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You’re an empty vessel making the loudest noise-Buhari’s camp replies Obono-Obla

Apparently peeved by the recent outburst of one of his aides, Okoi Obono-Obla, former President Muhammadu Buhari while replying said he is simply an empty vessel making the most noise.

In a statement by his media aides, his outburst was carpeted.

“A lot of people are circulating the fantastical nonsense from Okoi @ObonoObla.

As a fact, I don’t & can’t hold brief for @MBuhari or anything in his regime but we need to be careful about confering credulity upon the claims of a manifest fantasist or fabulist.”

Renowned human rights lawyer, Professor Chidi Odinkalu on “X” expressing concern over what he called “delusional nonsense.”

We are witnessing a season in which some shameless public officials who were in the previous government and enthusiastically took part in its decisions and actions who now are turning round to disown and castigate their past. One of them is Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla.

Prio to his appointment, Obla was a lawyer in the office of A.A Malami, SAN where he practised law as the Head of Chamber. He was also a member of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

After the success of the APC in the 2015 presidential election and the subsequent appointment of Malami as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, the minister nominated Obla for appointment as a Special Adviser to serve in the office of the Attorney General on matters of prosecution, given his background as a lawyer.

He continued in that role until his appointment by the then Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN in August, 2017, as the chairman of the Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of federal government property. He was at a point rejected by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a board member of the National Communications Commission.

For clarity, this Panel was constituted on the authority of the recovery of Public Property Act of 1984 and intended to enhance the anti-corruption initiatives of the administration.

The Acting President who appointed Obla made clear what the panel was meant to address in line with its enabling law.

However, as will be seen later in this write-up, Obla’s hunger for power and intoxication with it soon surfaced as he began to carry out activities using the instrumentality of the panel that are ultra vires the mandate he was entrusted with.

He began to see himself beyond the ad-hoc nature of the powers of the panel and usurping the mandate of substantive government agencies with adequate processes, protocol and man-power to conduct investigation and properly carry out prosecution.

He single-handedly designed the structure of the panel and culled personnel from the police, creating offices such as director of operations similar to what obtained in the EFCC, and even to the extent of having a cell to confine arrested individuals. He created and attached himself and office directly to the presidency as evident on a letter headed paper he had printed for his new office without any administrative approval.

It was these and other procedural excesses of his that caught the attention of the office of the vice president, his appointor to write series of letters drawing his attention and cautioning his activities. It is noteworthy that Obla disregarded these letters and refused to heed the calls contained in them.

It was clear to the office of the vice president that Obla at this juncture did not only derail from the mandate for which the panel was set-up but also constituted himself as unruly and insubordinate of the appointing authority.

Several correspondences from the Deputy Chief of Staff, DCOS drawing Obla’s attention to the mandate of this panel and how far from it he had derailed were not addressed or were just disregarded. Obla continued to carry out his duties in violation of his statutory mandate and in disregard to several warnings.

Premium Times had reported these matters in detail as follow:

‘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 the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, directing him 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 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.

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 reads.

“But despite his reply,” the newspaper continued, “PREMIUM TIMES’ sources say the SPIP boss continues to run the panel without recourse to the presidency. This development forced the AGF to again write the vice president. The letter dated March 16, 2018, noted that Mr Obono-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.

“The Vice President’s office responded by directing the AGF to request Mr 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 activities of the panel since inception.” (read Kemi Busari March 18, 2019 on Premium Times).

It is important to state here that some of these petitions received against Obla said he did not only stop at his procedural contraventions, but also talking about his use of the panel as a channel of settling scores and vendetta. It was complained that in several instances while carrying his illegal raids of residences, that valuables were looted and carted away without records. Such incidence was reported by General Martin Agwai among other victims. This was so disturbing that even while he was suspended and the matters were being transferred to relevant federal government agencies to look into and address in accordance with their respective mandates, no records of most of these items were found.

It was as a result of these dirty deals that he was finally suspended and the ICPC asked to investigate these petitions and address them accordingly on the 25th of January 2019 via a letter from the Deputy Chief of Staff. The letter partly reads:

“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,”

“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.”

Premium Times also reported his disregard once again to this instruction and suspension and that “he has continued to investigate unmandated cases,” a source who does not want to be named told this newspaper. “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, 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,”

He continued to disregard all warnings and suspension until the panel was eventually dissolved by the president.

