Red card for controversial Obla as Court voids Presidential Panel’s power to prosecute, seize property

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COURT OF APPEAL IN APPEAL NO: CA/A/278/2018 BETWEEN TIJJANI MUSA TUMSAH V. FRN & ANOR. NULLIFIES CHIEF OKOI OBONO OBLA’S PROSECUTORIAL POWERS AS CHAIRMAN OF THE SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL INVESTIGATIVE PANEL (SPIP)
Yesterday, in a unanimous decision of the full panel of the Court of Appeal (Coram: Hussein Mukhtar, C. E. Iyizoba, S.T. Hussein, Adefope-Okojie and J. Y. Tukur JJCA) sitting at Abuja, it was held that the Special Presidential Investigative Panel (SPIP) headed by Chief Okoi Obono Obla lacks prosecutorial powers, cannot seize properties belonging to anyone or obtain forfeiture orders against any public official.
At the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Chief Obla had earlier obtained an interim forfeiture order for freezing against the properties of the Appellant in Suit No: FCT/HC/M/873/17 between Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Tumsah & Anor. on 6th December 2017.
On becoming aware of the order, the Appellant instructed his counsel, Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN to apply to the FCT High Court for an order setting aside the interim order earlier granted by the court. Upon hearing the application of Mr. Ogunwumiju, SAN, the court dismissed the application and held that it had the jurisdiction to grant an interim order of forfeiture. The court held further that the SPIP can apply for forfeiture of the properties belonging to public officers under the EFCC Act.
In his appeal to the Court of Appeal, Mr. Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN of Afe Babalola & Co contended that the SPIP does not have prosecutorial powers under the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act. Appellant argued further that SPIP cannot prosecute under the EFCC Act and that the court has the jurisdiction to set aside an interim order of forfeiture.
The Respondent’s counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN argued that the lower court has the jurisdiction to grant an interim order of forfeiture. The Respondent’s counsel argued further that the SPIP, being an agent of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, can exercise prosecutorial powers under the EFCC Act.
In resolving all the issues canvassed by the parties, the Court of Appeal held that:
the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act does not confer any prosecutorial powers on the SPIP.
the powers conferred on the SPIP under the Act is limited to investigation and cannot prosecute under the Act or under the EFCC Act or any other Act.
the SPIP, upon conclusion of investigation can only submit its report to the President.
the SPIP cannot obtain forfeiture orders from any Court whatsoever.
the SPIP cannot exercise the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation or the Chairman of the EFCC.
the court has inherent powers to set aside an interim order of forfeiture.
the SPIP cannot act outside its enabling Statute.
Based on this decision of the Court of Appeal, the SPIP can no longer continue seizing properties of public officers, detention of private citizens and filing charges against citizens in court. The powers of the SPIP, according to the court, is now limited to investigation and submission of its report to the President. The SPIP cannot apply for forfeiture of properties or file a charge against any person in court.

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