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MEDIA TRIAL: Is Tinubu’s Obazee team a mirror of Buhari’s Ode probe panel?

MEDIA TRIAL: Is Tinubu’s Obazee team a mirror of Buhari’s Ode probe panel?

By Yushau A. Shuaib

In the past couple of weeks, the media has been awash with reported cases of monumental scandals involving individuals and organisations associated with the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Some of the reports claim that the suspects not only looted billions in local and foreign currencies from the Nigerian treasury but there are equally others to be exposed for re-looting the so-called recovered loot.

The former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, was detained for several weeks before being arraigned in court for the massive abuse he has been alleged as having subjected his office to in the slightly less than a decade of his incumbency. Also, a former Deputy Governor of the CBN, Tunde Lemo, was embarrassingly exposed for a few untoward acts he is claimed to have been involved in, while some top officers in the previous administration have been invited for questioning too by the anti-graft agencies.

Much of the allegations of white-collar crimes and scandals were insinuated as having been leaked to the press by the Special Investigator probing the CBN, Mr Jim Osayande Obazee, and his team member, DCP Eloho Okpoziakpo of the Counterintelligence Unit of the Police. They are part of charges documented in a preliminary report for the President alone.

Obazee, the former Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), was appointed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to lead the investigative team into past financial malfeasances in the CBN as part of measures to fortify Government Business Entities (GBEs).

However, the modus operandi and seemingly condescending manner of exposing the subjects of an investigation to a media trial by the Obaze’s similar to the notorious activities of the AVM John Ode arms probe panel appointed at the outset of the Buhari administration to investigate the procurement of arms and ammunition by successive governments in 2015.

On behalf of President Buhari, the then National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd.), constituted that Arms Probe Panel. Apart from AVM Jon Ode (rtd.), who was the chairman, other panel members that were later unceremoniously disbanded included Rear Admiral J. A. Aikhomu (rtd.), Rear Admiral. E. Ogbor (rtd.), Brigadier-General L. Adelagun (rtd.), Brigadier-General M. Aminu-Kano (rtd.), and Brigadier-General N. Rimtip (rtd.). Other members included Rear Admiral T. D. Ikoli, Air Commodore U. Mohammed (rtd.), Air Commodore I. Shafi’I, Colonel A. A. Ariyibi, Group Captain C.A. Oriaku (rtd.), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, then the acting Chairman of the EFCC, and Brigadier-General Y. I. Shalangwa, secretary to the panel.

Rather than being transparent in its investigations, the Ode panel was accused of criminalising critical institutions of state and indicting groups and individuals through media trials. It was busy leaking sensational and scandalous stories about people to selected journalists instead of arraigning them in courts.

Former NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd.); former Chief of Defence Staff, late Air Marshal Alex Badeh; and mostly retired and serving senior officers of the Nigerian Airforce (NAF), businessmen, lawyers, journalists and even ordinary citizens were among others who got scandalised, humiliated and persecuted on the pages of newspapers on what most, subsequently turned out as unproven allegations. Apart from job losses and untimely deaths due to infamous acts of the panel, the respective families of the mentioned folks also experienced highly vicious and dehumanising attacks in what was the most celebrated media trial ever witnessed in Nigerian history.

The activities of the Jon Ode panel influenced the government to jettison the law and embark on vengeful rampages. The suspects were incarcerated illegally and denied the right to defend themselves, while their supporters were equally persecuted. Some judges who gave fair and favourable judgements to the wrongly accused were themselves not spared, as they experienced harassment, with their official residences raided, their families humiliated and prosecuted unjustly before the cases were discharged in court.

However, in an unpoetic twist, less than a year after their inauguration, members of the Arms Probe Panel were also accused of having received bribes from individuals and companies being investigated. A domestic intelligence agency later arrested one of the members for allegedly operating an extortion syndicate on behalf of the Jon Ode Panel, which suggested that the committee was committing the same crimes it was meant to expose. Even members of the panel who later died have been linked with monumental corrupt practices that the anti-corruption agencies thereafter investigated.

Afterwards, precisely in 2017, the panel was unceremoniously disbanded because of its suspicious activities. It was not surprising that the House of Representatives also mandated a joint Committee on National Security and Intelligence and Public Procurement to investigate and call for sanctions on the John Ode Arms Probe Panel, which had only succeeded in damaging the reputation of the accused persons in the press, rather than proving any crime against them in the court.

Many believe that the selective war against corruption in the previous administration was in pursuit of exacting vengeance on perceived enemies of those in that government who, after their tenure in office, are now discovered to be worse and shamelessly corrupt.

While the Obazee Team commences its discreet operations responsibly, it cannot afford to fall into a similar trap, like that of Jon Ode panel, because there are speculations that the committee has been targeting agencies that are deemed as ‘juicy’ to extort them, like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAl), Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), among others.

The chief executives of several financial and monetary institutions are under the scrutiny of the Obazee Team. At the same time, some of them have also been allegedly summoned for blackmail and extortion by the Special Investigator or have simply gotten into trouble with the Team.

Like the Jon Ode Panel that went beyond its assignments on arm probe to witch-hunting, the Obazee Team is alleged to have extended its investigative reach from CBN issues to the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil and gas industry, which are clearly beyond the scope of its mandate. There are even speculations that the panel is equally beaming its searchlight on the wealthiest Nigerian businessmen. I won’t know whether Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola or Abdulsamad Isyaku Rabiu are being targeted for probe.

It is necessary to urge the Obazee Team to tread softly and face its assignment without fear or favour by performing its role responsibly and professionally within the ambit of law without behaving like the discredited Jon Ode Panel.

 

Shuaib, author of “An Encounter with the Spymaster” and “Award-Winning Crisis Communication Strategies” , could be reached at [email protected]

 

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