…Sacked, but refuses to vacate as police seal off office

Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, senior special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari and chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property is once again embroiled in corruption controversy, even as he has reportedly refused to vacate office after being allegedly asked to do so by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Online medium, Premium Times, quoting a source, reported that the office of the presidential panel, located in Asokoro, was sealed Friday afternoon by some armed police officers.

The source, according to PT said the police action followed a directive from the presidency that Mr Obono-Obla should be relieved of his appointment “immediately”.

The source informed the medium that Mr Obono-Obla was aware of the communication relieving him of his appointment but has been dodging it so he could use the holiday period to persuade people close to Buhari to talk the government into rescinding its decision.

“They have asked ICPC to start investigating corruption allegations around him. The police were brought in to restrict movement in the office, so nobody would tamper with evidence while investigation is going on. The panel is still in place, it’s only Obla that has been removed,” Premium Times quoted the source as saying.

“They have built a case of corruption and overzealousness against him over time, it’s not an emergency action, so it may be difficult for the decision to be rescinded,” said.

The police guarded the office premises of the panel on Saturday,

Mr Obono-Obla confirmed his office had been sealed by the police, explaining that he was in his office on Friday but later left for the holidays in his hometown in Cross River State before he received information about the sealing of the office.

He told Premium Times that, “People at the office told me somebody came there, said he is the area commander, he has instructions that nobody should enter and nobody should leave. But that is rubbish. Is that how things are done?

“I am in Cross River, not Abuja. I don’t know what’s happening in Abuja. If they want to remove me, they should give me a letter. I am in Cross River enjoying my holiday.”

Asked whether he was aware of his sack, he said he didn’t know.

“I don’t know about that, he said. “If they removed me, they would give me a letter? Is it not so?”

This is the latest of many controversies that has surrounded Mr Obono-Obla and his anti-corruption job

Sometime ago, he was alleged to have forged his secondary school certificate and an ad hoc panel set up by the House of Representatives, December last year, had asked President Buhari to sack him over the forgery.

The panel had also accused him of engaging in corrupt practices. He, however, denied forging the certificate, saying the allegations were shere witch-hunt by people who were uncomfortable with his anti-corruption fight.

Mr Obono-Obla had reportedly disobeyed the directives of the country’s vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo regarding his anti-corruption job.

In 2017 the vice president’s office suspended him over allegations against him but he disregarded the suspension.

Last week, PT ran a report on how correspondence between his office and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) led to the exit the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, from CAF leadership.

Mr. Obono-Obla has meanwhile, started fighting back. On Saturday evening, groups that identified themselves as the Foundation Against Fraud, Indiscipline and Corruption (FAFIC), and the Buharists Hangout (BHO) released a statement saying that there were attempts to frustrate the works of the panel he heads.

The statement which was signed by Uche Diala, FAFIC lead, and Efe Williams, BHO director of operations, said despite the successes being recorded by the panel led by Okoi Obono-Obla, they are are aware of moves to hamper or slow down the activities of the SPIP.
“We are aware of uncomfortable developments which seem to hamper or at least slow down the activities of the panel. These include the take over of certain cases by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation,” the statement read.

“Notable among them is the case by the panel against a former Senator and APC Governorship candidate in the 2019 General election – Senator Hope Uzodinma of which nothing has been heard thereafter.

“On August 4, 2019, Punch Newspapers reported that Police personnel (over 40) drafted to work for the Special Presidential Investigative Panel on Recovery of Public Property were summoned to an urgent meeting with the Inspector-General of Police on Friday, August 2, 2019 vide a letter dated July 31, 2019 and addressed to the Chairman of the SPIP, Chief Okoi Okono-Obla, with reference number CB:4001/IGP.SEC/ABJ/ VOL. 114/518. The summons was reportedly prompted by a petition written by a suspect being investigated by the panel.

“We are equally aware that yesterday, 10th August 2019, there was an attempt to shut down the offices of the Presidential Panel situated at Asokoro Abuja on what was referred to as ‘orders from above’ on the premise that the Panel has been disbanded.”

They wondered if there are people that are uncomfortable with the works of the SPIP, asking why the relentless push back against the SPIP and Obono-Obla.

“Is it because he is stepping on big toes or could it be because of his (Obono-Obla) religion or where he comes from?” they asked.

“Is the president aware of all that is going on with and around the panel? Are we really serious about the war against corruption? It should be noted that the SPIP is established by the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act of 2004 and the responsibilities and powers of the panel are clearly spelt out in Section 2 (1) a, b, c of that law.”

They called on the president, the Police, Ministry of Justice and other relevant agencies to urgently investigate the matter with a view to protecting SPIP and strengthening it to carry out its duties.


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