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.
Mr 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, those familiar with the matter told PREMIUM TIMES.
He is to face probe over allegations of certificate forgery and other corruption-related charges.
The letter by Mr Mustapha indicated that while Mr 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.
Our sources said the SGF office has since sent messages to Mr Obono-Obla to come pick up his suspension letter. His office was not opened Wednesday morning and afternoon when a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited.
Trouble began for Mr Obono-Obla on Friday when a detachment of police officers from Force Headquarters descended on his Asokoro office and sealed off the building just after the official closed for the day. It was a preemptive move to block the official from removing evidence, one source familiar with the matter said.
But after PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported the development, Mr Obono-Obla made media appearances and circulated press statements claiming he remained in office and that our report was instigated by elements opposed to what he called his tough stance against corruption.
Mr Obono-Obla’s anti-corruption job has often been steeped in controversies which overshadowed some of the successes recorded by his office.
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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.
But Mr 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.
Last week, the ICPC submitted a report to the presidency confirming that the official indeed forged his high school certificate.
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Multiple sources familiar with the investigation told PREMIUM TIMES the agency’s conclusion was that Mr 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 Mr 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.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES Saturday night, Mr 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.
“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,” Mr 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.”