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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Excesses of Mr. Obla were not limited to individuals, Government agencies and private companies, but extend to foreign missions in Nigeria.
- 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.”
- 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
a. 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.
m. Petition dated 20 March 2019 from J. C. Suwa, Director Legal Services, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (Works Sector) to the HAGF challenging a request from the Panel for certain documents to further its investigation of an alleged case of award of contract for the rehabilitation of Oji-Achi-Mmaku-Agwu-Ndeabor Road Section 1 in Enugu State. The petitioner challenged the powers of the Panel to investigate contracts and prayed the HAGF to advise the Panel accordingly.
n. Petition dated 20 May 2019 from Alhaji Salihu Lukman Abubakar, ACP Monday Agbonika and Comrade Obinna Francis Ogwuegbu, members and secretary to the Panel respectively, to the Acting Inspector General of Police challenging the unilateral return of the Head of Operations of the Panel to the Nigeria Police and request for a Deputy Commissioner of Police in his stead. These, the petitioners claimed, is contrary to the Panel’s enabling law and subversive since the Deputy Commissioner of Police will report to the Assistant Commissioner of Police who is already a member of the Panel.
o. Petition dated 21 May 2018 from the Secretary and three other members of the Panel to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari challenging the unlawful conduct of the Chairman in arrogating the powers of the Panel to himself, unilaterally engaging counsel to file charges against suspects, operating and conducting investigations beyond the mandate of the Panel, engaging consultants without due process, exclusion of members of the Panel from cases, unauthorised international correspondence and forgery. They prayed for the immediate suspension of the Chairman and discreet investigation of his activities.
p. Petition dated 23 May 2019 from Shehu Wada Abdullahi, solicitor to D. B. Mangal Nigeria Limited, to His Excellency, the Vice President alleging intimidation and invasion of his client’s premises by officials of the Panel in company of armed officers of the Police Mobile Unit and members of the press to inscribe “SPIP UNDER INVESTIGATION” on several parts of its building. The petitioner believes that the petition alleging forgery of title documents that gave rise to the Panel’s actions was authored by the defendant in an earlier suit, relating to ownership of the land on which its premises is built, but which was dismissed by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory for lack of locus standi.
q. Petition dated 24 May 2019 from Prof. S. O. Mohammed, Director General of the National Space Research and Development Agency, to the HAGF challenging his investigation by the Panel for alleged ownership of several properties.
r. Petition dated 28 May 2019 from Comrade Obinna Francis Ogwuegbu, Secretary to the Panel to Mr. President challenging a query issued to him by the Chairman of the Panel in disregard of the enabling law of the Panel, which requires him to act with members in concert. The petitioner also alleged that the Chairman inter alia: i. Employed/seconded personnel from various MDAs beyond its budget; ii. Illegally and unilaterally investigated over a hundred cases despite the powers of the Panel to only investigate cases assigned to it by the President (of which only two cases have so far been assigned); iii. Unilaterally engaged lawyers to file charges against suspects without recourse to the HAGF; and iv. Set up unauthorised operational units and engagement of special assistants in excess of the approved structure of the Panel, engaged unregulated and unconventional investigation procedure, breached procurement law and compromised the independence of the Panel by authorising off-site investigation platforms hosted by unverified persons and handed over to a Chief of Staff, who is alien to the approved structure, while on vacation.
s. By a letter dated 7 June 2019, Mr. Obla, on the basis of a complaint received against First Hydrocarbon Nigeria Limited for failure to pay royalties to the Federal Government and investigations conducted by the Panel, summoned its Managing Director, Mr. Femi Bajomo, to appear before the panel for non-payment of royalties in the sum of Three Million, Four Hundred and Eighty Eight Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifty Nine Dollars and Fifty Nine Cents ($3,488,559.59) in respect of OML 26. Attached receipts issued by Zenith Bank Plc. show payments of royalties by the company for half year 2018. Attached highlights of the reconciliation meeting between the company and the DPR from 20-24 May 2019 show that the DPR is currently auditing the company’s production between September and December 2018. Yet, on 17 June 2019, Mr. Obla ordered the detention of Mr. Bajomo at the Asokoro Police Station.
t. Submission dated June 2019 from Unity Bank Plc. details alleged reconciliation exercise following a request on 7 September 2018 from the Panel for hard and soft copies of statement of account of both naira and domiciliary accounts of sixteen (16) departments and agencies of the Federal Government; alleging arbitrary/excess bank charges on their accounts. The departments and agencies are: i. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). ii. Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). iii. Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). iv. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). v. Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). vi. Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). vii. Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). viii. Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). ix. National Examinations Council (NECO). x. Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri Refineries. xi. Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). xii. Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). xiii. Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). xiv. Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). xv. Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC). xvi. National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The bank alleged that none of the above listed agencies were aware of the investigation and although the reconciliation was ongoing with the NNPC, NPA and NCS, the Panel has issued demand notices and demonstrated unwillingness to admit further evidence. The Chairman, via a letter dated 19 March 2019 directed the Bank to refund the sum of One Million, Four Hundred and Eighty Eight Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifty Five Naira and Fifty Five Kobo (₦1,488,255.55) and Fifteen Million, Five Hundred and Sixty One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Sixty Nine Dollars and Ninety Nine Cents ($15,561,769.99) to the Federal Government through the Panel’s recovery account with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
u. Petition dated 13 June 2019 from Adejo-Ogiri D. Owoicho Esq., solicitor to Alhaji Adamu Teku, reporting marking of his client’s house at Gwarimpa, Abuja in preparation for seizure and reallocation by the Panel, for failure to give a bribe of Twenty Million Naira (₦20,000,000.00) to a certain Professor Kester. The latter claimed to act under the authority and consent of the Panel. The bribe was to facilitate the interception of an investigation report to the panel and prevent a letter of complaint/invitation from being issued as a result. He had claimed that the money would be shared on a 50/50 basis with Mr. Obla.