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Is Tinubu’s Obazee Team a mirror of Buhari’s Ode Panel?

By Yushau A. Shuaib In the past couple of weeks, the media has been awash with monumental scandals involving individuals and organisations associated with the…

By Yushau A. Shuaib

In the past couple of weeks, the media has been awash with monumental scandals involving individuals and organisations associated with the past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Reports claim that the suspects not only looted billions in local and foreign currencies from the treasury but there are others to be exposed for re-looting the so-called recovered loot.

Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele was detained for several weeks before his arraignment for alleged massive abuse of the office he occupied for nearly a decade. A former CBN Deputy Governor, Tunde Lemo is also accused of untoward acts, while some officials in the Buhari government have been invited too for questioning by anti-graft agencies.

Much of the allegations of white-collar crimes were insinuated to have 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, a 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).

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However, the seemingly condescending manner of revealing the subjects of an investigation via media trial by the Obazee Team is similar to the notorious activities of the AVM Jon Ode Arms Probe Panel appointed in 2015 at the outset of the Buhari administration to scrutinize the procurement of arms and ammunition by successive governments. Ex-National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd) constituted the body.

AVM Ode (rtd) was the chairman, Brig. Gen. Y. I. Shalangwa (secretary); members included Rear Admiral J. A. Aikhomu (rtd), Rear Admiral E. Ogbor (rtd), Brig. Gen. L. Adelagun (rtd), Brig. Gen. M. Aminu-Kano (rtd), Brig. Gen. N. Rimtip (rtd), 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), and Mr. Ibrahim Magu, then EFCC acting chairman.

Rather than being transparent in its investigations, the Ode Panel was criticised by a section of the general public for criminalising critical institutions of the state and indicting groups and individuals through media trials. It was busy leaking sensational and scandalous stories about people to selected journalists instead of charging them in courts.

Former NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), former Chief of Defence Staff, late Air Marshal Alex Badeh, retired and serving senior officers of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), businessmen, lawyers, journalists and even ordinary citizens were among others who got scandalised, humiliated and persecuted on the pages of newspapers on what mostly turned out to be unproven allegations.

Apart from psychological trauma, job losses and untimely deaths due to the infamous actions, 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 Ode panel influenced the government to jettison the law and embark on a vengeful rampage. The suspects were incarcerated illegally and denied the right to defend themselves; their supporters were equally persecuted. Some judges who gave fair and favourable judgements to the defendants were not spared; they were harassed, official residences raided, while some family members were prosecuted until the cases were discharged in court.

In an unpoetic twist, barely a year after inauguration, members of the panel were accused of receiving bribes from individuals and companies. A domestic intelligence agency later arrested one of them for allegedly operating an extortion syndicate on behalf of the panel, which suggested it was committing the same crimes under probe; even panel members who later died have been linked with fraudulent practices that anti-corruption agencies investigated.

In 2017, the committee was unceremoniously disbanded following suspicious activities. It was not surprising that the House of Representatives mandated a joint Committee on National Security and Intelligence and Public Procurement to investigate and call for sanctions on the Ode 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.

As the Obazee Team commences discreet operations, it cannot afford to fall into a trap witnessed during the Ode Panel era because there are speculations that the body has been targeting agencies deemed ‘juicy’ such as 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.

On top of that, the chief executives of several financial and monetary institutions are as well under federal government scrutiny. Some of them have been allegedly summoned for blackmail and extortion by the Special Investigator or have simply gotten into trouble with the committee.

Like the Ode Panel that went beyond its assignment 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, clearly beyond the scope of its mandate. There are even speculations that the panel is beaming its searchlight on wealthy Nigerian businessmen. I won’t know whether Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola or Abdulsamad 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 authored “An Encounter with the Spymaster” and “Award-Winning Crisis Communication Strategies”
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