Confusion over appointment of Obazee as CBN special investigator

The question on the lips of industry practitioners and watchers is whether President Tinubu has, by the appointment of Mr. Obazee, transferred the statutory powers of government agency to an individual.

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Jim Obazee

There is palpable confusion over the appointment of Mr. Jim Obazee as special investigator of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other Government Business Entities (GBEs) by President Bola Tinubu.

The confusion is caused, especially, by the antecedents and present affiliations of Mr. Obazee.

BRANDPOWER reports that in a July 28, 2023 letter titled, “Appointment as Special Investigator of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Related Entities” and signed by President Tinubu, Jim Osayande Obazee, a one-time Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), was addressed by the title he ceased to answer since January 9, 2017, when he was sacked by then acting President Buhar’s government, but specifically by the then Acting-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, following the controversy he stirred when he set a tenure for church leaders, in relation to the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act.

It is, therefore, not clear if Obazee is appointed in his personal capacity, because there is currently an Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer for FRCN, in the person of Mr. Shuaibu Adamu Ahmed, who assumed the position on May 19, 2021, after the one-term tenure of Obazee’s successor, Mr. Daniel Asapokhai, ended in November, 2020. Again, by the provisions of the Financial Reporting Council Act, the assignment which Mr. Obazee has been asked to carry out is the statutory function for which FRCN was set up to perform.

According to the letter seen by BRANDPOWER, the appointment is with immediate effect and Mr Obazee is to report directly to the president.

Also, in the  letter signed by the president, the full terms of Obazee’s engagement as a special investigator will be communicated to him in due course.

Obazee was the chief executive officer of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) before he was fired in 2017.

He was in charge of the FRCN from November 2010 when he was appointed as the FRCN boss, till January 2017 when he was fired by former President Muhammadu Buhari, Obazee due to many controversial and unilateral steps he had taken.

Specifically, in January 2017, before he was fired by Buhari, Obazee got entangled in a major controversy due to his interpretation and enforcement of the code of corporate governance law for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), especially as it related to churches and mosques.

The question on the lips of industry practitioners and watchers is whether President Tinubu has, by the appointment of Mr. Obazee, transferred the statutory powers of government agency to an individual. There is also the question as to whether one person has the capacity to investigate all Government Business Entities.

It appears, from the appointment letter, that Mr. Obazee has been given the powers to appoint his own team for the assignment. The second paragraph of the letter reads inter alia: “You are to investigate the CBN and related entities using a suitably experienced, competent and capable team and work with relevant security and anti-corruption agencies to deliver on this assignment.”

This is a departure from the usual practice by the government to set up a committee, with a chairman, for the purpose of carrying out a special assignment. Even if this were to apply in the case of Mr. Obazee’s appointment, there is the question as to whether a committee could have the capacity to perform the functions of an existing agency that is well-staffed and equipped for that purpose.

Watchers of the the developments in the CBN recall that Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the suspended CBN governor has been in the custody of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) for almost 2 months but the DSS is yet to come up with any infractions or illegalities allegedly committed by Emefiele in his office as CBN governor.

It would therefore appear that this new assignment from President Tinubu is a different route towards unearthing perceived wrong-doings in the CBN under Emefiele’s watch.

Meanwhile, Emefiele remains in DSS detention despite several court orders for him to be released from DSS custody.

Still on Obazee, on March 25, 2021, The Guardian reported that the Senate Committee on Public Accounts ordered former Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC), Jim Obazee, to refund N94 million to the Federation Account.

The report said “According to the panel, the sum included N66 million he allegedly approved for a two-year rent for a property that the organisation never occupied and another N28 million reportedly siphoned via 64 vouchers .

“The committee chairman, Senator Mathew Urhoghide, who gave the order during an investigation into two audit queries, broke down the N66 million to include N42 million paid for the contentious rent and N23.4 million as legal fee under Obazee’s watch. The first query read in part: “It was observed that, on 21/11/16, the sum of N42 million was paid as rent to Japaul Oil and Maritime Services for an office space at Japaul Building. N23.4 million was paid to Sola Oluseyi & Co as legal and agency fee for the office space, making a total of N66 million for two years ending 1/1/2019.”

The Senate said: “The Council is yet to move into the building, 20 months running with four months to its expiration. This anomaly was due to the failure of the Executive Secretary to exercise due diligence in the application of public funds by ensuring that value is received for money expended.” But FRC, in its written response, said: “Upon the acquisition of the office accommodation at the Japaul House, there was need to give the property a face-lift, including partitioning befitting of an office. However, there was change of Executive Secretary in 2017, which slowed the process of award of contract. Secondly, the landlord was not willing to renew the tenancy agreement after the expiration of the current agreement.
“The Council is taking steps to utilise the building and secure a further lease from the landlord.”

The second alleged: “During the audit, it was observed that 64 payment vouchers for the sum of N28,765,842.11 was raised and paid without the internal audit stamps and dates, in contravention of the provisions of extant laws and regulations.

“This infraction was due to the failure of the Executive Secretary to strictly comply with the provisions of law and laid down procedures aimed at the strengthening the internal control system in government agencies. Payments arising from vouchers not pre-audited cannot be accepted as judicious charge against public funds.”

Industry watchers are wondering how a man mired in such a controversial baggage bordering on lack of integrity and accountability could be given such a sensitive and critical assignment of investigating the CBN and indeed all other Government Business Entities (GBEs) as indicated in his letter of appointment.

This is even more befuddling when a statutory body, Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) with the full complement of staff exists to undertake such functions.