• Want sanity in NDDC
Two major issues have been topical in the South-South geopolitical zone, otherwise known as the Niger Delta – the zoning of the senate president in the 10th National Assembly to the region by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the discordant tunes from the recently reconstituted Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The first because their son, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who has been endorsed by the ruling APC as the next senate president is facing some opposition from some senators-elect, and the second due to the recent High Court, Warri judgment or interpretation of the Act establishing the NDDC, following friction between the Chairperson of the Board, Ms. Lauretta Onochie, and its Managing Director, Mr. Samuel Ogbuku over who possesses executive powers.
But many groups in the region, including the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), had earlier canvassed support for one of its own to emerge for the position.
Indeed, the spokesperson of PANDEF, Mr. Ken Robinson, reiterated that support to The Guardian, recalling that the group, led by Chief Edwin Clark, had issued a statement in the recent past supporting zoning of the senate presidency to the South-South, where it highlighted that the last time someone from the zone occupied the position was in the Second Republic between 1979 and 1983, in the person of the late Joseph Wayas.
He stated that after then and particularly since the return of democratic rule in 1999, the zone has not produced the president of the senate, but had only had two deputy speakers of the House of Representatives- Chibudom Nwuche and Austin Opara, both from Rivers State- as well as the current deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta State.
“We had appealed to the APC, which has a majority of members in the senate, the president-elect and indeed, senators-elect across party lines to support the emergence of someone from the South-South as senate president of the 10th National Assembly.
“So, the choice of Akpabio from Akwa Ibom State by the party leadership is a welcome development and it is the right thing to do, because we cannot have a senate president who is a Muslim, making the three pilot officers of the country all Muslims, the president-elect and his vice being Muslims. That would not be proper in a plural society like Nigeria.
“Also, in the principle of rotation, the offices hitherto occupied by northerners should reverse to southerners, so we expect that the senate president should come from the South, while the Speaker of the House should come from the North.
“The South-South is comfortable with the choice of Akpabio as the next senate president and we think that in the interest of fairness to all parts of the country and for stability, all senators-elect, irrespective of political party affiliations, should support his emergence.”
As for fellow Southerners from the Southeast, he recalled that the zone had it enough from 1999 to 2007, having produced five senate presidents; hence it is just proper that this time around, they should support someone from the South-South to be the next senate president.
He added: “Politics is a game of interest and of course, there is some sense of party loyalty, but there are situations where regional or sectional interests become superior to that. In this case, PANDEF will engage with our senators-elect to ensure that Akpabio emerges the next senate president. I am sure that such consultations are going on.
“PANDEF is not engaging directly, but we are aware that conversations are ongoing across party lines and some success has been recorded. Akpabio should become the next senate president, because that is the fairest thing to do; that is what should be done.”
On his part, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), the umbrella body of the Ijaw worldwide, Prof. Benjamin Okaba, said though the issue is political and he would ordinarily have liked not to speak on it, being an internal party issue, since other ethnic nationalities have come out to oppose the APC’s choice of Akpabio, who is a son of the South-South, the INC and other organisations in the zone should also speak up in support.
He stated: “Akpabio is eminently qualified; he has paid his dues as a member of the APC. He was a state governor that did very well. We had our reservations over the NDDC and all that, but at least his activities also led to the forensic audit that exposed the real enemies of the South-South.
“The audit exposed those people that were awarded contracts that are not even indigenes of the South-South, who refused to execute the contracts, thereby leaving the zone further underdeveloped.
“As far as we are concerned, we support Akpabio; the South-South is throwing its weight behind him to emerge as the next senate president. He is an illustrious son of the region. This is our position. We are backing our son and have no reason not to do so. He is eminently qualified.
Who is more qualified than him?”
To the chairman of Ikwerre People’s Congress (IPC) worldwide, Livingstone Wechie, zoning of the senate presidency to the South-South is laudable, even though it is still a far cry from the constitutional reconstruction and restructuring that the region has been clamouring for.
He said as a region that sustains Nigeria economically, the South-South deserves more than a senate presidential seat or slot. He said: “We deserve full operations of our wharfs and the establishment of visa centres, including consular offices in the region to open it to the international world, particularly with the demand for resource ownership rights properly addressed.
