• Why I was framed up, suspended from

    Why i was framed up suspended from - nigeria newspapers online
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    • 4657Words (Approximately)

    …Says “we investigated over 500 cases from July 2017 to August 11, 2019”

    Opens more cans of worms

    From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja


    Following reactions  that greeted his interview published by Sunday Sun in its May 26, 2024, edition entitled “Over $500bn lost to corruption under Buhari,” the suspended Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), Okoi Obono-Obla, has given insight into other cases he investigated that were abandoned after his panel was disbanded by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

    Obono-Obla, in this new exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, said that Nigerians and the Federal Government should decide what to do with the cases.

    He added that it was left for Nigerians to take back their country and ensure that all public officials are  made to render accounts of their stewardship, saying that if the government doesn’t take action, the confidence of Nigerians in government will continue to erode. Excerpts:

    Your recent interview regarding your activities as chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) got the attention of Nigerians. Some have asked if you were paid to speak out. What is your take on this?

    Nobody can pay me off. That is bunkum and hogwash. I am one person who doesn’t succumb to the whims and caprices of anybody. I started my career as a human rights lawyer and activist in the giddy days of military dictatorship in Nigeria. I joined the pro-democracy campaign that waged an epic battle against the military regime from 1990 to 1999. I was the chairman of the defunct Universal Defenders of Democracy in Cross River State and also the Democratic Alternative. These were two prominent  pro-democracy groups that were in the forefront of the campaign to end military dictatorship in Nigeria.

    The revelations, some have said, were mind-boggling, saying that you probably may not have told the whole story of your anti-corruption fight under former President Muhammadu Buhari. Are there other cases you did not mention during our first interview?

    Yes. I single-handedly generated and was investigating more than 500 high profile cases when I was the chairman of the defunct Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property from July 2017 to August 11, 2019, when I left office. You will recollect that after I was suspended, the then President Muhammadu Buhari, directed that the then Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Solicitor-General of the Federation, Mr Ayo Akpata (SAN), to hand over all the cases the panel was handling for completion of investigation. It has been almost five years.

    What has happened to the cases the panel was investigating?

    Abubakar Malami (SAN) is the one that has the burden and responsibility to tell Nigerians what happened to over the five hundred cases the panel was investigating, which former President Muhammadu Buhari directed him to take when he disbanded the panel in September 2019. Also, Mr Ayo Akpata, who was Permanent Secretary and Solicitor-General of the Federation, took over the panel after I was suspended. He too has the burden and responsibility to tell Nigerians what happened to the cases. I was suspended on August 11, 2019. Knowing what happened to these cases is a matter of public interest. They cannot be swept under the carpet. Some of the cases are: The syphoning of $69 billion to a bank in Texas, the United States of America; $60 billion involving the smuggling of crude oil from Nigeria to the United States of America by some NNPC officers during the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan. The other $9 billion was allegedly laundered by (names withheld), who was NSA also in President Jonathan’s government. I received a letter from Forensic Assets Investigation and Recovery Services LLC (FAIR), a United States company that is an international recovery agency in my capacity as Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) that they have authentic information and documentary evidence of $60  billion which are proceeds of stolen crude oil deposited in a Texas bank in the United States. They also said that they have documentary evidence, including account numbers of the sum of $9 billion also stashed in a Texas bank by a former National Security Adviser in a previous administration. Because of the magnitude of these, I had to write to President Buhari about the information that has been placed at my disposal and I asked that he authorised me to work with these people for recovery of these monies. The letter was sent to the Presidential Villa and acknowledged as being officially received. I also made a copy to the Attorney-General, and no action was taken. When I had issues with the Attorney-General, my wife decided to go and see him. But sarcastically, he said that I claimed that within three to five months, I could recover this $60 billion. Yes, if they give us the mandate, we can recover the $60 billion for Nigeria within three to six months. But how can I recover it when they will not allow us to do so? So, you can see the intrigues that some people were not happy with my little efforts and that they had to frame me up and suspend me from the office based on phantom allegations. The famous Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), wrote a petition to the panel, requesting it take steps to recover the sum of $1,900,000,000 from Mobil Nigeria Ltd. The facts of the case were that during the administration of President Jonathan, Mobil bought an oil bloc from the Federal Government. Mobil paid only $600 million, leaving an outstanding balance of $1.3 billion, which was never liquidated by Mobil, necessitating the famous human rights lawyer and patriot to file the petition. We commenced investigation and invited the defunct DPR, and it claimed that it didn’t have a record of the transaction. Mobil admitted that it purchased the oil bloc and fully paid, but it couldn’t produce any document to establish that it paid the outstanding balance of $1.9 billion. I had a meeting with the Executive Vice Chairman of Mobil, who maintained that the entire amount of $2.5 billion was paid. I had invited NNPC to appear before I was suspended.