Matters however came to a head when the other four members of the 5-man Panel wrote a petition against Obla, asking for urgent action to curtail the “several identified unlawful conducts of the Chairman of the Panel.”

According to the Panel members, while two cases involving NEXIM Bank and CBN, Finance Ministry, Nigeran Ports Authority were referred to the Panel, the Chairman single-handedly took on over 50 cases outside the mandate of the panel.

They also stated that “contrary to the fact that the Panel is an investigative panel by its enabling law, which lacks prosecutorial powers, Mr. Obla had unlawfully engaged lawyers to file charges against suspects without recourse to the Attorney-General’s office.”

They alleged that “the man had been busy extorting money from suspects and engaged in excessive behaviour towards individuals, government agencies, private companies and even foreign missions in Nigeria.”

In fact the matter of the madate of the Panel became an issue of judicial interpretation at the Appeal Court in the case of TIJJANI MUSA TUMSAH V. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA. In that case, the Appeal Court held that the Panel headed by Obla lacks prosecutorial powers and cannot seize properties belonging to anyone or obtain forfeiture orders against any public official. The Court also held that the duty of the Panel upon conclusion of an investigation is to submit its report to the President and that the Panel, as against the conduct of the Chairman, cannot act outside its enabling Statute, the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act.

Actually, once when confronted with some of his alleged misconduct and other allegations, Obono-Obla pleaded and was made to sign an undertaking to mend his ways, but no sooner had he signed did he abandon the undertaking and continued violating the law and regulations in place in the conduct of the work of the panel.

In the light of the above facts, there are certain questions that need answers from Obla in order to prove the corrupt allegations he alleges vide an interview he granted Channels TV need to be analyzed with critical mind:

1. Gold bars? What is the value, who assessed the value? Who took over custody from him? Where is the existence of correspondence relating to them? Are the declared bars in his custody? Or in whose custody?

2. ⁠”Patrick Aziza’s” Billion Dollars. Where is the evidence of tracing? Which account and what efforts has he made in recovering them in line with his mandate? Is there evidence that he was stopped? By who? Where is the evidence of correspondence?

3. ⁠Stamp duty trillions? Where are the details of the funds? Where is the money lodged? Who stole the money and why is he shielding the beneficiaries?

4. ⁠The armoured vehicles over which an interim order of attachment was purportedly obtained by him. Why didn’t he pursue the case to conclusion? Who stopped him from proceeding to obtain final orders of forfeiture?

To say that he has no single record of recovery to his credit throughout his tenure in office but has multiple records of compromises including allegations of certificate forgery and disappearance of funds recovered through illegitimate invasion of the privacy of individual premises is indeed an understatement.

Huge amount of money taken from general Martin Luther Agwai ‘s house on his instructions were never accounted for and no charges were brought against the General by Obla.

The Buhari Government had a track record of giving Ministries, department and agencies of government free hand to operate in fighting corruption. Those that were serious minded had succeeded in making massive recoveries of looted assets and prosecuting those involved.

Those that were grandstanding ended up making noises with nothing tangible on the ground to show.

The EFCC and the ICPC pursued genuine causes and recovered trillions and secured unprecedented high profile convictions. The administration was internationally acknowledged to have done effectively well by institutions of repute inclusive of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Corruption, UNODC. Buhari was acknowledged as the Champion of Anti-Corruption by the African Union.

The office of the Attorney General recovered more than two billion dollars ($2bn).

Obla has no ONE DOLLAR ($1) recovered to his credit. The purported cases handled by him inclusive of 80 armored vehicles, USD 89 billion Aziza’s recovery, gold bars were all inherently compromised along the line by his undoing. Interim orders pursued through judicial processes were not pursued to final forfeitures having been abandoned along the lines by SPIP for reasons best known to him. Whistleblowers cases lodged with the panel were not professionally pursued to conclusion.

The panel lost its track and allowed itself to be used as a political instrument for settling scores at the whims of politicians.

Cases abound in that respect inclusive of the political roles he played in Imo and Rivers at the instance of political gladiators.

He is an empty vessel making the most noise when it comes to the fight against corruption.

Well meaning people should ignore him.

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