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Does Obono-Obla’s assets recovery committee have powers to arrest?

OKOI Obono-Obla, the controversial Chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property, has insisted that his panel arrested Hope Uzodinma, the Senator representing Orlu Senatorial District of Imo State, for alleged corruption.

This is in spite of a court ruling stating that the panel can only investigate alleged corruption cases, but lacks the powers to prosecute suspects or confiscate assets.

Obono-Obla had ‘boasted’ to newsmen on Monday that his panel “arrested” Uzodinma at the Abuja Airport on Sunday, after the lawmaker had evaded them for a long time.

Uzodinma was later released midnight on Sunday, but he told journalists that he was not arrested, but rather was being set up by the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha.

But Obono-Obla insisted that Uodinma was arrested and was only released partly because “we do not have a detention facility”.

Speaking to Vanguard newspaper on Monday, Obono-Obla said: “The man was arrested. He was arrested, yesterday, (Sunday) at the airport about 8:30 pm by our operatives and he was kept there till about 12 midnight before he pleaded that he should be allowed to go and we conceded because we don’t have detention facility.”

Obono-Obla said his committee allowed Uzodinma a one-day respite because he complained that his blood pressure was high, and “we don’t want him to die”.

“If he fails to report tomorrow (Tuesday), then we will take it up,” he said.

Power to arrest

The Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property was set up pursuant to the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act of 1983, and nothing in that act empowers the panel to arrest any suspect. In fact, the word ‘arrest’ does not feature in the Act.

The Recovery of Public Property Act confers three powers on the panel, namely: the power to issue search warrants, the power to search properties under investigations, and the power to avoid artificial and other transactions. 

The Act, however, made it clear that the panel can exercise its powers only when a court of competent jurisdiction gives it the go-ahead.

The Act also empowers the panel to investigate someone who is not a public officer, but who is “related to, or otherwise connected with a public officer (and) appears to have acquired assets far in excess of any income from his known or ostensible means of livelihood”.

In a recent judgment, a five-man panel of Appeal Court justices, led by Hussein Muhktar, ruled that the presidential panel on asset recovery “cannot clothe itself with the clothes not given to it by the Act that established it”.

“The provision of the Act is unambiguous and not confusing. The powers of the panel are to conduct an investigation on any officer who has corruptly enriched himself of breached the code of conduct. No power or authority is conferred on the panel to prosecute offenders,” Justice Muhktar ruled.

It is not clear then, on which authorisation or legislation the Obono-Obla-led panel is relying on to arrest suspected corrupt public officials, or to detain them.

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