C’River: An Endangered Specie Under Buhari Administration?

Onnoghen, Obono-Obla, Oyo-Ita
Onnoghen, Obono-Obla, Oyo-Ita

By Israel Umoh

Cross River State which derives its name from Cross River is in the Niger Delta region, occupying 20,156 square kilometers. It shares boundaries with Benue State to the north, Ebonyi and Abia States to the west, to the east by Cameroon Republic and to the south by Akwa Ibom State and Atlantic Ocean.

The defunct South-Eastern State was created on May 27, 1967 from the then Eastern Region, Nigeria by General Yakubu Gowon regime. Its name was changed to Cross River State in the 1976 state creation exercise by the late General Murtala Mohammed regime from South Eastern State.

The present day Akwa Ibom State was excised from it in the state creation exercise of September 23, 1987 by the then regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, retd. Its capital is Calabar. Its major towns are Akamkpa, Biase, Calabar South, Ikom, Obubra, Odukpani, Ogoja, Bekwarra, Ugep, Obudu, Obanliku, Akpabuyo, Ofutop, Iso-bendghe, Danare, Boki, Yala, Bendeghe Ekiem, Etomi, Ukpe and Ukelle.

The state has been previously governed by such governors and administrators as the late Udoakaha J. Esuene, Paul Omu, Tunde Elegbede, the late Clement Isong, the late Donald Etiebet, the late Navy Captain Edet Akpan Archibong, the late Dan Archibong, Ibim Princewill, Ernest Atta, Clement Ebri, Ibrahim Kefas, Gregory Agboneni, Umar Faoruk Ahmed, Christopher Osondu, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. The current Governor is Professor Benedict Ayade, sworn into office on 29 May 2015 and is serving a second term in the office.

After ascension to the throne on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed four indigenes of the state to occupy top Federal Government positions in the country.

Perhaps this was done as a consolation prize to the state over the sack of Ita Ekpenyong, the Director-General of the State Security Service. In July 2015, Buhari booted out Ekpenyong, who was appointed by his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

The immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen was appointed and sworn in by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while Buhari was on medical tourism to London. But, Buhari appointed Okoi Obono-Obla, Chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Winifred Oyo-Ita, the Head of Service of the Federation and Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, the Chief of Naval Staff.

However, Buhari has shredded the image profile of the three Cross River indigenes: Walter Onnoghen, Okoi Obono-Obla and Winifred Oyo-Ita over corruption allegations. And the only surviving person in position of authority is Ibas who was appointed by Buhari on July 13, 2015.

While Mr. Onnoghen, a former CJN and an indigene of the state had been removed from office by President Buhari, the two others are still battling to save their career.

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Mr. Onnoghen was suspended a day to the inauguration of the country’s election petition tribunals and weeks before the presidential election.

Despite public outcry, Buhari suspended Onnoghen from office and appointed an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and later dragged the former CJN before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on alleged false asset declaration charges.

On April 18, the Tribunal presided over by Umar Danladi convicted Mr. Onnoghen of falsely declaring his assets and ordered him to resign his position as the CJN.

Mr. Danladi said the Tribunal found the former CJN guilty of hiding the extent of his wealth.

Faced with an imminent sack by the National Judicial Council (NJC) which was already investigating the allegation made against him, Mr. Onnoghen swiftly resigned and Cross River State mourned.

Before now, Mr. Obono-Obla had been struggling with some corruption allegations.

Trouble started when he went on a rampage shortly after he was appointed the chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property.

It was the House of Representatives that first took on the tough-talking Cross Riverian when it set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate him.

In the course of its investigation, the House found out that the anti-corruption czar, was not clean after all as he was said to have forged his school certificate.

During the investigation, the registrar of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) had under oath confirmed that Mr Obono-Obla’s certificate was forged.

Following the completion of its investigation, the House, in December 2018 passed a resolution, urging Mr. Buhari to sack Obono-Obla and subsequently hand him over to federal authorities for prosecution.

It also called on the University of Jos and the Nigerian Law School to withdraw the respective certificates they issued to the anti-corruption crusader.

Mr Obono-Obla criticised the lawmakers at the time, saying they were after him because of his unrelenting pursuit of corrupt persons, especially those within the corridors of power.

While he was running around hunting alleged corrupt persons, ridiculing and confiscating their properties, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) was investigating him.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha had communicated Mr. Obono-Obla’s suspension from duty.

However, the president is said to have taken the action based on the outcome of an investigation on the Cross River-born politician by the ICPC.

It seems Mr. Obono-Obla is in for a tough fight in attempt to prove his innocence on charges ranging from perjury to corruption. Again, Cross River is mourning.

Unexpectedly, Mrs. Oyo-Ita’s case took the public by surprise. She has been quizzed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N3 billion contract scam.

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Winifred has an impressive and well documented work experience spanning over 30 years, including being the first female indigenous Managing Director/CEO of Cross River Estates Limited, between 1993-1995.

Oyo-Ita, a chartered accountant, started her career with KPMG Peat Marwick Ani Ogunde & Company.

It was Anthony Ani, a one-time Minister of Finance who brought Oyo-Ita, to the management of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). After PTF was scrapped, Ani assisted her to be absorbed as assistant director into the Federal Civil Service, Abuja.

She later transferred her service to the Federal Civil Service where she was appointed to the rank of Assistant Director in July, 1997 and rose to the position of a Director, Finance and Accounts in January, 2009 in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.

Appointed as Head of Service on October 21, 2015 by Buhari, the Nigerian number one civil servant is also said to be interrogated for alleged abuse of Duty Tour Allowance (DTA), money laundering and stealing of government funds.

After undergoing a four-day grilling at the EFCC headquarters, Mrs Oyo-Ita was granted administrative bail.

Immediately she regained her freedom, the HoS is said to have rushed to the hospital for urgent medical attention.

This Nation reported that N600 million has been traced to the account of one of her key aides, who could not explain how the money came about.

Preliminary investigation by the anti-graft agency has shown how a whooping N3 billion came into Mr. Oyo-Ita’s account through proxy companies.

The sleaze is said to date back to the time she served as permanent secretary under a minister who was equally being investigated for corrupt practices.

Already, an investigation by EFCC is said to have also shown how Mrs. Oyo-Ita secured “juicy” government contracts through proxy firms from some ministries including Special Duties, Power and Works.

While the Presidency has kept mum about the ordeals of the country’s first civil servant, observers insist she may be shown the way of office soon.

If Mr. Obono-Obla and Mrs. Oyo-Ita are disgraced out of their offices on the heels of a similar experience by Mr. Onnoghen and Ekpenyong, Cross River State would have lost four key positions in the Buhari government under four years. Is Cross River state an endangered specie in the country under the present administration?