sent to the committee. This cast doubt as to the integrity and character of the chairman of the panel
“On 15th October, 2015, the chairman of the panel through a ‘’DEED’ changed his name from Ofem Okoi Ofem to Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla’’
It would recalled that HURIWA stated in its petition that the credentials of Ofem Okoi Ofem, who changed his name to Okoi Obono-Obla gained admission into the University of Jos with a suspected fake WASCE result. The said Okoi Obono-Obla (Ofem Okoi Ofem), sat for May/June 1982 (Examination Registration No. 09403/247) at Mary Knoll College, Ogoja, where he obtained the following results: English Language- C6, Literature in English- Absent, Bible Knowledge- C4, Government- A1, Economics- C5, Mathematics- F9, Chemistry- F9, and Biology- F9. “This result can be easily verified on WAEC result portal by obtaining a PIN card at the cost of N700.00.
“Okoi Obono-Obla (Ofem Okoi Ofem), took JAMB in 1982 and was given admission into the Faculty of Law, University of Jos where he presented a statement of result allegedly obtained from Mary Knoll College, which details are as follows: English Language- C6, Literature in English- C6, Bible Knowledge- C4, Government- A1, Economics- C5, Mathematics- F9, Chemistry- F9 and Biology- F9. ” The group stated that whereas the genuine WAEC result has listed the result for Literature as ABSENT, but the result which forms the basis on which Okoi Obono-Obla (Ofem Okoi Ofem) was offered admission to study Law at the university claims that he obtained C6 in Literature. HURIWA then alleged it is probably a forgery. Secondly, that at the time of his admission, Obono-Obla (Ofem Okoi Ofem), did not possess a minimum of a credit pass in Literature, a compulsory requirement to study Law. “And thirdly, that Obono-Obla (Ofem Okoi Ofem) did not also possess a minimum of 5 credit passes, a compulsory requirement to gain admission into a university in Nigeria.
Mr. Obono-Obla who refused to appear before the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee during its public hearing has however said that some people were after him for daring to investigate and expose assets hidden abroad by some ‘powerful’ individuals in the National Assembly. According to him, he is not under any pressure to resign as the issue is currently in court.
“The matter is in the Federal High Court, Abuja. It was filed since June 2018 and the House of Representatives Committee was duly served but they ignored the matter and went ahead to procure false witnesses to give evidence behind me.
The ad-hoc committee however recommended that the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act, Cap R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 be repealed; just as it urged the President to dissolve the panel in view of the arbitrary use of power and abuse of office by the chairman.
“The CCB should be strengthened to fill the gap that the panel seek to fill in the current anti-corruption drive, just as it said the ICPC should investigate the allegations of corruption contained in the Audit report on the financial transactions of the panel by the Auditor-General of the Federation and prosecute the culprits.
“The law degree obtained by Obla having been done fraudulently be withdrawn by the University of Jos; while the Body of Benchers should withdraw the law school certificate awarded to Ofem- now known as Obla as this was based on the degree which he obtained from the University of Jos through fraud.
“Mr President should discharge Obla of the responsibility as Special Adviser and as chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP), while Obla should be arrested by the IGP and charged to court for forgery and misrepresentation’’, Reps Ad-hoc committee stated.
The presidency has remained silent since July this year when the Ad-hoc Committee of the House of Representatives released its report on the sleaze in the panel and discredited academic background of the panel’s chairman. The presidency is carrying on as if nothing is amiss.
This may go a long way to give credence to the hilarious but serious statement of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, Sen. Shehu Sani, that the presidency applies double standards in fighting corruption.
Sani made the accusation on January 23, 2018 in the senate plenary in response to a letter by the President dismissing a report by the committee indicting the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, for corruption.
“When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants,” Sani said.
Buhari had in his letter, which was read during plenary by Senate President Bukola Saraki, accused the committee of failing to give the SGF a fair hearing, adding that the Senate report was signed by only three out of the nine committee members.
But Sani said Buhari’s letter was based on “misinformation and outright distortions”, declaring that he stood by the committee’s report.
He said, “It is shocking to me that such a letter can come from the Presidency with such misinformation and outright distortions. They lied by saying that the committee didn’t invite the SGF: the committee invited the SGF and the letter was acknowledged by the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the SGF.
Sani, who said corruption must be fought without bias, described the President’s letter as “a funeral service for the anti-corruption fight”, adding that it was unfortunate that “we have a political atmosphere where you have a saintly and angelic Presidency and a devilish and evil society.”