UNENDING VIOLATIONS OF THE MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL INVESTIGATION PANEL FOR THE RECOVERY OF PUBLIC PROPERTY BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE PANEL, CHIEF OKOI OBONA-OBLA
1. On 27 July 2017, as Acting President, His Excellency, the Vice President, on the recommendation of the former Ag. Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr. (Mrs.) Habiba M. Lawal vide memorandum SGF.H165/XVII/188 dated 24 July 2017 approved the setting up of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP/Panel) under the chairmanship of Chief Okoi Obona-Obla (Mr. Obla).
2. The Panel was set up pursuant to the provisions of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act Cap. R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 (the Act) with the limited and specific mandate of discreet investigation of cases expressly and specifically referred to the Panel in writing by the President or his designate.
3. In spite of the specificity of the mandate of the Panel, the Office of the Vice President and the Federal Ministry of Justice are in receipt of numerous complaints, on the part of Mr. Obla, of 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.
4. Excesses of Mr. Obla were not limited to individuals, Government agencies and private companies, but extend to foreign missions in Nigeria.
5. Following series of violations and the intervention of His Excellency, the Vice President, through the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation (HAGF), Abubakar Malami, SAN, Mr. Obla submitted a written undertaking Ref. SPIP/SH/OVP/2017/VOL.1/1 dated 10 November 2017 to the effect that the Panel would thenceforth:
“only act on a written mandate received from the Presidency, and will seek authorization from the Presidency to undertake fresh mandates in accordance with extant laws of the Federation.”
6. Notwithstanding Mr. Obla’s written undertaking to operate within the mandate of the Panel and two subsisting decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court restating the limitation of the mandate of the Panel (Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CR/78/2018 and Suit No. CA/A/278/2018) Mr. Obla has continued with the earlier cautioned violations as evident from numerous complaints received by the Office of the Vice President.
The two courts respectively held that the panel has no powers to apply for forfeiture of properties; the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act 2004 did not empower the panel to initiate and prosecute criminal charges against anybody, and that its functions terminate upon its compliance with Section 4(4) of Act which requires it to, at the end of its investigation, submit its findings to the Head of the Federal Government.
SUMMARY OF SAMPLES PETITIONS ON THE EXCESSES OF MR. OBLA
7. The under-listed petitions are just samples of dozens of petitions received by the Office of the Vice President. It is worthy of note that there was no referral to the Panel, from the Presidency, of any of the matters mentioned in the petitions.
a. Petition dated 28 November 2017 from Ugochukwu Okwesili, Head Litigation, United Bank for Africa challenging a demand by the Panel for the statement of accounts of four of its customers in relation to a matter he claimed had been thoroughly investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of Police, the Akwa Ibom State Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Ministry of Justice, and clearance was issued by the three authorities.
b. Petitions dated 2 January 2018 and 16 May 2018 from Peter N. Eze, solicitor to Senator Ike Ekweremadu, challenging allegations by the Panel that the senator had illegally acquired the official residence of the Deputy Senate President and directive to vacate same and declare his assets to the Panel; and filing by the Panel of an application at the Federal High Court for an order to temporarily attach/forfeit certain properties of the Senator. The petitioner claimed that there was no prior invitation or impartial investigation by the Panel.
c. Petition dated 8 February 2018 from Martin A. Aguda Esq. to the HAGF challenging the decision of the Panel to investigate a joint venture involving its client and the Nigerian Ports Authority in respect of the Calabar Channel Management, which was sub judice at the time; being the subject matter of Suit No. LD/3204SMW/2017 between Nigerian Ports Authority v. Niger Global Engineering and Technical Services Limited & 6 Ors and Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1296/2017 between Nigerian Ports Authority v. Calabar Channel Management Limited & 2 ors.
d. Petition dated 21 February 2018 from A. M. Ayine FCA, Auditor-General of the Federation to the HAGF requesting the latter to determine the question of whether the Panel had legal authority or responsibility over ‘public funds’ since its name indicated ‘public property’, or power to issue instructions or directives to the Accountant General of the Federation. This resulted from a letter from the Panel directing the Accountant General of the Federation to:
i. Furnish it with details of a purported withdrawal without proper authorisation from the Treasury Single Account of the sum of Ten Billion Naira (₦10,000,000,000.00) belonging to the National Health Insurance Scheme; and
ii. For the Accountant General of the Federation to complete and return, within 30 days, Declaration of Assets Form to the Chairman of the Panel.
