By Michael Jegede
Notwithstanding the lucid explanation given by the Federal Government while 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 a showdown with government, if the current 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 is 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 the Senate 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, 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 was not even an APC government.
Jegede is a media professional
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 aretaker committee headed by an acting MD before this board was inaugurated that spent almost one year 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 this December, just one year after it was constituted on its own merit”.
Jegede is a media professional