By Henry Boyo
The Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) for “the Recovery of Public Property,” was inaugurated in August 2017, when Yemi Osinbajo was Acting President while Muhammad Buhari was away for medical attention in the UK.
The Presidential Panel, since inception, has reportedly, carried out its assignment, under the Chairmanship of Okoi Obono-Obla, who is also the President’s Special Assistant on Prosecution, until the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami’s, November 1st 2018 Memo, which suspended further activity by the SPIP, because the Panel’s activities, allegedly, “ran counter to its terms of reference;” besides, the VP was, reportedly, also concerned that “the Panel’s activities contravened the established Administration procedures and protocol of the Civil Service structure.”
Consequently, Obono-Obla was therefore directed henceforth “to seek clearance from the Attorney General and Justice Minister, before granting any media interview or making Press Releases in official matters.” Obono-Obla was also asked to “promptly provide the A.G. with a ‘detailed update report’ on the Panel’s activities, for onward transmission to the Vice President; SPIP was also directed thereafter, “to cease further activity and await Presidential instruction on the Panel’s future.”
Incidentally, barely a week after the November 1st letter, which declared SPIP’s suspension, an Appeal Court, in Abuja, also held that SPIP “lacked power to prosecute,” and cannot therefore also “initiate criminal proceedings against any accused persons.” The Appeal Court held that the Presidential Panel “lacked the power to seize the property of alleged offenders.” The judgement, reportedly, followed an appeal filed, by a Staff of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Tijani Tumsah, who together with his brother, had approached the Appellate Court, challenging the prosecutorial power of SPIP.
On November 5th 2018, the 5-man Court of Appeal, led by Justice Hussein Muktar, also held that, according to the Act that established it, the Panel lacked power to prosecute any offender, since the Panel’s powers were, “legally limited to investigation of any officer, who has corruptly enriched himself or breached the Code of Conduct.” Consequently, the Appeal Court ruled that “the ex-parte order granted by the lower court “as regards, the properties of the appellant, is hereby set aside.”
In his explanation Justice Muktar, noted that judgement, was earlier scheduled for November 6th, but the panel got the hint that a nationwide strike might begin, hence the need to deliver the judgement after 6p.m. on November 5th” (The Guardian edition of November 6, 2018).
In retrospect, however, in September 2018, Obono-Obla had warned, at an Interactive Session of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, in Abuja, that the fight against corruption by PMB’s administration “was total and that Public Officers would be engaged on how they acquired their wealth.” Obla revealed that “I already have 400 names of some past and present Public Office holders who have properties, in Maitama District Abuja alone, that we are investigating and I will make them available to you.” “Most of these people who have properties in Maitama and Asokoro are Public Servants, earning less than N2m/year. Where do they get the money? If they cannot explain where they made the money from, it means that it is a proceed of corruption. The money that we would have used to invest in our schools, social infrastructure, and so on are siphoned to build massive estates, in which nobody is living all over Abuja.”
The SPIP Chairman, recalled how a Federal High Court earlier this year, had also ordered temporary forfeiture of 86 Luxury Vehicles, together with 4 houses and a quarry plant in Abuja, belonging to the Director of Finance and Accounts in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. Obla noted that all the 86 exotic vehicles were brand new and 23 of them were armour plated! According to Obla, “we first wrote to the Accountant General to give us, how much this Director earned from 2007-2017, and they gave us a figure that the man earned about N30m!”
Furthermore, earlier in October this year, the SPIP Chairman, in a statement, reported by the News Agency of Nigeria, confirmed that $7m cash was also recovered from the previous Management of the Nigeria Export and Import Bank (NEXIM) “who had illegally placed the funds in Heritage Bank.” The Naira component of SPIP’s recovery, reportedly, also, includes N533m cash, and land valued at N1.5bn from the same, former NEXIM Manager. According to Obla, the recovered assets, have since been returned to Heritage Bank.”
In addition, according to Obla, N24m and two hectares of land, estimated at N2bn belonging to the National Council of Arts & Culture were also recovered, while, part of the Agura Hotel, which belonged to NPA, but reportedly, “illegally annexed by some powerful persons, with untouchable connections, for over 20 years,” were returned to NPA, while a contract awarded to a company, to “dredge the Calabar Channel, after the company had received $12m, without any work done, was also under investigation.”
Indeed, in a statement in June this year, Lucie-Ann Lala, the SPIP Spokesperson, quoted Obono-Obla, as having informed President Buhari of these recoveries; according to Lucie Ann, Buhari had assured the Panel of his “continued support and non-interference, in line with his administration’s stance on the anti-corruption fight.”
Besides, while speaking to Journalists later in Abuja in September, the SPIP Chairman, reported that his Panel will recover the $7b (seven billion dollars) “bailout” funds given to Commercial Banks between 2006-2008 by former CBN Governor, Chukwuma Soludo. According to Obla, “after 13 years or so, these banks have still not returned the money to the coffers of Government.” When we inquired about the status of that money from CBN, the banks told us that the money was dashed (given free) to the Commercial Banks.” Ironically, however, despite these free no interest government funds, the banks have since earned double-digit interest rates on trillions of Naira on its own loans to government! (See article “14 Nigerian Banks to enjoy $7bn Reserves @ www.lesleba.com). It is, regrettable that the media and social activists have ‘refrained’ from any investigation or commentary of this scam.
Nevertheless, Obla also confirmed that investigation and recovery of substantial properties belonging to NPA in Calaba, Warri, Koko, Sapele and Lagos Ports was also in process.
The related questions, therefore, that beg for answers, from the foregoing, are where was the Attorney General and the Vice President when the SPIP investigations and recorded recoveries were made since 2017? Why did the SPIP suspension come, so late, after almost 15 months of operations and successful recoveries?
Furthermore, in order to adopt the appropriate judicial process, will Government now return all the assets, so far recovered by SPIP, to those same people who brazenly ripped off our treasury and denied Nigerians, the opportunity of a functional government with improved social welfare and infrastructure?