    How did you recover $223,862,000 hidden in a fake NNPC account in Polaris bank?

    In my zeal to prove a point and help the country recover lost assets, I commissioned a firm of forensic and professional accountants to comb Federal Government accounts held in commercial banks in the country to recover illegal and arbitrarily charges when Federal Government held accounts in commercial banks in the country. At that time, President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that all Federal Government accounts held in commercial banks in the country should be closed down and the money therein be transferred to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in the Central Bank of Nigeria. The money was in Account No: 1750027157 designated “NNPC Operations Account” hitherto maintained by Skye Bank Ltd, now operated by Polaris Bank Ltd. The TSA account was in the Central Bank of Nigeria, contrary to the presidential directive. I invoked the powers vested on me as Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property by the Public Officers (Special  Provisions) Act 2004 to appoint the said  firm of accountants to recover these illegal and arbitrarily deductions from these federal accounts in these commercial banks. One of the hidden accounts these accountants uncovered was an account known as Brass NNPC, which contained a princely sum of $245 million, which was kept in Polaris Bank. I made a decision to recover the money. That is the illegal and arbitrary deductions commercial banks were making from Federal Government accounts in commercial banks over the years before the introduction of Single Treasury Accounts in 2016. I visited the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to tell him what my panel has uncovered. However, Godwin Emefiele implored me not to recover the said $245 million in one swoop because, according to him, the Federal Government had taken  over the ownership and that it was necessary so that the bank would not collapse, which would result to job losses and that would  affect the national economy.  He advised that the recovery efforts should be made instalmentally. I saw wisdom in the advice of Mr Emefiele. I accordingly briefed a firm of lawyers to recover the money. The law firm filed an action in the Federal High Court against Polaris Bank. Polaris Bank, through its lawyers, applied to the court for a settlement of out of court. The court entered a consent judgment and ordered Polaris Bank to be paying $10,000 every month until final liquidation of the entire sum of $245 million. Before I left the panel, about $100 million had been recovered and paid into the TSA account of the panel in the Central Bank of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the former Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), addressed a press conference after I was suspended as Chairman of the Panel, suggesting that I was never given the mandate to investigate all the cases I had investigated. One of the cases that got me into a clash with the previous regime was investigation of the case against Hydrocarbon Nigeria Ltd. The company was allocated an oil bloc, but refused to pay royalties for a number of years. The company, as of 2019, was owing the Federal Government about $3 million.

    There was also this issue of stamp duties…?

    We got a petition from a Whistle Blower known as School of Banking Honours to investigate the non-remittance of stamp duties into the Federation Account by commercial banks in the country amounting to N39 trillion. We carried out a discreet investigation and we had verified that remittances on stamp duties (generated and remitted) to the NIBSS from 2016 to 2018 involving 26 commercials banks in the country amounted to N10, 766,400, 103.76. The following banks, including FBN Merchant Bank; First City Monument Bank Plc; First Bank of Nigeria; Jaiz Bank Plc, Polaris  Bank Limited and Stanbic IBTC Bank Limited, needed further explanation on their general ledger account which was N911,394,070.33. This was just between 2016 and 2018. The banks have not remitted stamp duties from 1994 to date to the federation account. In the oil and gas industry, we investigated and found that some multinational oil companies, including Seplat/NPDC JV; ND Western; ELCRest/NPDC JV; NeConde/NPDC JV, Nigeria Agip Oil Coy/NPDC JV, Shoreline/NPDC; Okono/Okpoho NPDC JV; have not remitted $1,791,045, 591, and N723,749,610.15 respectively. The question now is, how do you recover these monies for the government? We had a TSA account in the Central Bank of Nigeria opened in the name of the panel. All monies were paid into these accounts. I never saw any cash. The panel  also investigated the cases below:

    Nigeria Export and Import Bank (NEXIM)

    During the cause of investigation, the panel recovered N533,200,000.00 cash and a land valued at N1.5 billion from Aso Bank to NEXIM Bank. The panel also recovered $7,000,000.00 illegally placed in Heritage Bank by previous management of NEXIM. As of the time of this report, more recoveries were being made and details were to be made available to the Chairman within the week.

