Chief Okoi Obono-Obla is the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution. In this interview with EMMANUEL ONANI, he speaks on asset recovery, recent defection of some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and crisis in Cross River State chapter of the party, among other issues
How has your party, the All Progressives Congress fared in your state, Cross River, as an opposition political party?
The APC has done very well in the past two years taken into account where we were coming from. We were coming from a situation where the APC was very unpopular in Cross River State. Remember that the party was founded in 2013 and in 2015 when the general elections took place, it was very unpopular in Cross River State because the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had been in power there for the past 16 years and so, you do not expect the people of Cross River State to trust and vote for a new party. But since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, he has shown an unprecedented love and affection for the people of Cross River State despite the fact that they didn’t vote for him.
This is confirmed by the array of appointments; the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is from Cross River State; the Auditor General of the Federation (AGF) is from Cross River State; the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs is from Cross River State; the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is from Cross River State; the Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is from Cross River State and my humble self as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution is also from Cross River State.
Also, two ambassadors, one career ambassador and one political ambassador from the same Cross River State were appointed by the President. There are a host of others also appointed from the state. Besides, the President has visited Cross River State twice; the first was on October 26, 2015 and that was the first state Mr. President was visiting after his election. His second visit to the state was on June 17 this year.
All these show that the President has the interest of the people of Cross River State at heart. Do you know what the President told me on October 26, 2015? I was in his entourage to Cross River State, where he told me that he served as a young captain in Ogoja and he lived in the house of Chief I.I Morphy and that he trekked from Gakem to Ajassor because the Biafran troops had blown all the bridges. Ajassor, in Etung Local Government Area of the state is a boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon, so maybe because of that he has segmented attachment to Cross River State.
And look at the projects he has given us; the Calabar/Itu Road, Calabar/Ikom/ Ogoja/Katsina-Ala. All those roads are going to be constructed. So, it shows that the President has the interest of Cross River State at heart and that the people of Cross River State have accepted APC. So, I’m saying here that in the next election, I believe Mr. President is going to have more than 70 per cent of the votes and that the APC is the party to beat because we have done what the PDP couldn’t do in the 16 years it was in power. They were there in office for 16 years and our people voted consistently and persistently for PDP and all the roads were not constructed, nothing was done for us! How many appointments did we have? But look at the array of appointments and look at all the projects the President has cited in Cross River State.
Despite what you have said about the APC in Cross River State, the party seems not be united. Whatis responsible for this and are you not nursing fears that it could affect the chances of the party in taking over the state from the ruling PDP?
Somewhat, you are right. On the surface, the party may not appear to be united, but the development is not applicable to Cross River State alone. Every political party is made up of people and you know that management of people is a very difficult thing because people are made differently. So, they look at things differently. There’s no human society where you find human beings agree in everything, so we have our disagreements, but the disagreement would not affect the party as we match towards 2019. All the tendencies, all the groups, all the factions in the party will come together. As I’m talking to you, we are even in the process of that. I believe these problems will be resolved and we are going to have a united party in Cross River State towards 2019.
Some chieftains of the party in the state have accused the appointees of Mr. President of hijacking the party’s structure. What is your reaction to the allegation?
I don’t know about that as I’m hearing it for the first time. I’m not boasting, in all honesty, I’m a democrat. I have never used my position at the federal level or as an appointee of Mr. President to further my political nest. I will never do that, I believe in democracy. I believe that a party should be opened to everybody and that the structures should not be in anybody’s pocket because that was why some of us never agreed with the PDP. The structure should be there and every member of the party should have access to it. Nobody should take the structure and put in his pocket. That type of politics is outdated. Even the primary election we are going to have will not be a delegate election; it’s going to be an election that everybody will participate in. So; this tendency of people trying to hijack the party’s structure and put in their pockets is inconsistent with what is going to happen in the primary elections of the APC where we will nominate our candidates for next year’s elections. So, it’s not true that the President’s appointees from the state have hijacked the APC structure in the state.
There are speculations that the state chapter of APC is warming up to receive the governor of the state, Prof. Ben Ayade. Is the Governor defecting to your party? I don’t know anything about that and can’t confirm that. There have been a lot of speculations regarding this development that the governor will join the APC. I can tell you that the speculations have been like that for the past two years and I think it is because the governor has a very good relationship with the President. I can’t take away that from him.
So you are not privy to any such information even as a chieftain of the APC in the state?
No, I’m not. But like I said earlier, we keep on hearing these speculations that the governor wants to join the APC. But you know that you can’t stop anybody from joining any political party he or she wants to join because the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association.
Would you be happy to welcome him into your fold? I don’t have anything personal against the governor. If he wants to come into APC, he’s welcome. But he has to pass through the normal process of joining a political party. I wouldn’t say I don’t want the governor to come into APC. If he wants to come, well, fine. I’m not against that because he has the right to freedom of association. Even if I don’t like it, that will not stop him from coming and there’s nothing I can do. I can’t even go to court to say ‘Mr. Governor, don’t join our party.’ It will be unconstitutional, so he has the right to join our party if he wants to come in and he’s welcomed.
As Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Assets Recovery, Nigerians will want to have an estimate of what you have recovered so far.
