Court Moves to Jail Lawan, Onochie, others over new NDDC Board swearing-in
By Ovie Edomi
It would seem that the worrisome development over nominees for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), is yet to abate. This is so because a Federal High Court in Abuja recently advised President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the Senate of the National Assembly, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie and Chief Samuel Ogbuku on the consequences of flouting an earlier restraining order.
In a notice of consequences of disobedience to order of court dated 23rd day of December 2022, the court passed directions to President Buhari, Lawan, Onochie and Ogbuku.
‘’Take notice that unless you obey the directions contained in this order, you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to prison’’.
The Court granted an order stopping the National Assembly from screening and confirming the nomination of Onochie and Ogbuku.
The presiding judge, Justice J. K. Omotosho, instructed that all actions on the matter be suspended pending the determination of the suit.
Chief Edward Ekpoko, and Engineer Victor Wood who are representing the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought and Mr. Edward Omagbemi who is representing Omadino Unity Forum all on behalf of the Itsekiri ethnic nationality of Delta State are seeking whether upon the proper construction of Section 12 (1) and other enabling sections of the Niger Delta Development Commission ( Establishment Etc) Act 2000 as amended and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) it is not the turn of the Itsekiri Ethnic Nationality of Delta State, the highest oil producing region of the Delta State to produce the next chairman and managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the nomination of Onochie, who hails from a non-oil producing area in Delta State as Chairman of NDDC by President Buhari is unlawful for being contrary to the intent and purpose of NDDC Act.
They are also seeking a declaration that the nomination of Chief Samuel Ogbuku, who hails from Bayelsa State as Managing Director of NDDC by President Buhari, when it is the turn of the Itsekiri Ethnic Nationality of Delta State to produce the Managing Director of the Commission, is unlawful for being contrary to the intent and purpose of the NDDC Act.
Particularly, they are seeking an order quashing the nomination of Onochie and Ogbuku as Chairman and Managing Director as well as restraining the President of the Senate and the Senate of the National Assembly from screening and confirming Onochie and Ogbuku as Chairman and Managing Director respectively. Though, the matter was adjourned to January 11, 2023, for further hearing, it would be recalled that the Community Development Committees of Niger Delta Oil and Gas Producing Areas (CDCNDOGPA) had earlier applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for the appointment of an Acting Managing Director for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua.
The group also expressed optimism that the new board of the NDDC would usher in development to the region in line with extant laws.The group, in a statement signed by its Chairman, Board of Trustees, Joseph Ambakederimo, said it was satisfied with the performance of the Acting Managing Director since his appointment in setting up a template on which the incoming board would anchor its infrastructural programmes to dovetail into the vision of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Timipriye Sylva for the region. In the statement titled, “We welcome the new NDDC board” the group stated: “In the penultimate month we have recognised and applauded the appointment of the Acting Managing Director as a precursor to ushering the board that will birth a new dawn to the region.“The Acting Managing Director was brought in to clean the augean stable and on a transitionary mission to set a template on which the incoming board would anchor its infrastructural programmes to dovetail into the vision of the Minister for the region.”
CDCNDOGPA noted that the misconception of the failure of the commission which could either be political or pecuniary, had stifled whatever achievements it had recorded, hence the Acting Managing Director was appointed as a transition to prepare the template for the new board to take a cue from.The group expressed expectation that the incoming board would be allowed to complete its four years tenure, to at least show some sense of responsibility from the government that was expected to emerge recalling that no board had completed its tenure since the establishment of the NDDC.
We are urging that boards appointed must be allowed to complete their tenure so we can hold people to account for their stewardship.“The incessant dissolving of the board overtime has become counterproductive to the regions development and a drawback on human capital development as well.
The CDCNDOGPA vowed not to stop at this point of the appointment of its agitation for a board, warning that it shall continue to play a pivotal role of carrying out oversight function on the activities of the commission now and in future.“We must also make it clear and warn that what happened to the set of appointees that was duly made by the President, screened and cleared by the Senate and was not inaugurated does not happen to this appointed board again.