    National Theatre

    The sum of N24,000,000, which was misappropriated and diverted by some directors, was recovered.

    National Council for Arts and Culture

    The panel recovered and handed over two plots of land worth over N2,000,000,000 after investigation.

    Nigeria Ports Authority

    Investigation and process of recovering a lot of landed property belonging to the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) in Calabar, Warri, Koko, Sapele, and Lagos ports were in full swing. The Special Committee set up for that purpose has started with Lagos and was to be in other parts of the country before the panel was disbanded.

    Sale of National Assembly Quarters/Government Houses

    The panel also investigaed former Principal Officers of the National Assembly who unlawfully acquired houses belonging to the Federal Government, including the residence  of the Senate President (Senator David Mark); Deputy Senate President (Senator Ike Ekweremadu); former Speaker of the House of Representatives, (Rt. Hon Dimeji Bankole); former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives (Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada) and former Chief Justice of Nigeria (the late Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu), was also one of those under investigation regarding the above caption. The residences were acquired at give-away prices contrary to the Monetization Policy of the Federal Government. The sale was, therefore, contrary to the provision of the Federal Government of Nigeria Official Gazette No. 82, Vol. 92 of 15th August, 2005. The sale of these residences built with taxpayers money was contrary to the provisions of Paragraphs 1&6 (1) of Part 1 of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) since the purchasers were public officers. The Monetization Policy ensured the responsibility for the provision of residential accommodation for the Senate President; Deputy Senate President; the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of Nigeria on shoulders of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The panel was also investigating Senator Ike Ikweremadu’s acquisition of plots  1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,33,34,and 35 delineated and marked in Survey Plan No W8/2015 located at Asata River Layout, Enugu, Enugu State, belonging to the Estate of the late Chief J.S.P.C Nwokolo, but purchased by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, which he did not declare in his Assets Declaration Form purchased for N1.5 billion from Mrs. Patricia Nwokolo.

    Correspondence with Government of the United Kingdom

    The panel wrote to the Home Secretary in the United Kingdom requesting that the United Kingdom should disallow certain public officers from entering the United Kingdom that have acquired illicit assets in the United Kingdom. The panel also wrote to the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom requesting for investigation and forfeiture of assets worth hundreds of millions of pounds acquired by certain public officials from Nigeria. This was after the passage of the Unexplained Wealth Order (Regulation) in the U.K in January, 2018, which provides that any property or assets in the United Kingdom acquired worth more than £50,000, the owner of such property or assets is required to explain the source of the property or assets, otherwise such property or assets shall be subject to forfeiture proceedings. The panel found an account titled NNPC BRASS, which was operated and maintained illeglly by Polaris Bank Ltd, has in it the sum of $245,000,000. The panel also discovered in the course of investigation that this account and the sums of monies accrued therein was maintained and operated in violation of the laws of the country. As a result of the intense investigation and findings, the bank (Polaris Bank Ltd) agreed to refund the whole sum of money as follows: 

    i. The sum of $223,862,000 in Account No. 1750027157 designated “NNPC Operation Account” (Foreign Currency) be transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria Treasury Single Account.

    ii. The said amount shall be paid into the Central Bank of Nigeria Treasury Single Account in Foreign Currency USD.

    iii. The panel has consented that Polaris Bank should commence the payment of the said sum in tranches of $10,000,000 monthly until the full amount is liquidated; and in the alternative, where convenient and realistic, the bank undertakes to pay the balance in block without recourse to installmental payment.

    The panel was in the process of recovering a large piece of land belonging to a parastatal agency under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The land was encroached upon and sold by unpatriotic people. The land was to be recovered, and all the culprits prosecuted. The panel was also investigating some officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). And as at the time of writing the report, they had been declared wanted by the court and warrant of arrest issued against them. The panel equally investigated the illegal drilling of crude oil in Delta State by Mid-Western Oil and Gas Limited.

    Tell us about the panel investigating the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) in Asokoro?