e. Petition dated 1 March 2018 from Alhaji Tijani Musa Tumsah, Vice President of both the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative and Victim Support Fund to the HAGF alleging harassment and malicious prosecution by the Panel, which he attributed to his refusal to influence contracts in favour of its Chairman and refusal to donate towards the public presentation of his book titled “All progressives Congress, the Making of a Change Agent” because of factual inaccuracies.
f. Petition dated 3 March 2018 from Usman Tatama Esq., solicitor to Aliyu Ibrahim Damchida, Abubakar Usman and Suleiman Abdul Kwari (promoters and investors in Grand Pinnacle Luxury Hotels Limited, Abuja) to the HAGF challenging an invitation of the Panel in relation to investigation of a case of corrupt practices and illegal acquisition of property in which the name of the hotel featured.
g. Petition dated 14 May 2018 from Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria to the HAGF accusing the Chairman of the Panel of excesses, unprofessional conduct and certificate forgery, and prayed the HAGF to bring same to the attention to the Body of Benchers and prosecute him accordingly.
h. Petition dated 14 May 2018 from Darlington Ozurumba Esq., solicitor to Senator Albert Bassey Akpan to the Chairman of the Panel requesting a retraction and written apology for “false and unfounded allegations” against the Senator, which were contained in a letter written by the Chairman to the United Kingdom Home Office secretary. Specifically, the letter termed acquisition by the Senator of landed properties in the United Kingdom as suspicious given his income as a public servant, and urged the Home Office Secretary to issue an Exclusion order against him on grounds of tax evasion and money laundering.
i. Petition dated 31 October 2018 from Audu Anuga Esq., solicitor to Mr. Cyril Chukwuma Agbele, Permanent Secretary/Accountant-General of Delta State to the HAGF seeking the immediate release and return of the international passport of his client who was invited to appear before the Panel on allegation of owning twenty landed properties and several vehicles. He claimed that no investigation was carried out before the detention of his client and seizure of the client’s international passport.
j. Letter dated 8 August 2018 from Mamman Ahmadu, FNIQS, Director-General, Bureau of Public Procurement to the Solicitor-General of the Federation informing about a request from Mr. Obla for approval to use selective bidding to engage consultants to verify assets declared by public servants and other persons. The Bureau observed that the request was signed and presented by the chairman of the Panel instead of the Federal Ministry of Justice, which oversees the activities of the Panel. It also observed that the Panel is neither a “Ministry, Extra-Ministerial Office, Government Agency, Parastatal nor Corporation” so as to be regarded as a ‘procuring entity’ within the meaning of Section 60 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007, and as such could not assume the responsibility of a procuring entity. The Solicitor-General via Ref. SGF/PS/SPIPRPP/733/1 dated 16 August 2018 communicated the Bureau’s observations to the chairman of the Panel, advising him to be guided accordingly.
k. Letter dated 5 February 2019 from M. A. Sani-Omolori, Clerk to the National Assembly forwarding the recommendations in the Report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the activities of the Panel addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. It recommended that:
i. The President should be urged to dissolve the Panel and the Chairman should be relieved of his role in view of his arbitrary use and abuse of powers, while the Code of Conduct Bureau should be used to implement the anti-corruption drive;
ii. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission should investigate the allegations of corruption contained in the Audit Report of the Accountant General of the Federation on the financial transactions of the Panel, and prosecute culprits accordingly; and
iii. His academic and professional certificates should be withdrawn for forgery and he should be subsequently prosecuted.
l. Petition dated 6 March 2019 from Hassan M. Liman, SAN, PhD, FCIArb, MON, solicitor to one Dauda Lawal to the HAGF alleging illegal invasion of his client’s residence in his absence by fully armed security officers from the Panel and investigation of the incident.