For over a year, the Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Okoi Obono-Obla, has continued to run the panel in contravention of multiple presidential orders, PT can report.
The first letter from the office of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo,
This was followed by a series of other cautionary letters. But despite these, Mr Obono-Obla has continued to carry out his duties in violation of his statutory mandate and in disregard to warnings.
The warning letters
The SPIP was set up in August 2017 by the then Acting President, Mr Osinbajo. The panel led by the Special Adviser to the President on Anti-corruption, Mr Obono-Obla as chairman, has three other members and a secretary.
The AGF was directed to ‘please inform Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, in strict compliance with Section (1) 1 of the recovery of Public Properties Act, he should refrain from carrying out any activities as Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Until his Excellency, the Vice President so instructs.’
“As envisaged by this section, it is for the President to specify the purpose or mandate of the panel. It, therefore, came as a surprise that Chief Okoi Obono-Obla had issued notices to several judges to declare their assets without receiving any specific mandate in that regard,” the letter further reads. Apparently, due to a disregard of the first letter, the Vice President wrote the AGF again as a reminder on November 17, 2017. The reminder came with specifics.
The letter also directed the SPIP boss to refer all cases of asset recovery to the AGF after investigation, adhere to the approved budget and due process in its dealings and warned that the panel ‘cannot arrest and detain suspects, but must refer them to relevant law enforcement agencies when necessary.’
“I also understand and align with your directives that the panel can only act on a written mandate received from the Presidency, and will seek authorisation from the presidency to undertake fresh mandates in accordance with extant laws of the federation,” the letter reads.
This development forced the AGF to again write the vice president. The letter dated March 16, 2018, noted that Mr Obob-Obla was still operating in contravention of the vice president’s orders. The AGF said his office had received at least five petitions against him.
Issues raised in the petitions were part of the activities the panel carried out without taking directives from the Presidency, even after warnings.
Suspension of all activities
Following complaints of unauthorised activities of the panel, Mr Obono-Obla in a January 25, 2019 letter was asked to suspend all activities of the panel until further directives.
The letter, a copy of which was seen by PREMIUM TIMES, made references to earlier ones informing Mr Obono-Obla of his excesses and consequent warnings.
“In consideration of the forgoing, I am directed by His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, to instruct you to immediately cease all activities, pending an ongoing review of the SIP mandate and further directives of His Excellency.” Despite the clear directives of the letter, however, Mr Obono-Obla has continued to carry out activities of the panel.
Breach of directive
Despite the January letter conveying a direct order to Mr Obono-Obla to seize all activities, the SPIP boss has continued to run the affairs of the panel. Sources privy to these activities told PREMIUM TIMES that the SPIP has been functioning as of before.
Apart from ignoring the vice president’s directives, Mr Obono-Obla has continued to work without recourse to superior authorities, another source said.
“For instance, if there is a case of litigation, the panel is supposed to seek guidance from the AGF but he doesn’t do that before acting,”
Multiple sources who have related with the panel also confirmed that the panel still uses a letterhead bearing ‘presidential’ as part of its name.
Sidelines other panel members
Apart from ignoring repeated presidential directives, Mr Obono-Obla has also side-lined the three other members of the panel while delegating their duties to his trusted assistants, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
One source said other members of the panel have complained to the AGF’s office and to the presidency, out of frustration. This much was confirmed by Mr Osinbajo who stated in his letter to Mr Obla that his office has “been inundated with complaints from various sources, including members of the panel…”
Proceeding Despite Directive To Stop Work
Despite the January directive, Mr Obono-Obla has continued the panel’s operations. The panel has continued with the prosecution of Adedayo Thomas, executive director of the National Film and Video Censor Board (NFVCB), who was arrested for allegedly stealing a multi-million naira generator set. He has been granted bail.
Mr Obono-Obla justified his actions when contacted on the myriads of allegations against him. The SPIP boss said he would not comment on his response to petitions against him and requested for a copy of the petition from the AGF for him to respond to the alleged breach of the Vice President’s directive.
“I will not like to talk to the media about this. These are official issues,” he said.
He confirmed that the panel still uses letter head bearing ‘presidential’ but justified it on the mode of communication on the change.
“I didn’t appoint myself, my letter of appointment read ‘special presidential…’ and it was signed by the Acting SGF who was responsible for those things and I have not gotten a letter from the SGF office saying that we should remove ‘presidential’ from the panel’s name. I’m relying on my letter of appointment.”
“The panel was appointed by the president and the panel reports to Mr President. I’m not aware of those communications (to cease activities). Otherwise, the letter should be written by the chief of staff to the president.
:If you look at the law, it (the panel) was appointed by the president and the panel is supposed to be reporting to the president by virtue of the law. I’m not aware of those communications,” he said.
Both offices of the Vice President and AGF did not respond to inquiries by Premium Times. Laolu Akande, the media aide to the Vice President did not respond to questions.
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