By Danladi Al-Hassan
Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, the Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), has disclosed that the panel is investigating over a thousand Nigerians with landed property in United Arab Emirate.
In an interview with The Punch, Obono-Obla said the panel is in possession of document which it is analysing to determine if some of the properties were bought with ill-gotten public funds.
“We are also investigating Nigerians who have property in the United Kingdom in collaboration with the National Crime Authority, under the unexplained wealth regulation in the UK, to recover assets that were got with funds stolen by Nigerian public officials,” he said.
“Under the ‘Unexplained Wealth Regulation’ passed in 2018, any person who has a property in the UK beyond 50,000 pounds who cannot explain his source of livelihood or how he acquired such property can be investigated and the property recovered are returned to wherever it originated from. A lot of Nigerian public officials, both present and past, have property in the UK. So, we are digging into how the assets were acquired,” he said.
Obono-Obla denied that the panel was sanctioned by the Chief of Staff to the President over perceived excessive use of authority. He said because the panel, which was set up by the President reports directly to the President.
“This government has a policy of non-interference with the work of anti-corruption agencies, and the President has always said that our institutions must be allowed to grow.
“So, when you have given a job to someone, you have to allow the person to do his work in accordance with the instrument setting up that institution. I do not think that there were areas that the panel was asked not to go into.
“The panel is established by the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act of 2004 and the responsibilities and powers of the panel were clearly spelt out in Section 2 (1) a, b, c of that law. Simply put, we have the powers to investigate the assets of any public officer who has corruptly enriched himself/herself, abused his/her office and violated the Code of Conduct provision in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, or who has contributed to the economic adversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Also, by Section 2 (2) of that law, we have the powers to investigate the assets of a private individual- anybody who has accumulated assets beyond his earnings. The powers of the panel are clearly spelt out and we have been working in strict conformity with the powers of the panel as prescribed by the Act.”
Does the panel also have the power to arrest because there had been reported cases of arrests?
The special panel chairman clarified that there is no conflict in the areas of operations of all the anti-graft agencies in the country. He said each of the agencies has specific areas of operations and mandates.
“There are no conflicts. The EFCC is entrusted with the responsibility of investigating financial and economic crimes, the ICPC is responsible for the investigation of public sector corruption while the SPIP is saddled with the responsibility of investigating and recovering assets owned by public officers that have corruptly enriched themselves, abused their offices and contributed to the economic adversities of Nigeria.
“If you go through all the Acts establishing these agencies, you will discover that their roles are clearly spelt out. Their functions may look similar; they may overlap, but that does not mean that the set up of this panel amounts to government overcrowding space with anti-corruption agencies.
“In any case, the United Nations Convention against corruption enjoins countries like Nigeria that has the problem of corruption to set up multiplicities of anti-corruption agencies. For instance, Brazil has adopted the model because they have the problem of corruption like Nigeria and they have used the model of setting up multiplicities of anti-corruption agencies to address the problem of corruption and to a large extent, corruption has reduced drastically in that country to the extent that one of its former presidents was convicted of corruption.
“We can borrow from the Brazil experience and that is what this government is doing,”
He explained that a large part of the revenue earned by the country between 1999 and 2015 was looted and squandered and this has necessitated the concerted efforts to fight corruption by the Buhari Administration.
“We have the problem of corruption and a government that is desirous of fighting corruption can set up multi anti-corruption agencies. I am of the view that we are making progress and I think corruption is no longer attractive in Nigeria to a certain extent because if you are caught, the government has demonstrated the will to prosecute anybody who has been found wanting,” Obono-Obla said.
The Presidential aide denied that the current fight against corruption is one-sided.
“That narrative is false and it is bunkum. It is a narrative contrived by the opposition to discredit the war against corruption. It is a classical instance of corruption fighting back by those who are facing trial, those who are corrupt and those who are at the verge of losing their property that they illegally acquired.
“My panel is investigating and prosecuting a former senator who is a member of the All Progressives Congress. The allegation against him is that his company got a $12.5m in 2014 to dredge the Calabar channel so that bigger vessels can access the Calabar port. But that contract was not executed.
“A former top official of the APC was also investigated and so many vehicles were recovered from him and a host of others too. So, it is not true that the fight against corruption is one-sided. Even the former Senate President was still an APC member when he was arraigned before the CCT,” he said.