OPINION: NDDC BOARD: NEEDLESS HULLABALOO OVER TENURE

Notwithstanding the lucid explanation given by the Federal Government (FG), in denying an alleged extension of the tenure of the current Governing Board of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, the needless raging hullabaloo over the issue has persisted.

Some individuals and groups are threatening for a showdown with FG, if the present NDDC board inaugurated in November last year is not dissolved this December, for a new board to be constituted to enable the key positions move to other states of the Niger Delta. Their argument is erroneously based on the rotation provided for in the enabling Act of the agency.

The Chairman of the current board is Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, while Mr. Nsima Ekere is the Managing Director (MD) of the commission. Ndoma-Egba and Ekere are from Cross River State and Akwa-Ibom State respectively.

At the forefront of the call for the termination of the current NDDC board tenure are indigenes of Bayelsa State who are expecting one of them to be appointed the MD of the interventionist agency by this December. They are insisting that the present board cannot stay beyond this month as, according to them, it was constituted to complete the tenure of the previous one which was in place for two years before it was dissolved in December 2015. The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) seems to be leading the agitation.

About a month ago, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, in a motion he moved on the floor of the Senate, declared that contrary to the clear provisions of the NDDC Act, the tenure of the present board of the commission has been illegally extended to four years by the immediate past Acting Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Dr. Habiba Muda Lawal.

The Senator, representing Bayelsa Central Senatorial District on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), argued that by the prescription of section 5(2) of the NDDC Act, the present board led by Ndoma-Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, is to serve out the remainder of the term of the previous board headed by Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, which ought to expire in December 2017.

However, reacting swiftly to the alarm raised by Paulker, the new SGF, Boss Mustapha, in a letter signed by Dayo Apata, a permanent secretary and Solicitor General of the Federation, avowed that the Ndoma-Egba chaired board is not a continuation of the sacked one led by Ewa-Henshaw.

According to the letter, “Section 5(2) of the act refers to a situation where a vacancy occurs as a result of any of the provisions of section 5(1) of the act as opposed to when the entire board is dissolved.  In this case, the previous board was dissolved and its tenure extinguished.

“Dissolution of the board cannot be categorized as a vacancy under the act. Dissolution signifies total extinguishment of the board, it simply ceases to exist and there cannot be any remainder of any term which a successor is expected to complete.

“There has to be a fresh composition of the board for a fresh term of four years. Therefore the letters of appointment stating that they were to complete the remainder of the tenure of the previous board is of no effect as the words in a letter cannot override the express provisions of an act”.

The clarification by the SGF was in line with the legal opinion of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, SAN, earlier conveyed in a letter also signed by Apata. The letter containing the AGF’s opinion indicated that “the inauguration of the present NDDC board is a fresh tenure as contemplated by section 3(1), that is, a term of four years which is subject to renewal”. Section 3(1) of the NDDC Act stipulates that “subject to the provision of Section 4 of this Act a member of the Board, other than an ex-officio member shall hold office for a term of four years in the first instance and may be re-appointed for a further term of four years and no more.”

The clear and sound explanation from the office of the SGF may have been the reason why the Senate had mellowed down on its probe action that was to be instituted after the Bayelsa Senator brought the matter up for debate. The way the Senate leadership handled Paulker’s motion gave the indication that the Red Chamber was determined to support the present NDDC leadership in its commitment to reinvent, transform and reposition the commission for better performance.

Zonal Organizing Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) South-South zone, Paul Obi, had said the clarification made by the presidency regarding the NDDC board tenure was a sweet relief to the initial fear that the “performing board” may be dissolved over “flimsy political antics”.

Obi in a statement reasoned: “It would have been an unfortunate incident that this performing board and management led by men of high managerial and development conscious mindset would be hurried out of office for mere and flimsy political antics foisted by some agents of retrogression.”

While stressing the need for the Ndoma-Egba led board to be supported rather dislodged, he observed that it has achieved great strides in its mandate within a short period, adding that “So many terrible roads including the hitherto near impassable Calabar-Itu road, the Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja highway among others are now smooth courtesy of the effort of the current board.”

Dr. Sandy Onor, a former Commissioner for Agriculture in Cross River State, equally wondered why anybody would be asking President Muhammadu Buhari to abruptly dissolve a board he constituted that has existed for only about a year, even when it is living up to expectation and still has three years for its tenure to expire in accordance with the law.

