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 from Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
At least three letters were within this period, dispatched to the Anti-Corruption Boss, to either soft-pedal in what was perceived as excessive use of authority, or stop all the activities of the Panel.
The first letter from the Office of the Vice President, in 2017, instructed Obono-Obla to stop carrying out activities until President Muhammadu Buhari instructs otherwise. The letter reminded him of the provisions of section 1 (1) of the Recovery of Public Properties Act, from which the Panel derives its power.
The letter quotes the section to state that the President may constitute a Panel, for the purpose of conducting ‘an investigation into any matter with which (an) Officer has been concerned in the performance of his duties, or…into assets of any such Public Officer.’
From the same Office, another letter was issued to Obono-Obla, one month after, stating his confines as the SPIP Boss.
This was followed by a series of other cautionary letters.
However, despite these, Obono-Obla has continued to carry out his duties, in violation of his statutory mandate and in disregard to warnings.
Recall, that the SPIP was set up in August, 2017, by then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo. The Panel led by the Special Adviser to the President on Anti-Corruption, Obono-Obla, as Chairman, has three other members and a Secretary.
However, just two months into its establishment, the Panel was deemed to have derailed, and hence, was cautioned.
On October 20, 2017, Ade Ipaye, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, wrote to the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, through the Office of the Vice President.
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, that 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 the disregard of the first letter, the Vice President wrote to the AGF again, as a reminder, on November 17, 2017. The reminder came with specifics.
The VP asked the Panel to remove ‘Presidency’ from its letterhead, and remain ‘Special Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property’, as provided by its enabling statute, and not ‘Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property’.
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’.
In addition to these, the Presidency expects the Panel to regularly give updates of its activities and recoveries.
Obono-Obla replied the first in a letter addressed to the Vice President, on November 10, 2017, wherein he stated that none of his actions was intended to disrespect the Vice President’s authority.
“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 read.
However, despite his reply, sources said that the SPIP Boss continues to run the Panel without recourse to the Presidency.
This development forced the AGF to again write to the Vice President. The letter, dated March 16, 2018, noted that Obono-Obla was still operating in contravention of the Vice President’s orders. The AGF said that 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.
The Vice President’s Office responded, by directing the AGF to request Obono-Obla to respond to the issues raised in the petition, explain why he disobeyed the Vice President’s order, and submit a detailed report of the activities of the Panel, since inception.
Following complaints of unauthorised activities of the Panel, Obono-Obla in a January 25, 2019, letter, was asked to suspend all activities of the Panel, until further directives.
The letter, made references to earlier ones informing Obono-Obla of his excesses and consequent warnings.
“Despite the foregoing, the Office of the Vice President has been inundated with complaints from various sources, including members of the Panel, regarding allegations of unauthorised and illegal activities of the Special Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property”, the letter signed by Ade Ipaye read.
“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, Obono-Obla has continued to carry out the activities of the Panel.
Despite the January letter conveying a direct order to Obono-Obla to seize all activities, the SPIP boss has continued to run the affairs of the Panel.
Sources privy to these activities, revealed that the SPIP has been functioning as of before.
“He has continued to investigate unmandated cases”, a source who did not want to be named stated.
“He has continued to give instructions as if nothing happened, as if there was no directive. Recently, he sent some Operatives outside Abuja, to seize some properties.”
Apart from ignoring the Vice President’s directives, 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 does not do that before acting.”
Multiple sources who have related with the Panel, also confirmed that the Panel still uses a Letter Head bearing ‘Presidential’, as part of its name.
In swift a reaction however, Obono-Obla justified his actions on the myriads of allegations against him.
The SPIP Boss, said that 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 did not 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 am relying on my letter of appointment.”
Obono-Obla also suggested that he was not bound by the the Vice President’s directive, but only by that of the President.
“The Panel was appointed by the President, and the Panel reports to Mr. President. I am 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 am not aware of those communications”, he said.