Niger Delta Transparency Group (NDTG) has described President Muhammadu Buhari’s new list of nominees as Board members 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.
In a statement by its National President, Chief Adonye Ebimini, the group 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.”
NDTG recalled that President Buhari had forwarded to the Senate for confirmation the appointment of a board members of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated October 18, 2019.
According to the group, 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.
Chief Ebimini stated that the President’s letter personally signed by him reads: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2(2)(a) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, 2000, I write to forward, for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the under listed nominees for appointment into the NDDC board, to occupy the positions indicated against their names.”
President Buhari, in the letter, expressed hope that “the Senate will consider and confirm the nominees in the usual expeditious manner”.
The group noted that, “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.”
NDTG, however, noted that 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.”
Ebimini stated that “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.”
According to the group, 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, according to NDTG, 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 Ogbokwu, 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).
Chief Ebimini recalled that in an editorial piece published on October 30, 2022, The Nation Newspaper, noted that “the board members who were nominated (in 2019) became victims of contrived intrigues, leading to the emergence of a sole administrator, against the express provision of the act establishing the commission.”
The group stated that in applauding the Federal Government for its announcement to put in place a governing board after firing the then sole administer, Effiong Akwa in October 2022, the paper stated emphatically that “we hope the list will reflect the names of those who were appointed to the earlier board (in 2019) that suffered stillbirth. We consider it unfair and embarrassing that Nigerians would be named to a board, scrutinised by relevant agencies, only to be ignored at the point of inauguration.”
NDTG also pointed out that in a piece entitled “New NDDC Board Puts Senate On Trial” published in Daily Trust newspaper on October 30, 2022, the paper had noted that “it would seem that the worrisome dispensation of sleaze, incongruities and patent illegality which had dominated the leadership structure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), is yet to abate. The latest in the series of shenanigans is the new effort by the Presidency to induce the Nigerian Senate to overturn itself by considering without any justifiable cause, a fresh set of nominees for appointment to the Board of Directors of the NDDC. This is even as the status of the nominees it had screened and approved for the same board since November 2019, lies in limbo.”
According to the group, “different stakeholder groups in the Niger Delta region had also made compassionate appeals to the Federal Government concerning the ill-treated, Senate-confirmed members of the NDDC Board who had been kept on standby for three years due to no fault of theirs, describing the raising and dashing of their hopes as unfair and embarrassing.”
Chief Ebimini observed that The Niger Delta Youth Vanguard (NDYV) through its Publicity Secretary, Ibinabo John noted that “there’s already a board that was screened and passed by the Senate in 2019. This is unfair and unjust.” The group also stated that according to Daily Sun report of October 30, 2022, pioneer Chief Whip of the fourth Senate, Senator Roland Owie, criticised the sending of a list of new members of NDDC Board to the Senate for screening when the Senate had already screened and cleared members nominated by President Buhari since November 2019 noting that “where there is no justice there can never be peace.”
NDTG, therefore, urged President Buhari to be “mindful of decisions that will negatively define his legacy given that actions as this (nomination of new NDDC Board members) which vitiated his promise to inaugurate the 2019 Senate-confirmed Board not only impugns the government’s credibility but also is widely considered as unfair and unjust to the NDDC board members who were confirmed since 2019 but were not inaugurated.”