“We are watching with keen interest and hope this time around the good intentions of the Minister is not consigned to the dustbin of history,” it stated.
Also the Niger Delta Transparency Group (NDTG) has described President Muhammadu Buhari’s new list of nominees to be appointed to the Board of NDDC, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, November 23, 2022 as “not just another unkind display of insensitivity and unfairness to Board nominees who were confirmed by the Senate since 2019, but was also an unnecessary display of government’s broken promise.”
a statement by its National President, Chief Adonye Ebimini, it noted with “dismay that of the 15 names submitted to the Senate for screening to become board members of the Commission, only two members from the earlier board personally nominated by President Buhari in October 2019 and confirmed by the Senate since November 2019, and who were promised to be on standby for the completion of the Commission’s forensic audit, were re-appointed in the newly constituted board.” The full statement reads:
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s new list of nominees to be appointed to the Board of NDDC, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, November 23, 2022 was not just another unkind display of insensitivity and unfairness to Board nominees who were confirmed by the Senate since 2019, but was also an unnecessary display of government’s broken promise.
We note with dismay that of the 15 names submitted to the Senate for screening to become board members of the Commission, only two members from the earlier board personally nominated by President Buhari in October 2019 and confirmed by the Senate since November 2019, and who were promised to be on standby for the completion of the Commission’s forensic audit, were re-appointed in the newly constituted board.
“We recall that President Muhamnadu Buhari had forwarded to the Senate for confirmation the appointment of a board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated 18th October, 2019.
“Specifically, President Buhari in the letter sought the Senate’s confirmation for Dr Pius Odubu (Edo) as chairman of the NDDC Board, Chief Bernard Okumagba (Delta) as Managing Director, Engr Otobong Ndem (Akwa Ibom) as Executive Director, Projects, and Maxwell Oko (Bayelsa) as Executive Director, Finance and Administration. Others listed in the President’s letter to the Senate included Prophet Jones Erue, representing Delta State, Chief Victor Ekhalor (Edo), Nwogu N Nwogu (Abia), Theodore A Allison (Bayelsa), Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom), Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River), Olugbenga Edema (Ondo), Hon Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyrian (Imo). The rest are Aisha Murtala Mohammed from Kano state representing North West, Shuaib Ardo Zubairu from Adamawa representing North East and Ambassador Abdullahi M Bage from Nasarawa representing North Central, on the board respectively.
“Accordingly, the written request, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by its President, Ahmad Lawan, was given expeditious consideration by the upper legislative chamber, which directed its standing committee on NDDC, to carry out screening exercise on all the nominees and report back within a week.
The Senate’s standing committee carried out the screening exercise on 15 out of the 16 nominees on Thursday, October 31, 2019, upon which the Senate in Plenary confirmed their appointments on November 5, 2019.
“However, after the nominees were screened and confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on the 5th of November 2019, President Buhari asked that the inauguration of the Board should be put on hold pending the completion of the forensic audit, for which an Interim Management Committee was appointed for the NDDC.
“The board members nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari for the NDDC in October 2019 were also vetted by all relevant agencies of the federal government following which they were screened and confirmed by the Nigerian Senate on November 5, 2019.
“President Buhari even restated his commitment to inaugurate the Board on the completion of the forensic audit, which commitment he made on July 28, 2022 while declaring open a retreat for management of the ministry of Niger Delta affairs and NDDC at the state house banquet hall, Presidential villa, Aso Rock, Abuja.