    This was sequel to a letter received from FHA on the re-documentation exercise of houses developed by the FHA in Abuja. According to the FHA, it introduced computerization in 2015 of its property record in order to strengthen the agency’s documentation and record keeping. It was discovered that in the FHA Gwarinpa Estate alone, there were several record discrepancies such as: Houses without detail of owners/occupants; Houses without property files; Houses with outstanding of various payments due to the Federal Government, etc.

    A multi-national oil company based in the Egi Kingdom in River State, was also under investigation for cheating its host community of N38 billion and $30 million respectively.

    The panel was also investigating the failure of Celtel to pay tax to the Federal Government since 2005. Details of this would have been forwarded after the officers attached to the panel on secondment from the FIRS have finished the investigation and submitted their report for possible prosecution. There are many others. 

    Since the time your first interview was published by Sunday Sun, did any of the names you mentioned, their family members or friends, reached out to you to accuse you of bias or threatened your life?

    The interview generated a huge furore in the country. Nigerians were stunned by my revelations. A lot of Nigerians who have my phone number have called me to show solidarity and commended my courage to tell them what actually transpired. My friends, associates, and family members were worried and scared for my life. They personally expressed their reservations. They are afraid the members of the old regime and those involved with what I have talked about could attack or plot evil against me. However, I am unperturbed and undaunted. My life is in the hands of the creator, and let His will prevail.

    Many have said that your opening up is a vendetta against the key people you are exposing now, saying  that your claims may not be 100 per cent correct. What is your take on this?

    Everything I have said is the gospel truth, ungarnished and unblemished. Why would anybody say it is vendetta? I am not in a position to pursue these wicked, powerful and privileged people who have made so much money for themselves. Vengeance belongs to the Almighty God, not me. Romans 12:19 says: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath; for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” Also, I commend you – Deuteronomy 32:35. I just want to tell Nigerians what truly transpired, not the official version of what they have been told. I have said all these things when the previous government and drama personae were in power on my Facebook page since 2019. I had granted interviews to The Nation Newspaper in October 2019 and July 2023, respectively. I have forwarded these to you, The Sun Newspaper.

    Do you have documentary evidence to back up your claims?

    Yes, I have documentary evidence, which I used in the cloud system in cyberspace to save some of them. Most of the case files, almost 500, were collected by the former Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr Ayo Akpata (SAN), and also Abubakar Malami (SAN) is in possession of these documentary evidence. I was writting memos everyday of what the panel was doing to Abubakar Malami (SAN). Also, I was giving occasional memos of all the high cases the panel was investigating to President Buhari. I recollect on one occasion in April, 2018, Abubakar Malami (SAN) called me to commend me when I announced the investigation of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. However, after I was suspended, he told the media that I was never given a mandate to investigate over 500 cases the panel investigated.  Why do you have to give mandate to investigate what the law has conferred on the panel to investigate? The panel was set up pursuant to the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act 2004. This Act was enacted in 1984 when General Muhammadu Buhari was the military Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between December 1983 and August 26, 1985, when his military regime was topppled. Gladly, this law was not repealed when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became President on May 29, 1999. This was the law General Buhari used to fight corruption squarely and  resolutely when he was military Head of State. However, most of the documentary evidence are with the previous government. They were impounded apparently to stop  me from having access. My office in Asokoro was sealed and all documents, including my personal effects, were seized until this moment by people from the former Attorney-General of the Federation.

    In August, 2023, my lawyer, Barrister Efa Otu Uket Oka, wrote to Abubakar Malami (SAN) to return my personal property, including phones, computers, Apple laptop, etc. He ignored the letter. He has also written to the current Attorney-General of the Federation, but he has not responded.

    If I may ask, why did you decide to open up on your activities at the SPIP? Why didn’t you just keep quiet and move on?

    It would not be fair not to tell Nigerians what truly transpired, not the lies and propaganda unleashed by fifth columnists and patrons of corruptions and cohorts on me to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It will be unfair to Nigerians not to know what truly transpired. Also, I want the future generation to know what transpired in that period of Nigeria’s history. I did not keep quiet. Even as far back as November 2019, I had granted two interviews to The Nation Newspaper. Also, the Punch Newspaper reported me in December 2019, telling Nigerians that fighting corruption is one of the most difficult jobs in Nigeria because of the Nigerian factor. Between December 2019 and May 29, 2023, I occasionally did.

