“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
–George Bernard Shaw
When the story first broke that Okoi Obono-Obla, suspended chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Assets (SPIP), gained admission into the University of Jos with a forged ordinary level (WAEC) certificate to study Law, it was perceived in several quarters as fake news and that perhaps, in the usual Nigerian parlance “corruption is fighting back”.
The evolving scenario seems to have assumed a curious dimension as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had on Tuesday declared him wanted for repeatedly failing to appear before it to answer questions bordering on allegations of fraud and corruption.
Obono-Obla’s travails started when a House of Representatives ad hoc panel alleged that the Yakurr Local Government of Cross River State-born native, gained admission into the University of Jos to study Law with a forged WAEC certificate.
The House panel had tendered that in the course of its primary assignment, believing that he may have forged his way into the university in a questionable manner.
Obono-Obla obtained a Law degree at the University of Jos and subsequently proceeded to the Nigerian Law School from where he was called to the bar.
Sunday Sun reliably gathered that Aso-Rock might ask the University of Jos to withdraw Obono-Obla’s Law degree while the Nigerian Law School might also be directed to bar him from practicing as a lawyer if he is found guilty of the allegation.
Besides the charge of falsification of academic records, Obono-Obla has also been accused of abuse of office, intimidation, financial impropriety and going beyond his mandate to undertake unauthorised malicious investigations, as well as administrative misconduct, among others.
He was also accused of most times going beyond his brief for pecuniary gains.
At a point, the action of the panel was said to have become an issue of judicial interpretation at the Appeal Court in the case of Tijjani Musa Vs the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“In that case, the Appeal Court held that the panel headed by Obono-Obla lacks prosecutorial powers and cannot seize property belonging to anyone or obtain forfeiture orders against any public official.”
While Obono-Obla’s panel was primarily set up to investigate cases referred to it by the government, according to the law establishing the panel, the suspended chairman, it was alleged would at times go on to take on cases outside of the panel’s purview.
For instance, some panel members disclosed that while two cases involving NEXIM Bank and CBN, Finance Ministry, Nigerian Ports Authority were referred to the panel, the chairman single-handedly took on over 50 cases outside the mandate of the panel.
In his defence to the allegations against him, Obono-Obla said that some powerful lawmakers are hell-bent on ending his career in government because he has exposed how corrupt they are.
He termed his travails “a hatchet job done to witch-hunt, harass, intimidate, ridicule and scandalise me because I dared to investigate and expose assets hidden abroad by some powerful people in the National Assembly”.
Indeed, Obono-Obla’s kinsmen have risen up in his defence, corroborating his position that he has been singled out for persecution by powerful persons in government whose toes he had stepped on in the course of his assignment.
The group operating under the platform of Concerned Cross Riverians said in a statement signed by its leader, Mr Williams Eko, that their son was being persecuted, and investigated on trumped up charges.
“We charge the president to step in and let the whole world see the truth if we are honest about fighting corruption and not just an issue of muddling up issues and elbow them out,” the group said.
Former governorship candidate of the defunct Democratic Front for Peoples Federation (DFPF), and now a stalwart of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr James Ebri, said that emerging facts surrounding the investigation of Obono-Obla suggest a clear case of people wanting to get back at him.
But some senior lawyers have wondered why it has been difficult for Obono-Obla to go and clear himself if he was confident of not having a crisis of credibility as alleged.
For them, “why will he file a suit challenging the House of Representatives’ powers to investigate his WASCE certificate? It is a simple matter, if they are not forged why bother, why not tender the correct certificate in the court rather than bringing logic and being legalistic or just presenting an ordinary level certificate, why is he on the run if he is innocent?”
Reports claimed that Obono-Obla left the country on August 17, two days after the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation formally announced his suspension and asked him to handover to the Solicitor-General in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
It was gathered that ICPC had extended several invitations to him, which he had failed to honour without giving any reason.
Equally, attempts to track and make him appear before the commission is said to have failed, leading the ICPC to contact other law enforcement agencies for assistance concerning his whereabouts.
One of such contacts yielded results as records from the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) showed that Obono-Obla had traveled out of the country.
Going by the NIS records, he left the country to an undisclosed location on August 17, 2019, through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, and has not returned two months after.
Feelers emanating from the government circle was that the Interpol may be alerted for his arrest if he does not show up soon.
Perhaps, the only avenue left for embattled Obono-Obla is to show-up and face the anti-corruption institution to clear himself of all the allegations.