“That notwithstanding, Akpabio as a front-line candidate for that slot should be given a chance deservedly, provided he does not sell out as it is common among Niger Delta politicians who have continued to fail in wielding the influence needed to drive the region’s development.”
On the NDDC, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Warri, Delta State, on May 9 sacked 18 aides appointed by Onochie, holding that she acted outside her powers in appointing them, and consequently barred her from interfering with the functions of the commission’s managing director.
The suit was filed by Dr. Mike Oberabor, for himself and on behalf of the Oberabor Oreme-Egbede families of the Olomoro community of Isoko South Local Government, Delta State, while the NDDC, Onochie and Ogbuku were the first, second and third defendants.
The plaintiff had sought an interpretation of the NDDC Act 2,000, following some actions by Onochie believed to be against the Act, including the appointments.
Justice Abang said having considered the provisions of the NDDC Establishment Act 2000 and the circular issued by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation dated January 16, this year, Onochie is to oversee and preside over meetings of the Board on a part-time basis, while the managing director, as the chief executive and accounting officer of the NDDC, is saddled with the responsibility of the day-to-day running and management of the agency.
He held that Onochie’s unilateral decision to appoint 18 aides into her office and the demand for an executive office in the commission were in contravention of relevant provisions of the Act and the circulars released by the Federal Government on the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claims.
“The third defendant, as managing director of the NDDC, is the person statutorily empowered by the NDDC Act to perform and wield executive functions, powers and day-to-day running and management of the commission to the exclusion of other members of the board of the NDDC, including the second defendant (the chairman).”
“All actions of the second defendant, including, but not limited to the appointment of her personal aides, carried out in the exercise of executive functions and powers in the NDDC since her assumption of duty on January 4, 2023 are ultra vires her powers and therefore, null and void and of no consequences whatsoever.
“The second defendant is restrained from carrying out/and or exercising any executive functions in the NDDC.
“The second defendant is further restrained from interfering with the third defendant’s executive functions, powers, day-to-day running and management of the NDDC,” the Judge ruled.
Robinson described what is going on in the NDDC as shameful; hence PANDEF and the people of the Niger Delta have always urged government to stop using its agencies, like NDDC, as settlements for political loyalists, saying when appointments into them are made based purely on political considerations, then you have situations like this where some people begin to behave as if they are above the law and carry out things in ways and manners that they are not supposed to be done.
He added: “The chairmanship of the NDDC is not an executive position, so the chairman does not have executive powers and some of the stories we have been hearing are shameful and shouldn’t be allowed.
“We don’t even need a court ruling to stop those kinds of conducts. People should respect themselves and should know the rules and regulations in the Act establishing the organisations where they are appointed into and conduct themselves in line with the protocols and rules of such organisations.”
He lamented that in the last two or three years, the region has suffered because of the unnecessary drama going on in the NDDC, with the Presidency largely watching like an unconcerned spectator, which is so sad.
According to him, most of the major contracts are not even awarded to people indigenous to the Niger Delta; what contractors from the region get are minor jobs of a few millions of naira, which they execute, but are not paid and the people are suffering.
“The way forward is to continue to appeal to the government to be more sensitive to issues of the Niger Delta. PANDEF is an interest group that highlights the issues affecting our people and appeals to the conscience of our leader to do things rightly; it does not have executive powers or enforcement powers.
“We will continue to do that hoping that the incoming government would be more sensitive and responsive to our plight and issues of the Niger Delta and treat the issues concerning the people better,” he said.
Okaba called for the application of due diligence and if the Act establishing the Commission has expressly stated as interpreted by the court, the law should apply, because the essence of any legislation establishing an organisation is to define the functions, and obligations of all appointees to avoid friction.
“So, if we had crisis over who should superintend or call the shots or perform what functions or the other in the NDDC, the Act establishing it has clearly stated who should perform what duties and at what time, and if they had issues of interpretation, then the verdict of the court must be respected and if anyone has issues with the verdict, he or she cannot take up the matter at the next higher court and up to the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter.