By Ayo Fadimu and Agency Report
President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the suspension of the chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property, Okoi Obono-Obla, from office and directed him to surrender to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on alleged offence bordering on forgery and fraud.
Nigerian NewsDirect gathered that the sack letter of Obono-Obla has been delivered to the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Obla’s supervising ministry.
“With the information at our disposal, he will face criminal prosecution on matters related to his alleged financial dealings, as uncovered by the ICPC upon investigation,” the source said, pleading not to be named. With regard to his academic credentials, he said Obla will be prosecuted, accordingly
Obono-Obla’s suspension letter, signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, directed the embattled official to step down and then proceed to answer questions from the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission.
He is to face probe over allegations of certificate forgery and other corruption-related charges.
The letter by Mustapha indicated that while Obono-Obla remained on suspension, the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, would take charge of the panel on recovery of public property. Other members of the panel will however remain in office.
We gathered that the Federal Government may ask University of Jos to withdraw his law degree and the Nigerian Law School to debar him from practice.
“This is owing to the conclusion of the ICPC investigation, the recommendations of which were approved in full by President Buhari,” he said. Another source said the Presidency has also received an indicting report on the Panel Chairman bordering on acts of forgery and misconduct.
”The main grouse against the Panel Chairman was that while the Panel was supposed to investigate only cases referred to it by the government, according to the law establishing the panel, the Chairman has single-handedly taken on cases outside of its mandate and in gross violation of Rule of Law, including violations of people’s fundamental human rights.
Furthermore, an ad hoc panel set up by the House of Representatives, December last year, had asked President Muhammadu Buhari to sack Mr Obono-Obla allegation that he forged his high school certificate. The panel also accused the official of corruption.
Obono-Obla fraudulently squeezed himself into the University of Jos decades ago.
“He did not secure requisite academic credentials to enter the University of Jos to study law or the Nigerian Law School,” the report found, according to sources. “He cannot build a career on fradulently-obtained credentials. Consequently, the ICPC advised the president to promptly relieve Mr Obono-Obla of his job after which its detectives would then take him into custody for prosecution, sources said.
Presidency sources said Mr Buhari initially directed the outright removal of Obono-Obla from office. But his removal was downgraded to suspension after he complained to some top administrative officials that he ICPC did not give him fair hearing.
However, Obono-Obla had said at the time that the forgery and corruption allegations against him were merely a witch-hunt by people who were uncomfortable with his anti-corruption fight.
Consequently, the ICPC advised the president to promptly relieve Mr Obono-Obla of his job after which its detectives would then take him into custody for prosecution, sources said.
However, Obono-Obla rubbished the ICPC report as “contrived” and unfair to him because the detectives who conducted it did not invite him to defend himself.
While speaking to an online portal, Obono-Obla said,
“They have never called me to testify and properly defend myself against all the allegations,” he said.
He said the ICPC conclusion was one-sided like the one reached by the House last year.
“They based their so-called investigation on the findings of the House of Reps which was similarly unfair to me,” he said.
“I went to the University of Jos and graduated. I went to the Nigerian Law School and graduated. Nobody can say those certificates were forged. I have used them for 25 years to practice law,” Obono-Obla said.
He declined to categorically say whether or not the WAEC certificate he used to enter the university was forged, but he emphasised strongly that the credentials he got from the University of Jos and the Nigerian Law School were authentic.
“I am not going to deny anything about the WAEC certificate because the issue is in court,” he said. “I will not comment.”