    What do you want Nigerians and the government to do with regards to your revelations?

    The people of Nigeria and the Federal Government should decide what to do. It is left for Nigerians to take back their country and ensure that every public official or officials are  made to render accounts of their stewardship. If the government doesn’t take action, the confidence of Nigerians in government will continue to erode. This is dangerous and may lead to a situation of nihilism and anarchy. If people continue to lose confidence in government,  they may ultimately come to a situation when they would not obey the laws enacted by government. 

    If given another chance, will you take on the same role as SPIP chairman?

    No, except the government will keep to its declaration and stated objectives. If only the government will be honest and do what it has told Nigerians to do. If the government has the will power to fight corruption squarely and honestly. I will not want to do such a difficult job if government will not protect me from the possible backlash and vendetta by those who will be affected by my work. The government will not do a volte face. The government would not behave like the mythical Janus in Greek mythology, a god with two faces and two mouths. A government that will shift the goal posts when the football has started. A government that is cowardly and ready to sacrifice me without thinking twice. A government that has the will power to confront and fight corruption head long.

    You were accused of not following due process while carrying out that assignment. Why were you power drunk?

    It is a compulsive lie to give me a bad name. They were not genuine and couldn’t stand somebody like me who is conscious, patriotic, courageous, and couldn’t compromise or dance to their tune. The law is that he who asserts must prove. Have they proven their false assertion that I did not follow due process? It was the fact that I was a stickler for due process and the law that they couldn’t stand me. Malami said I was not a team player.  What is the meaning of the fact that Obono-Obla is not a team player? 

    Why were you overzealous about the job?

    That is a wrong use of language. I wasn’t overzealous. I was passionate, patriotic, tenacious and uncompromising. If anybody calls it overzealousness, so be it. I know corruption is a major problem contributing to the underdevelopment of Nigeria. I am, therefore, passionate that corruption should be uprooted or reduced to the barest minimum. When you are doing such a challenging and difficult job such as fighting corruption, you must have those sterling qualities  I have enumerated.

    Some believed that you also got enmeshed in some of the deals, that if not, how were you able to pay for the boat that transported you to one of the neighbouring countries where you eventually left for the United States? Also, how were you able to sustain yourself in exile, considering the exchange rate at that time and even now? Are you insisting you never soiled your hands?

    Tales by the  moonlight. I did not travel by boat. It is a myth fabricated and peddled by the fifth columnists that were in government when this event took place to tarnish my image. I travelled legitimately by air from Abuja to  Lagos and to Accra, Ghana. I have a good friend from Edo State. But he is a professional accountant working with a big consulting firm in Washington, DC, USA. He graduated from Howard University, Washington DC, and Oxford University, United Kingdom. He was doing a job for the United States Government concerning some money given to the Ghanaian Government to fix its electricity supply problems. He was aware of the work I was doing as an investigator of politically exposed persons in Nigeria who had been involved in corrupt practices. He is also a forensic investigator and was aware of the fact that there was a plot to kill me. He used his contact information in Nigeria, and he was told that there was a plot to eliminate me. He was advised to tell me. He told me his contact in Nigeria told him the reason my police security team was withdrawn immediately my suspension was announced on the mass media and to be vulnerabe to the people I have been investigating. He was the one who bought my ticket from Lagos to Accra and from Accra to Casablanca, then to Washington DC. I never touched a kobo of government’s money. Till today, nobody has come to say I collected a kobo from him. I declared my assets in 2016 and in 2019, and there was nothing I added to what I declared in 2016 and in 2019, respectively. It is from assets acquisition you would be able to easily ascertain whether somebody has soiled his hands or not. I am one of the honest Nigerians who have served in public service with integrity and probity. I am proud of my records, achievements and integrity. I can beat my chest. That is why I can speak courageously and bravely on what happened  today. It speaks volumes of the fact that I am as clean as the steel concerning my service as chairman of the panel. I have lived in a rented apartment in Abuja until now.

    What are you currently engaged in? 

    I am presently engaged in  law practice, politics, writing, educating, and enlightening Nigerians on their rights and duties as good citizens. I have already written about four books between 2020 and now. I will unveil these books between now and December 2024. I also intend to pursue a PhD in law.

    And what are your future political plans?

    By the grace of God, and in accordance with His will, I want to be a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in future.


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