The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) has declared the former chairman of the Special Presidential Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Okoi Obono-Obla, wanted. The proclamation of the anti-graft agency is the culmination of a torrent of controversies that had dogged the office and person of Obono-Obla since he assumed office in 2015 when he was appointed special assistant on prosecution to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Among the deluge of allegations against Obono-Obla, according to the ICPC, included petitions accusing him of abuse of office, falsification of admission records, living above his income and collection of gratification from suspects he was investigating.
The suspended chairman, according to the ICPC, is also facing allegations of working outside the guidelines governing the panel by investigating unauthorised petitions and prosecuting suspects without recourse to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
First, we commend the ICPC on this laudable move. Though late in coming, it is a welcome development and a boost to the impetus of the anti-corruption efforts of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. We also salute the courage of the administration for putting its anti-corruption poster boy and once-upon-a-time chief prosecutor under the searchlight of one of the nation’s anti-graft agencies.
We also commend the government for admitting that he was appointed in error, and for the fact that it was willing to bring him to book if he is found culpable.
Although the action of the ICPC is commendable, it is however not without a bitter taste, as its dragging of feet on the matter paved the way for the escape of the former anti- graft chief from the country.
Obono-Obla’s escape to the United Kingdom despite his name being on the watch list of the security agencies calls to question the capability, effectiveness and efficiency of these agencies. In saner climes, it would have been easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for such a public individual, whose matter has been very well reported in the media like Mr Obla, to skip through their dragnet.
It is trite law that you cannot build something on nothing as the whole edifice will collapse. This explains why the allegation of certificate forgery while seeking admission into the University of Jos to study law levelled against the former office holder is perhaps the gravest albatross hanging on his neck. Reports have it that Obono-Obla, throughout his efforts to defend himself and stop his eventual removal, did not defend himself on the allegation, claiming that to do so would be tantamount to contempt of court since the matter was already in court.
This allegation also brings to question the ineptitude or otherwise of agencies saddled with the task of carrying out due diligence checks on would-be political office holders and admission seekers into the country’s tertiary institutions.
For a member of the Bar to be enmeshed in a controversy of this nature and slammed with such allegations should not be viewed lightly by the Nigeria Bar Association. This smacks of lack of coordination and poor quality of control from the professional pressure group.
We hereby advise that Nigeria, as a matter of urgency, should deploy all the weapons in its diplomatic arsenal to seek and accelerate the extradition of Obono-Obla from the United Kingdom where he reportedly resides at the moment.
For someone who was once dreaded by law breakers to now become a fugitive of the law – a case of the hunter now becoming the hunted – is a testament to the fact that no one is above the law, and that being in a position to apply the law against others does not give one the licence to break the same law or turn it into personal tool.
The travails of Obono-Obla and other political office holders in the past, who had been relieved of their positions on grounds similar to that of the former presidential aide, should be a timely lesson for all, that every public office is an opportunity to serve the public and make life more liveable for the masses and not an opportunity to line one’s pocket.