Sanusi Gafasa and Adebayo Taofik
We are a group of professionals with membership across the country bound by the common ideals of justice, rule of law, fairness and good governance. We engage vigorously in issues of values and common good for all.
It is with deep distress and great dismay that we have been analysing the position of the National Assembly regarding the Interim Management Committee put in place to drive the activities of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as directed by the President. It is our considered view that the position of the National Assembly on the issue defies law and reason. We are therefore writing this open letter to you as highly esteemed leaders of this great institution to advance our convictions with civility in the pursuit of public interest with courage and responsibility.
The NDDC from information commonly available has been run as an opaque enterprise, in secrecy or at best, at the pleasure of distant bosses. Contracts are awarded by know-who not know-how. In most instances, they are neither published, tendered for, priced nor subjected to any form of due process. The known and unknown operators of the Commission simply discarded the truism that the most extraordinary force for peace and progress in a polity is openness and transparency. The Commission, overloaded on debts and scandals has found itself between crisis and catastrophe and all the National Assembly can do in the opinion of the majority of Niger Deltans is to engage in what appears to be a deliberate act of mischief and shadow chasing to avert arresting the situation immediately.
The President in the exercise of his powers under the NDDC Act of 2000 sent a list of nominees as members of Board of Directors to your National Assembly for screening and confirmation. The nominations elicited virulent opposition based on violations of the clear provisions of the NDDC Act leading to a litany of litigations against the President and the National Assembly. The Chairman of the proposed board under the law which you made shouldn’t have come from Edo State just as the proposed Managing Director of the Commission shouldn’t have come from Delta State. Good sense prevailed and the President held off further action. We have evidence that you are aware of a presidential communication dated October 26, 2019 wherein the President requested the suspension of all actions regarding screening members of the proposed Board of Directors, composition of an Interim Management Committee to oversee the activities of NDDC and undertaking a forensic audit of the Commission from inception based on stakeholders’ request.
It is most embarrassing that instead of abiding with the presidential request to stop action on the nominations, the National Assembly deployed a peculiar version of logic and a strategy of tragedy to engage in what many saw as comical screening and confirmation. Any clear-eye examination of the position of the National Assembly on this matter would reveal some sobering facts including an undisguised attempt at power grab and a willingness to be possessed by malignant forces in the Niger Delta Region.
Sirs, you are fully aware that Section 171 sub-sections 1 and 2 of the 1999 Constitution as amended confers the ultimate power on the President to exercise the powers of his office through the head of any extra-ministerial department which certainly includes NDDC. You should also know by virtue of the high offices which you occupy that the President reserves the right to hire and fire and that right includes requesting you to stop the confirmation of any proposed nominee or nominees. The law also permits the President to appoint any person to work in an acting capacity. How come then that the National Assembly is acting with this pitiable arrogance that has crossed even the most permissive thresholds? Why is the Nigerian Senate, in particular, insisting that it will not deal with the Interim Management Committee duly constituted on the instructions of the President? Does the National Assembly want to appropriate the powers of the Executive or is there a far darker agenda at play?
The insufferable and embarrassing hypocrisy of your National Assembly is that it is willing and ready to flagrantly discard the laws it made and even vetoed. Are you not aware of the challenges arising from nomination of the proposed members of the board? Does it not bother you as leaders that the nominations were made in disregard of the extant provisions of the laws you made? Do you not know that the nomination and confirmation of the nominees even in the absence of litigations and other challenges are only part of a process? Is it not a fact of law and practice that the nominees can only take office at the pleasure of the nominating authority especially if the delay is to resolve some issues of public interest? Is the presidential directive to audit NDDC, not for public interest?
If answers to the above questions are what we are certain you know they should be, why the litany of false narratives planted in the media and the absolutely unnecessary grandstanding? Why is the National Assembly especially the Senate insisting that it will only deal with a non-inaugurated board? The ancient Greek question presents itself: Cui bono? Who benefits?
Mrs Ibim Semeniatri acted as a sole administrator of NDDC for one year yet the National Assembly kept mute. Prof Nelson Brambaifa led a three-man Management Committee of NDDC for eight months and the National Assembly didn’t raise any objection. Now, an order for forensic audit has been issued and an Interim Management Committee constituted to oversee it and the National Assembly has suddenly woken up from coma threatening to unleash a nitrogen bomb on those duly vested with presidential authority.
The enemies of the Niger Delta region are not those who want the right thing done. They are not those who are insisting on due process and accountability but those whose lies and recklessness have all but broken the people. They are those godfathers who are using their influence in the National Assembly to engage in unfortunate blackmail and political ten-strike against the president. They are those who are determined to use dirty trick operations to turn the President’s dream of instituting transparency in NDDC and developing the Niger Delta region into a nightmare.
Sirs, it is your duty as leaders in a democracy to ensure that those self-styled “patriots” who have so grievously betrayed the region are named and shamed through the instrumentality of the audit supervised by the Interim Management Committee as directed by the President.
With a financial war chest that could buy the papacy if it were more readily on the market, they have unleashed charlatans, rogues, demagogues of the no-audit campaign, online urchins and rabble-rousers to defend their laughable insistence on a strange interpretation of rule of law. Their position remains the smokescreen needed to continue the heist at NDDC unchallenged and unquestioned.
Do we keep going up in an elevator designed in hell until we can’t come down any longer which won’t make much difference anyway because all the streets outside would be in flames?
The President has provided a lantern in the darkness. He recognises that the government has been firing a shot with peashooter when the challenges in NDDC need a canon. We are not asking you not to engage in lawful gatekeeping or to support illegalities, we are only asking for a change of perspectives and to acknowledge that your positions demand no higher priorities than to uphold the provisions of the constitution. Being a warrior is not just striking down your opponent with a sword, it is finding a good reason to draw the sword in the first place. You will be running on flat tires if you don’t sheath your sword in this instance. The National Assembly should not be a sword cannibalising its own sheath in the name of slaying an enemy. It is time to disarm and demobilise and not to engage in any act that may seem to be a direct affront to the powers granted to the President under the law.
Sanusi Gafasa and Adebayo Taofik of Network for Good Governance, writes from Lagos