His words: “I completely agree with the legal opinion that the tenure of the current NDDC board has not expired. It is a totally new board; the old board has ceased to exist. This is a brand new board that should have its own tenure according to law. Victor Ndoma-Egba is a technocrat of no mean repute and he has solid credentials for performance. He, combining with Nsima Ekere, I think they are doing a brilliant job. The former board was constituted by a government that is not even an APC government. So, what is the hullabaloo about this board completing the tenure of the preceding board? It’s illogical. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. This is a brand new board, set up by a brand new government and it should be allowed to run its course. The issues of positions rotating would inevitably occur when the board runs its tenure. Those seeking to cut short the tenure of the present board should be a bit more patient. It is a matter of time. Their time will come and they will take their due.”

Onor continued: “It is unfortunate that Nigerians see every opportunity as a cake which should be shared. But we must move from that mentality and begin to applaud performance when we see it. This board is performing maximally and it should be allowed to finish its term, no more, no less! The issue of tenure elongation does not arise at all. After all, there was a caretaker committee headed by an acting MD before this board was inaugurated that spent almost one year one after the previous board was dissolved. Is the period spent by the acting MD appointed after the last board was dissolved also part of the tenure of the present board? You can just see the illogicality in the argument of those saying the tenure of the current board should end in this December, just one year after it was constituted on its own merit”.

The Niger Delta Youths under the auspices of Youth Initiative for Education, Development and Empowerment of Niger Delta, condemned the call for the dissolution of the Ndoma-Egba headed board. The group fingered the Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and former Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva, in the plot to persuade the President to send Ndoma-Egba and other members of his board packing by this December, in contradiction of the provision of the Act setting up NDDC.

Urging President Buhari to ignore calls capable of balkanizing the nation by vested interests, the Leader of the youth group, Amb. Agbonkpolor Splendour, at a media conference held in Abuja, said: “Those detractors, who are attempting to subvert the gains of change in the region, should desist from setting the region back. Leaders of the region like Timipre Sylva and Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri should cooperate with the current management for the progress of the region, rather than throwing spanner in the works of President Buhari towards a better Nigeria”.

Splendour added: “If the duo were loyal party members and altruistic, they should have realised that the present NDDC Board did not meet any board members on ground, rather the one they succeeded was set up by the former administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government and was appropriately dissolved when the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over. So for any individual or group of individuals out of desperation continue to stoke the embers of conflict and pandering falsehood over the tenure of the present board of the NDDC is unhelpful and begs the question on the real issues of development in the region”.

A public affairs analyst resident in Port Harcourt, Princewill Finebone, while accusing those behind the pointless clamour for the disbandment of the Ndoma-Egba led NDDC board of playing the Ijaw card, noted that “It is sad that the unruly politics of the assumed owners of the Niger Delta is rearing its ugly head at this time, as some elements from that geographical area are threatening to let hell loose if their wishes are not met. We hope the government will not succumb to this simmering blackmail and remove an administration that is performing very well in office, through the execution of meaningful projects that touch on the lives of the people. The ordinary people of the area are more interested in development projects that will alleviate their debilitating economic circumstances and which the present management has proved competent in providing.”

A Warri-based legal pundit, Barrister Jesutega Onokpasa, described those insisting that the tenure of the existing board of NDDC should expire by December 2017 as “rabble-rousers and rascally elements” who intend to unilaterally rewrite the enabling law for the National Assembly.

In an open letter to the Senate President, Onokpasa, wrote: “In fact, contrary to what the rather rascally elements who are already arrogantly accusing the President of corruption if the board is not dissolved in December are calling for, it is actually dissolving the board in December that would constitute a monumental illegality since there is simply no mechanism in the enabling law of the NDDC vide which the tenure of a fresh board could be so abridged. In any case, even assuming, without conceding, that the present board, despite its clear fresh mandate and lack of any nexus whatsoever with the previous board, is nevertheless extraordinarily completing the tenure of that board, how can its tenure be deemed to expire this December when there was a Sole Administrator from Rivers State who served quite a while and comes from a state other than that of the sacked or present Managing Director? …Imagine the utter insolence of supposing that men like Ndoma-Egba and Nsima Ekere, in spite of their sterling credentials of towering performance before they were appointed to their present positions, were only drafted in to complete the tenure of the discredited PDP board they replaced! Somebody out there seriously thinks that an APC board will complete the tenure of a PDP board? In a change dispensation? How do some people even reason?”

Written by Michael Jegede, a Media Practitioner.

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