It is no longer news that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) declared the former Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution and Chairman of Special Presidential Investigative Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, wanted. According to ICPC Spokeswoman, Mrs. Rasheedat Okoduwa, Obono-Obla repeatedly failed to appear before the Commission to answer questions bordering on alleged falsification of admission records, living above his income, collection of gratification from suspects under his investigation despite the established prima facie case against him. Instead, he fled the country. the Government had earlier announced his suspension and disbandment of the SPIP.
Obono-Obla is the typical case of a man the gods wanted to destroy and first made mad. He pontificated. He also demonised. He also dramatized. Hearing him argue on television, you would wonder if he ever flipped through the Constitution. He argued garrulously and easily took offence with presenters who tried to present a different, more coherent logic. He was the real Lord of the Manor. He presided over media trials of even Supreme Court Justices and branded the entire opposition and voices of dissent as grossly corrupt.
Whereas Obono-Obla’s SPIP was set up by the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, to specifically look into two federal agencies and other cases that might be refereed to it, but once he tasted the fruit and saw that it was sweeter than honey, he expanded the dragnet beyond his mandate and laws. Worse, the falcon refused to heed the falconer. His suspension in 2017 over sundry allegations of abuse of office and extortions and recall after much lobby, meant nothing to him.
He was fond of issuing fresh asset declaration forms to public officers in clear contravention of the Constitution. Whereas some, especially the politically exposed persons “cooperated” with Obono-Obla to avoid his well-oiled smear campaigns helped by a notorious online publisher, some others recoursed to the Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF); still others took recourse to the Courts.
In October 2017, he directed some High Court Justices to fill fresh asset forms. For example, one of such letters dated 9th October 2017 and signed by Assistant Commissioner for Police, Mr. Sulaiman Abdul on behalf of Obono-Obla, told the affected Lordship claimed it was pursuant to investigations of petitions against him “bothering on abuse of office”. But no petition was attached. “Consequently, in furtherance to our mandate … we request that you declare your assets AS PRESCRIBED in Form attached”, the letter ordered.
However, the affected Justices lodged vehement protest to the AGF, Malami, who immediately withdrew the letters with apologies vide a letter by the Solicitor-General of Federation dated 1st November 2017. He explained that Obono-Obla Panel acted without due process and requisite clearance. The AGF also intervened in a similar case in a Lagos High Court.
However, not many were as lucky. One of the interesting cases was that of Chief Ike Ekweremadu, former Deputy Senate President, who refused to “cooperate”. He pointedly accused Obono-Obla, an Enugu legal practitioner, as well as former Chief Judge of Enugu, Justice Innocent Umezuluike (now late), of stealing his will from Enugu Probate Registry and doctoring it for media and political persecutions. Ironically, the former CJ, who authored the petition alleging undeclared assets by Ekweremadu, was himself dismissed by NJC and standing trial in two different courts for corruption and abuse of office.
“They copied the properties listed in the will and added many imaginary properties and started churning out baseless petitions to government agencies and officials. But this too shall pass”, he alleged. But in what many now see as prophetic, he declared that “The just shall be vindicated and the wicked will not go unpunished”.
Nevertheless, Obono-Obla Panel proceeded to the Federal High Court. The charge sheet stated Ekweremadu’s offence as refusal to “declare your assets in the manner prescribed by the SPIP”.
But the Enugu-born Senator insisted he had “no assets declaration case to answer”. “The Constitution requires pubic office holders to declare their assets every four years, a requirement which I fulfilled. What is at issue here is that the SPIP forwarded fresh assets declaration forms to me to fill contrary to the position of the 1999 Constitution, a demand I refused to oblige because it is clearly unconstitutional. It is this refusal to disobey the Constitution that I am now being charged for”.
Even when a Federal High Court and Appeal Court ruled in a different case that the SPIP lacked prosecutorial powers, Obono-Obla continued harassing politically exposed persons, heads of juicy federal agencies and even business moguls. He behaved like a shark that had tasted blood.
Meanwhile, apart from torrents of petitions from other quarters, other members of Obono-Obla Panel also bombarded the Presidency with petitions on his one-man show in the running of the SPIP’s operations and finances. He was the investigator, prosecutor, and counsel, rendering support officers drafted from the Police, EFCC, DSS, etc. redundant.
In fact, Osibanjo at a point directed Malami, to “initiate appropriate action to request the Chairman of the Panel to respond to the issues raised in the several petitions written against him, within a specific time frame”. In that letter dated 11th April 2018 and referenced SH/OVP/DCOS/LGR&C/HAGF/440, Osinjajo’s Chief of Staff, Mr. Ade Ipaye, also stressed to Malami the need to review the mandate and method of the Committee as well as for “a report of the activities of the Committee from inception endorsed by all members to provide the requisite basis for informed action”.
However, it was actually the investigation by House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee on the Legality and Modus Operandi of the SPIP that blew the lid off Obono-Obla. He snubbed several House summon, just like the ICPC summons. Instead, working with his lawyer, Festus Keyamo, he sought to stop them by injunctions, but the court declined to.
Nevertheless, working on the lead provided by the Human Rights Writers Association’s (HURIWA) in their memorandum, the Committee established that while the WAEC result (Examination No. 09403/247 May/June 1982) with which Chief Obono-Obla obtained admission and studied Law at the University of Jos showed he made five credit passes, including Literature-in-English, he did not have a credit pass in Literature as claimed. Letters by WAEC dated 11th and 17th April 2018 and signed by Mr. A. A. Okelezue and Mr. Olu Adenipekun, respectively, showed that Obono-Obla did not even sit for Literature-in-English. WAEC Deputy Registrar, Mr. Femi Ola, who also testified in person, described Obono-Obla’s result as “altered”, “not genuine”, and “invalid”. The University of Jos’ submission dated 11th July 2018 affirmed that Obono-Obla was admitted with the contentious result.
Furthermore, the House Panel aligned with Audit Report by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation indicting the SPIP of humongous financial malfeasance and lavish spending on questionable consultancy services, first class air tickets, honoraria, etc. Obono-Obla Panel was indicted of abuse of power.
Therefore, in December 2018, the House resolved that “the Law Degree of Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, having been obtained fraudulently, should be withdrawn by the University of Jos.
“The President should discharge Chief Okoi Obono-Obla of his responsibility as Special Adviser and Chairman of the SPIP”.
It directed the Inspector-General of Police to investigate and prosecute Obono-Obla for forgery and misrepresentation. It also directed the ICPC to investigate the allegations of corruption contained in the Audit Report and prosecute the culprits”. The University of Jos was to withdraw Obono-Obla’s Law degree, while the Council for Legal Education, Body of Benchers, and the Nigeria Bar Association were supposed to take appropriate actions too.
However, Obono-Obla, described the findings and resolutions as “hogwash, balderdash and absolute rubbish”, just as he currently alleges witch-hunt, demonisation, and humiliation by ICPC. He even likened himself to Nelson Mandela.
However, his habitual grandstanding doesn’t surprise many. The real surprise is that it government this long to tackle the Obono-Obla scandal. Nevertheless, it’s better late than never. And he might run, but not forever
The moral lesson in his fall is that men, who play God; and men who delight in unjustly pulling others down will ultimately have a big fall at the threshold of success, for, truly, the wicked will never go unpunished.