By Missang Oyama

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Since last Saturday 10th August, 2019, some online news portals have been awash with the news of the alleged sack of one of Nigeria’s foremost anticorruption fighter, Chief (Barr) Okoi Obono-Obla.  Chief Obono-Obla is the Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP). This relatively new anti-graft agency under the watch of this dogged and fearless personality has achieved monumental milestone since its inception in 2017.

Chief Obono-Obla is a diehard Buharist since 2003. Obla has been very consistent and loyal. He understands the agenda and disposition of Mr President on the issue of this endemic monster of corruption which has been the bane of Nigeria’s socioeconomic development for decades. Obla has managed the affairs of the Panel with requisite professionalism, zeal and commitment of a man in the forefront of delivering on the cornerstone of Buhari’s Presidency which is the war on graft. Mr. President had promised to kill corruption in Nigeria. In his words, “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us.”  Apparently, Nigerians entrusted the sacred mandate of the leadership of this country to President Buhari because of his sterling records of public financial management and disdain for sleaze and avarice.

In his two years at the helm of the Panel, Obono-Obla has shown immense capacity to sanitize Nigeria. The relatively new Panel under his watch has recovered hundreds of billions of naira and millions of dollars to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) domicile with CBN. The activities of the Panel have become a beacon of hope to many Nigerians that indeed Mr President is out to crush the hydra-headed social malaise of corruption in the country. How could such a man be sacked? Or is the Buhari’s Presidency rethinking its position on the anticorruption war? A man who has taken the gauntlet to fiercely confront economic saboteurs in the country is now being persecuted and hounded with very spurious stories.

Some petty grounds for his alleged sack are said to be his refusal to be selective in prosecuting the anticorruption war. This sounds extremely uncomplimentary for a government that is set out to stem the tide of corrupt practices in the country. Unimaginable malfeasance has festered for too long in our body polity. Successive administrations in the country have been accused of treating the anti-graft war with kit gloves because they were perceived to be selective.  If for the first time, we have found someone who is unbiased and non-selective in this all important battle to save Nigeria, why is he being stifled with flimsy stories in the news tabloid?

The overwhelming support of more than 15million Nigerians who re-elected President Buhari for a second term in office was a show of support for the anticorruption disposition of this government. Therefore to sack a man with the passion and dedication of Chief Okoi Obono-Obla at this auspicious time is tantamount to putting the anticorruption war in the country in a recursive gear. In the words of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “fighting corruption is dangerous.” This is quite true anywhere in the world. It is uncharitable therefore to relieve a man who has chosen to put his life on the line to rid Nigeria of graft. There is no doubt that he may have stepped on some highly powerful and connected toes, and they are now using their contacts in high places to get at him. Suffice it to say that if corruption is fought with some sacred cows in mind, then the government effort will end in futility.
Nigeria needs men who have the courage and character of Obono-Obla to take on people who have corruptly enriched themselves from the public tilt. There may be gaps in his approach but that should not undermine the huge achievement of the Obla led Panel within the short spell of its existence. Fighting corruption is akin to fighting for the soul of Nigeria to be saved from the precipice.  The fight against corruption is actually the fight for the change mantra of the Presidency of President Buhari. Chief Obla has stood up to the herculean task of changing Nigeria in line with Mr. President’s vision. He has been in the frontlines of that battle to enthrone the desired change in the country. To sack such a man on the grounds of petty, puerile and infantile reports is to give Nigerians the impression that Buhari’s anticorruption war is being gagged by some vested interest.

Again, what could have warranted the idea of sealing off the Panel’s office on a non working day? People have always been sacked or relieved of their appointments in this country, were their offices sealed off? Why these entire unsavory disposition by some overzealous people who are privileged to find themselves in the corridors of power.  This is another low level that some people are dragging the President Buhari’s administration to.  What is the nexus between sacking a man and sealing off a government establishment? The Gestapo style of putting the Panel’s Asokoro office under lock and key because Obla must be sacked is a colossal embarrassment to this government.

Obla never thought he was going to be the Panel Chair forever. It was needless to engage in such a militarized tactics because you want him out of the Panel. This is reminiscent of using a sledged hammer to kill a fly. What for? A certain Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) was sacked for allegedly engaging in grass cutting deal worth over N250M, was the SGF office sealed off at the time? Why this undue show of force against Chief Okoi Obono-Obla?

Against all odds, Obla has stood with Buhari. In his homestead of Cross River, Chief Obla is seen as the face of Buhari and he is perceived as such at the national level. He has been seen in that light long before the President mounted the saddle as a democratically elected President of Nigeria. This is the time for the President to speak out and call to order those who are up in arms against one of his very dependable and reliable allies, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla. The onus is on Mr. President to tell Nigerians why Obla was sacked. This is one typical situation where silence is no longer golden. Nigerians deserve to know whether the Buhari’s anticorruption war is under siege. A man who has taken the risk even against the threat to his life to fight the monster of corruption should be celebrated as a hero not a villain. Okoi Obono-Obla is an unsung hero in the war against corrupton.

Missang Oyama is a Social Commentator. Oyama writes from Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. missangoyama@gmail.com. @MissangOya

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