Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Justice Nkeonye Maha of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Monday declined to hear the suit filed by the suspended Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Okoi Obono-Obla seeking to stop the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) from prosecuting him.
Rather, Justice Maha ordered that the case file be remitted to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment.
The judge who made the order after listening to counsel to Obla, Mr. Faruk Khamagam, explained that the subject matter of the suit did not fall within the mandate of a vacation court.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in a letter dated Wednesday, August 14, and signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, ordered the suspension of Obla “with immediate effect.”
In the said letter, Obono-Obla was among other things accused of “falsification of records and financial impropriety.”
The letter further directed the ICPC to complete its investigations against Obla and to also prosecute him.
But in a swift reaction, Obla approached the Federal High Court with a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/980/2019, wherein he alleged that the planned investigation by the ICPC would not be fair due to the closeness of the commission’s Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owansanoye, to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
Obono-Obla who challenging the said probe for alleged certificate forgery and extortion, contended that the ICPC, had no powers to invite, arrest, detain, investigate, or prosecute him in connection with alleged falsification of academic certificates.
He equally filed an ex-parte application seeking an urgent hearing of the suit.
The suit was supported by a 16 paragraphs affidavit deposed to by the head of the legal unit of the SPIP, Dr Celsus Ukpong.
He told the court that part of the reasons he was suspended as the SPIP chairman was that he was not taking instructions from Osinbajo.
He added that with Owasanoye as the ICPC chairman, the anti-corruption agency would not conduct a fair probe of his case.
Obono-Obla linked his travails to the investigations he launched against influential persons and organisations.
Faulting his suspension, he said he “has been investigating many politically-exposed persons and civil servants, none of whom has been suspended.”
The plaintiff, who detailed his achievements as the Chairman of the SPIP in terms of recovery of looted funds and assets, added that he had received death threats and sacrificed his comfort in assisting the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to fight corruption.
He also faulted the alleged forgery of a West Africa Examination Council certificate levelled against him.
He added that despite filing a suit challenging the House of Representatives’ powers to investigate his WASCE certificate and serving the court papers on the House “they refused to show up in court and went ahead and conducted a one-sided hearing and produced a report indicting him of falsifying his WASCE certificate.”
Ukpong, who noted in the affidavits that he had a telephone conversation with Obono-Obla at about 2pm on August 16 while preparing the case, stated that the suspended SPIP chairman “is currently living in fear of imminent arrest, intimidation, harassment, detention, arraignment and/or prosecution by the defendant (ICPC) on allegation of offences they have no power to prosecute.”