We have recovered much. One of the recoveries we made was for Nexim Bank, $7 million that was put illegally in one of the banks. By the current exchange rate, if you multiply $7 million by the exchange rate of N359 a dollar to a naira, it’s a lot of money. In terms of naira, we have also recovered N2 billion from Nexim Bank too. We have also recovered about N24 million from National Theatre and a host of others. I can’t sit down here and give you all the figures offhand.. We are still a baby anyway, we were just set up in July last year and we have at the moment about seven cases pending and we have filled charges in courts, but have not proceeded to conclusion because we just filed the charges.
Would you want Nigerians to know what gave rise to the campaign against you in some quarters?
Yes, the campaign of calumny came due to the fact that I’m investigating some members of the National Assembly. We are investigating some senators; Ike Ekweremadu, Stella Odua, Albert Akpan and a host of others and some of them have been invited to appear before our panel and some of them have refused to appear and our law
says ‘if we invite you to appear before our panel and you refuse to appear, we can file charges against you. So, we have filed charges against some of the senator’s that ignored our invitations.
The hostility towards me and the campaign of persecution and prosecution you have been seeing against me in the House of Representatives are because of what I’m doing because I have uncovered assets belonging to some senators who are in the leadership of the National Assembly.
That is why they want to remove my head. It’s not as if I have done anything wrong. You see, what they are doing to me at the National Assembly is also political because they see me as an undiluted APC member.
Some of those people who are in that committee that was asked to investigate my panel, who left their terms of reference to purportedly investigate me, are carrying out political vengeance.
What have I done wrong? I was given this assignment by the President, I didn’t appoint myself and I didn’t make the law. If the law is bad, they should repeal or amend it and not pick on me. Some of those in the House Committee were members of the Reformed All Progressives Congress (R-APC) and they have now defected. The chairman of the committee was a member of the R-APC.
They have now moved to the PDP and now trying to victimize me by maligning and making frivolous allegations against me of forgery and all that. If I forged, they should send it to the police, it’s the police that will investigate forensically. You can’t say somebody forged something on the surface because you have to bring what he has forged and the original. All the certificates they have been bragging of, where is the original copy of the WAEC certificate I allegedly forged?
Let them bring it out, it will go to the forensic laboratory, they will tell the handwriting on that certificate and compare with the original.
So, this is all a campaign of calumny because of what I stand for. In a criminal matter, you must prove beyond reasonable doubt. The police must investigate and take to a writing analyst-look at the document, and compare the handwriting in the document and look at the handwriting of the person you are alleging to have committed an offence. It’s not something you will do by taking me before the media for trial and begin to misinform Nigerians that I have been guilty of a criminal offence. So, it’s all political.
The recent mass defection of members of your party to other opposition parties, especially the PDP, is giving rise to fear that Nigeria may witness a repeat of what happened to the PDP in the build-up to the 2015 general elections, Are you not worried about that?
We must know that the defection of 2015 was completely different from that of 2018, and I will tell you why. In 2015, we, the opposition political parties merged and they were very powerful political parties and the rallying point was the current President, who has a very huge followership in the North. But we don’t have that kind of person in the PDP. And if you look at the senators and some members of the House of Representatives who have defected from the APC, you will know that they are people who don’t have that strength.
They don’t have that followership where they come from. Some of them were pushed out of their parties by their governors, which means they are not strong because if they are strong, their governors cannot push them out. I cannot see somebody from Bauchi reducing the influence of the President.
Bauchi has been voting for Mr. President consistently since 2002. Even Kano has been voting for the President consistently since 2003 and I can’t see them reducing the influence of Mr. President in Kano politics even in Sokoto. So, the scenario is different, the dynamics are different. We are going to see the 2019 election in a different dynamics. It cannot be the same dynamics that resulted in what we saw in the 2015 election. And in the South-South, for instance, in Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State, the President has made inroad which was not there before.
So, I can assure you that Cross Riverians will vote for the President in the 2019 election based on what he has done for them. I can equally assure you that Akwa Ibomites will vote for Mr. President based on what he has done for them. I was at Ikot Ekpene, a senatorial district in the state two weeks ago for an APC rally and I saw that the turnout was unprecedented. For a senatorial district in Akwa Ibom rooting for the President in that manner was an indication of his acceptance in the state, so the scenarios are different.
Three years down the line, what is your assessment of the government of Cross River State? Well, I would not give the government of the day in Cross River State a pass mark. This is because the government has not done well and that is why the APC would take over the state.
The President is being blamed in some quarters over the recent attempt made by some politicians in connivance with some members of your party to effect a leadership change in the Senate. How would you react to that?
What Nigerians do not know about President Buhari is that he’s quite a unique figure. The President is a due process person and he’s a believer in the rule of law. If you go to the President and say ‘I want to remove this man from office,’ he will ask you what does the law says.
If the law accords with what you want to do, he will say go ahead, otherwise he will not allow you to do what you want to do using your office.
The President does not interfere in the work of the police, he does not interfere in the work of my panel and he does not interfere in the work of the anticorruption agencies. Maybe that is why some political elite don’t like him because they expect that if a senator has a case, the President will tell the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) not to go on with the case . So, I don’t think the President has a hand in what transpired in the National Assembly.
He has never interfered. But remember even when they wanted to chose the Senate president and the speaker, he did not interfere. He even said he would work with anybody who emerged as Senate president and the speaker.
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