“Surprisingly however, in another letter from President Buhari to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, which was read at plenary on November 23, 2022, three years after the Senate had confirmed a substantive board that was put on standby, President Buhari has appointed Lauretta Ifeanyi-Onochie from Delta State as the Chairman of the board, Chief Samuel Ogbuku
from Bayelsa State, as the Managing Director, Major-General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd) from Edo State as the (Executive Director, Finance) and Charles Ogunmola, from Ondo State, as the Executive Director, Projects. Other members are, Dimgba Erugba, representing Abia State, Dr. Emem Willcox Wills ( Akwa Ibom), Elder Denyanbofa Dimaro (Bayelsa State), Hon. Orok Duke (Cross River) and Dr. Pius Odudu ( Edo State), Engineer Anthony Ekenne, (Imo State), Hon. Gbenga Edema (Ondo State), Elekwachi Dimkpa (Rivers State), Alhaji Mohammed Kabir Abubakar, ( Nasarawa State, representing North-Cenral zone), Alhaji Sadiq Sami Sule – Ikoh ( Kebbi State, North-West) and Prof. Tahir Mamman SAN, (Adamawa State, North-East).
As part of the forestic audit of NDDC and following termination of the appointment of Mr Effiong Okon Akwa as the Interim Administrator of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), President Muhammadu Buhari approved that the most senior director in the Commission should take over the running of its affairsp pending the appointment of a substantive Managing Director and members of the NDDC Governing Board hence in line with a Federal Government Circular dated 4th December 2017, with Ref. No. 50/S./C.2/268, pending the appointment of a substantive Managing Director and members of the Governing Board, Engr Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua (FNSE) was appointed in acting capacity to perform the duties of the Managing Director pending the appointment of a substantive Managing Director and members of the Governing Board.
The issue now is what the Senate does with the new list. Shall the institution question the integrity of the list, and stand to be counted as an independent arm of government, or it will concede to oblige the Presidency as a rubber stamp appendage to the executive arm. Put succinctly, will the legislature simply turn down the new list or eat the humble pie and bow to the Presidency?
This contention stands in bold relief against the disturbing dalliance between the Senate and the Presidency over the affairs of the Niger Delta region and the NDDC. Although the issue now is the fresh list which the Senate is required to confirm for displacing the former list of nominees which the legislature had not only confirmed since November 2019. The Senate was eventually humiliated in an anticlimax when the President, acting in apparent collaboration with then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio, (a former Senator himself), snubbed the legislature, suspended the appointment of the nominees and opted to operate the agency with a succession of interim administrators. It is an open secret that the run of the interim administrators marked perhaps the locust season for the establishment which only posterity may provide a clearer account of what happened then and otherwise. In fact, any talk about the reign of interim administrators in the agency must hold the tenure of the last of them – Effiong Akwa as the very ultimate in inanity.
Seen in context however, there are at least two out of many reasons why the Senate needs to view the new list of nominees with more than a pinch of salt. The first is that it is coming as an unwarrranted replacement for the earlier considered and confirmed list of nominees. It is not yet before Nigerians, what weaknesses are associated with the earlier board members. There is already an argument that the President has powers to dictate who serves in his government, and can therefore replace anybody anyhow and anywhere.
This appears to be the thinking of the National Assembly with the recent confirmation of the nominees.
Names of New nominees for the NDDC board:
1. Chairman – Laureta Ifeanyi Onochie (Delta, South-South)
2. Dimgba Erugba State representative (Abia, South-East)
3. Dr Ene Wilcox (Akwa Ibom, State Representative, South-South)
4. Dr Pius Odudu (Edo, South-South)
5. Hon.Gbenga Odegba (Ondo, South-West)
6. Engr. Anthony Ekene (Imo, South-East)
7. Onyekachi Dimgba (Rivers, South-South)
8. Alhaji Mohammed Kabiru Abubakar (Zonal Representative, Nasarawa)
9. Professor Tallen Mamma, SAN (North-East Representative, Adamawa)
10. Sodique Sani (North-West, Zonal Representative)
11. Chief Dr. Samuel Ibukun (MD)
12. General Charles Ehigie Airhiavbere (Rtd) (Executive of Finance)
13. Charles Ogunmola (Executive Director Project, South-West)