By Osas Erhabor
The Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) on the Recovery of Public Property has been operating within the mandate given it by President Muhammadu Buhari Government even as the Panel battles to check-mate the inexplainable culture of impunity among the powerful or their subordinates in our society who enjoy undeserved protection. In this piece, Osas Erhabor examines the gains so far recorded by the Panel since establishment.
At a recent gathering in Lagos organised by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, with the support of MacArthur Foundation; the issue of corruption formed the kernel of discussion at the launch of a 58-page report. The discussants lamented how corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society and therefore canvassed the need for all hands to be on deck in the fight against the ‘ national monster’.
Against this background, Nigerians are agitated and eager to know about the progress so far recorded by the Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) on the Recovery of Public Property headed by Mr. Okoi Obono Obla, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution.
A cursory watch and meticulous chronicle of the activities of the Panel reveal that by all intent and purpose, there is a cherry story to tell about the Panel. In a quick narrative, it is not like the story in the Shakespearian Play told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
In fairness to the wisdom of the Federal Government of Nigeria, Mr. Okoi Obono Obla-led SPIP has today become one of the reference points to the deft and dogged move by President Buhari Administration to kill corruption before corruption itself kills Nigeria.
It is interesting therefore to underscore some of the gains of the Panel while also taking an eagle-eye look at the activities of the Panel thus far. Now, the major high points-
NEXIM: During the course of the Panel’s investigation, which this writer gathered is still on going, the Panel has reportedly recovered a total sum of about N533, 200, 000.00 (Five Hundred and Thirty-Three Million and Two Hundred Thousand Naira) cash, back to the Bank. A Land valued at N1.5 Billion was also said to have been recovered from Aso Bank to Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM). The Panel further recovered $7 Million (Seven Million Dollars) for NEXIM which was illegally placed in Heritage Bank by the previous management of NEXIM, it was similarly learnt.
NATIONAL THEATRE: The sum of N24, 000, 000.00 (Twenty-Four Million Naira) misappropriated and diverted by some Directors of the National Theatre was recovered too.
NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ARTS AND CULTURE: The Panel after investigation, was able to recover about 2 Hectares of Land, valued at over N2, 000, 000, 000.00 (Two Billion Naira) belonging to the National Council of Arts and Culture.
NIGERIA PORTS AUTHORITY: The Panel investigated a case of diversion and conversion of property (building) belonging to Nigerian Ports Authority, this led to the recovery of some part of Agura Hotel belonging to NPA back to NPA after more than two decades.
The Panel has filed assets forfeiture proceedings in the Federal High Court against a Public officer in respect of numerous landed assets he failed to declare in his Assets Declaration Forms. The Panel has also filed charges in the Federal High Court against the Public officer for refusal to fill Assets Declaration Form issued to him by the Panel.
Meanwhile, the Panel has filed assets forfeiture proceedings at the Federal High Court against a serving Senator in respect of numerous landed assets which he failed to declare in his Assets Declaration Forms.
In a similar breath, the Panel is said to be investigating how former principal officers in the National Assembly acquired through the back door, the residences of the Senate President; Deputy Senate President; Chief Justice of the Federation; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, at a give-away price contrary to the Monetization Policy of the Federal Government, thus:
It will be recalled that in 2004, the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Monetization Policy. It was a measure of the Obasanjo’s administration to reduce the cost of governance, facilitate budgeting and budgetary control; minimize waste and abuse of public facilities, obtain savings for capital projects and promote a culture of discipline and maintenance etc.
The Monetization Policy, which is also referred to as Monetization of Fringe Benefit was conceived as a new approach to the remuneration of Public Officers in Nigeria.
However, the implementation of the Monetization Policy excluded Principal Officers of the National Assembly of Nigeria including the Senate President; Deputy Senate President; the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy-Speaker of the House of Representatives. It also excluded the residence of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The Monetization Policy therefore placed the responsibility for the provision of residential accommodation for the Senate President; Deputy Senate President; the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy-Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the shoulders of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Without any measure of equivocation, one can safely conjecture that the sale was contrary to the provisions of the Federal Government of Nigeria Official Gazette No. 82, Vol. 92 of 15 August, 2005.
The sale of these residences built with tax payers’ money was therefore contrary to the provisions of Paragraphs 1 & 6 (1) of Part 1 of the 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) since the purchasers were Public Officers.
TUMSAH: The case of a Director in Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Ibrahim Musa Tumsah is another reference point while taking a quick look at the proactiveness of the Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) on the Recovery of Public Property headed by Mr. Okoi Obono Obla.
During the course of investigation, total assorted vehicles numbering 86 were recovered. The Vehicles were valued about over N500, 000,000 (Five Hundred Million Naira); Six houses located in the highbrow areas of Abuja; a quarry and at a farm also in Abuja.
What is more, Interim forfeiture order has been obtained from Court in this regard while charges have been preferred against the Director for prosecution accordingly. Interestingly, the Director has been charged to Court for failure to declare his assets after collecting the Asset Declaration Form from the Panel while the 30 days grace period is said to have elapsed.
As if the above is not enough, the Panel has recently prepared a list of more than 200 present and past public officers whose assets it intends to investigate.
The Panel, it was gathered, has written to the Home Secretary in the United Kingdom requesting that the United Kingdom ban from entering the United Kingdom, certain public officers that have acquired assets, considered illicit in the panel’s estimate, in the United Kingdom.
The Panel further 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, the writer learnt, was after the passage of the Unexplained Wealth Orders (Regulation) in the U.K in January, 2018, which provides that any property or assets in the United Kingdom acquired worth more than Fifty Thousand Pounds, 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 also wrote to the United States Treasury Office of Financial Crimes to investigate properties acquired by serving Public officers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in Florida, United States of America.
In a similar move, the Panel wrote to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) providing it with information (including title deeds) of properties acquired abroad by some Nigerian public officers worth hundreds of millions of dollars/pounds under Voluntary Declaration of Assets and Income Scheme introduced by the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
In like manner, the Panel has written to the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom reporting a Public officer alleged to been stashing millions of British Pounds in his London residence.
The Panel is also believed to be investigating the failure of Celtel to pay tax to the Federal Government since 2005 even as the investigation of the illegal drilling of crude oil in Delta State by Mid-Western Oil and Gas Limited is ongoing.
Some other matters the Panel is said to be investigating includes: more than ten oil companies that have not paid oil royalties to the Federal Government for many years; two former Governors in the North Eastern Region of the country for abuse of office; a multinational oil company based in Egi Kingdom in Rivers State is under investigation for cheating its host community of N38 Billion and $30 million respectively as well as the failure of a company awarded a contract by Nigeria Port Authority for the dredging of the Calabar Channel after receiving $12 million.
Indeed, there has been no dull moment for the Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) on the Recovery of Public Property since inception.
No doubt, many highly placed Nigerians must have been put on their toes and ordinarily they will dubiously struggle to gather together to fight back.
Little wonder then some of the principal officers in the SPIP have unfortunately become subjects of attack by those who think they are the high and mighty in this country. They have taken caution to the winds by their virulent vilification and scandalous activities against the leadership of the panel that is doing the Buhari administration so much pride.
I make bold to say at this juncture that Nigerians and indeed Nigeria as a nation must rise up against these few elements that are hell bent in frustrating the good intentions and deeds of the panel as this may ultimately set back the hand of the clock for the Buhari-led federal government dugged fight against corruption.
And please to the Panel and President Mohammadu Buhari, I say there must be no retreat, no surrender. The fight against corruption must be won no matter who is involved!
Mr. Erhabor is a commentator and Public Affairs Analyst on contemporary issues based in Lagos, Nigeria.