In what could be seen as welcome news by the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the suspension from office “with immediate effect” of the Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Mr Okoi Obono-Obla as a consequence of on-going investigations pertaining to “falsification of records and financial impropriety” against Mr Obono-Obla.
The announcement of Mr Obono-Obla’s suspension was contained in a tweet from the official handle of the Presidency and was also confirmed via a letter to the embattled official signed by the Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha on Wednesday.
The letter stated that the suspension would subsist until all Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) investigations into the Presidential aide are concluded.
Mr Obono-Obla who is an aide to the President on Anti-Corruption is being investigated by the ICPC in relation to alleged forgery of academic credentials with which he got admitted to study Law at the University of Jos years ago and allegations of corrupt practices in his role as chairman of the five-member Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property.
Specifically, the investigations into his certificate forgery centre on claims that the WAEC certificate with which he secured University admission was fraudulently acquired under another name in 1982. He’s also been accused of corruptly enriching himself during his stint as Chairman of the SIP and the House of Representatives recommended his removal late last year after an Ad Hoc committee found him culpable on both charges.
It appears that the President has finally decided to move against his aide after the ICPC provided proof that Mr Obono-Obla has a case to answer.
Mr Obono-Obla was appointed to the post of Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property.in August of 2017 and was tasked with helping the Federal Government recover stolen assets from public officials.
He, however, frequently overstepped his remit and statutory duties and was the subject of numerous lawsuits from subjects of his investigations who sought to establish the limits of his power. Premium Times reports that Mr Obono-Obla routinely ignored directives from the Office of the Vice President to rein in his excesses although there is no suggestion that his suspension has any bearing on his insubordination to the Vice President.
The leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was a favourite target of the SIP under Mr Obono-Obla with many believing him to be engaged in a witch-hunt instigated by former Sports Minister Solomon Dalung against the leadership of the Federation who were forced into carrying out routine damage limitation exercises on account of Obono-Obla’s incessant public accusations.
The SIP under him had been investigating the leadership of the NFF over allegations of the diversion of $8.4m of NFF funds in 2014. In addition, the NFF was also being investigated about the misappropriation of sponsorship money between 2008 and 2018 with NFF 2nd Vice President Shehu Dikko implicated in one of the sponsorship deals where he allegedly corruptly steered deals in the direction of a firm he has interests in.
Mr Obono-Obla had in January of this year stated that his panel had established a “prima facie” case against NFF president Amaju Pinnick, and six other members of the Federation including 1st Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi, 2nd Vice President Shehu Dikko, Executive Committee member Ahmed Yusuf, and General Secretary Dr. Sanusi Mohammed.
Yet despite numerous public pronouncements, the SIP never succeeded in successfully prosecuting the NFF officials with conflicting reports of court orders and counter orders painting a confused portrait as to the true state of affairs.
It appears now that the hunter has become the hunted and although Mr Obono-Obla’s suspension has no effect on the continued operations of the SIP with other members of the panel retaining their positions under possible leadership of the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, it is not entirely clear what becomes of the investigations into the NFF.