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 have 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 theHuman 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.
Mr Obono-Obla has said that some people were after him for daring to investigate and expose assets hidden abroad by some powerful people 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.
‘’Mr President should discharge Obla of the responsibility as Special Adviser and as chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP)’’, 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. The presidency is carrying on as if nothing is amiss.
–Jones is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja.