President Muhammadu Buhari has finally moved against Okoi Obono-Obla, more than a year after the head of asset recovery panel was first slammed with claims of certificate forgery, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Multiple sources familiar with the development told PREMIUM TIMES the head of presidential asset recovery panel has been asked to vacate office with immediate effect. A police team has also been sent to seal off his office in Abuja’s exquisite Asokoro neighbourhood to prevent him from entering or tampering with records.
Mr Buhari acted on the outcome of an extensive investigation conducted into Mr Obono-Obla’s academic credentials by the anti-graft agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
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 the request by the ICPC has been granted and Mr Obono-Obla has been fired. One source said he would soon be directed to turn himself in to the ICPC to be tried for certificate forgery.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt Mr Obono-Obla has in the past days been making frantic moves to rally persons close to the presidency to convince the president that he should be allowed to continue at his job.
The official had brushes with the presidency in the past, disregarding Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s directives on multiple occasions without any consequences.
Obono-Obla and building on nothing
Mr Obono-Obla confrontation with the vice-president lingered amidst unconnected allegations of academic fraud levelled against Mr Obono-Obla. How the allegations first became public remained largely fuzzy but it was mainstreamed by an inquiry at the House of Representatives last year.
After looking into claims that Mr Obono-Obla did not obtain a valid high school certificate, the House raised a committee to look into the matter and other allegations of corrupt enrichment being circulated against the asset recovery panel chairman.
The committee found that Mr Obono-Obla enrolled at the University of Jos with a fake WAEC certificate. It also also found that Mr Obono-Obla had claimed he obtained the problematic certificate in 1982 as Ofem Okoi Ofem.
It was unclear when he started bearing Okoi Obono-Obla as a formal name. The registrar of the foremost examination body also confirmed under oath that Mr Obono-Obla’s certificate was a counterfeit.
The House then passed a resolution in December 2018, urging Mr Buhari to immediately sack Mr Obono-Obla and subsequently hand him over to federal authorities for prosecution.
The House also called on the University of Jos and the Nigerian Law School to withdraw the respective certificates they issued to Mr Obono-Obla when he attended both institutions since the high school certificate he used to enrol into the university was not genuine to begin with.
Mr Obono-Obla dismissed the findings of the House at the time, saying lawmakers were after him because of his strident pursuit of corrupt elements in the country, especially those with access to power.
The president’s reluctance in moving against his aide led House members to feel ignored with their findings and also allowed the allegations to fester.
But an independent source with a good understanding of the matter told PREMIUM TIMES Mr Buhari had long referred the allegations to the ICPC for independent investigation.
“The president also agreed that you cannot build a career on a fraudulently procured WAEC certificate,” the source said. “His WAEC certificate was found to be totally fraudulent after extensive investigation.”
On Saturday night, Mr Obono-Obla told PREMIUM TIMES he had yet to receive any formal notice of his removal from office, but acknowledged hearing about it from different sources.
He also rubbished the ICPC report as “contrived” and unfair to him because the detectives who conducted it did not invite him to defend himself.
“It is contrived,” Mr Obono-Obla said by telephone Saturday night. “They have never called me to testify and properly defend myself against all the allegations.”
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.”
A spokesperson for the ICPC did not return multiple requests for comments between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon, but PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr Obono-Obla failed to appear before the House panel despite being sent at least four invitations to do so.