Following the dissolution of former NDDC board headed by Prof. Nelson Brambaifa of Bayelsa State and the naming of new nominees to the NDDC board by the president to be headed by Dr. Bernard Okumagba from Delta State on Wednesday, August 28, South-south governors reportedly met to reject the members-designate of the board announced by the Presidency.
The gist of the rejection of President Muhammadu Buhari nominees according to Governor Dickson of Bayelsa State arose over the way and manner the appointments were made – although Governor Dickson would also contradict himself when he opined that “the aggrieved governors protest arose from the protests being staged by people and stakeholders across the nine member states of the NDDC”. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no known protest in the case of the Cross River State nominee, Knight Maurice Efiwat; instead there are wide jubilations across the state in celebration of his well deserved nomination.
Their excellence are reported as saying that they were also embarrassed, because the president threw merit to the wind in the selection of persons that were nominated to the NDDC board, claiming that politics was the only consideration used in selecting members-designate contrary to the provisions of the NDDC Act.
The call by the governors is not only selfishly motivated, but also mischievous, a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the federal government, the owner of the commission to pander to the states with a view to gaining double portions in favour of their PDP surrogates in their respective states. This is to the utter detriment of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). After all, no one PDP state in the Niger Delta has thought it wise to appoint an APC member into the membership of its boards and parastatals at any given time; yet they wish to coast home the membership of the NDDC board.
The governors are no doubt aware that the modus operandi employed by the federal government in the selection of member-designate is in complete agreement with section 2 of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment, etc) Act Cap 86 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, Volume II 2004, particularly section 2 of the Act.
The governors, if they do not set out to play politics and playing to the gallery, are no doubt aware of the clear and unambiguous provisions of the Establishment Act regarding the powers given to the president to make appointments to the NDDC board with only the senate to confirm such appointments in consultation with the House of Representatives not with the governors. See section 5(2) and section 12(1)(c).
Thus, following the provisions of the Act, Abia State took first the chairmanship position, followed by Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa and lastly by Cross River State. It was therefore thought that Delta State ought to take its turn, before a jump to Edo State, perhaps for the simple reason that if Delta State is to produce the position of the Managing Director of the NDDC and at the same time produce the board chairman, it would not speak well of the government, hence the exchange. It has to be noted that the use of the word SHALL in section 4 of the Act appears not to be mandatory, but permissive in context reading the sentence holistically.
If perhaps the presidency in it search for stability and performance in the NDDC settles for a well known, tested, trusted patriot and technocrat like Bernard Okumagba from Delta State to be the new managing director, it then beholds on Edo State howbeit for a while to wait for its own turn. After all, in the Establishment Act in section 4, Delta and Edo States are listed as 4(e) and (f) respectively. It will make nonsense to logic if the chairmanship and the managing directorship come from the same state.
It is important to avoid the generalization the governors are attempting to read into the matter by ascribing sponsored protest in Edo or Delta to be a protest across the whole of the Niger Delta which is not the case.
A cursory reading of the NDDC (Establishment Act) will show that, it made no provision or reference to the governors of the nine NDDC states to nominate members of the NDDC board in any manner howsoever. If the understanding of the state governors is to mean the governors arrogating to themselves the responsibility of nominating members into the board in spite of the NDDC Act, then the point is missed because they have no role to play at all in the composition of the membership of the NDDC board.
The only mandatory requirement in section 2(b) to the effect that “one person who shall be an indigene of an oil producing area to represent each of the following member state, that is (a) Abia to (ix) Rivers State.
This present nominations of members show that the president has taken time to ensure that every member-designate selected into the membership of the NDDC Board come from the designated state making up the Niger Delta region apart from those enjoined to be appointed from other political zones. See section 2(b) of the Act.
In Cross River State for example, the choice of Knight Maurice Effiwat cannot be a choice not well made of a technocrat, a retired Permanent Secretary, a consummate politician of proven integrity, with uncommon ability, vibrancy and capacity to deliver on the mandate of President Buhari to the NDDC.
By extension, the same argument goes for both the nomination of Dr. Pius Odubu, a onetime deputy governor in Edo State as the chairman of the NDDC governing board, or question the nomination of the consummate technocrat, Bernard Okumagba as the managing director and chief executive of the commission. These are all proven and tested names in the South-south whose only rejection as nominees by the governors may be due to the fact that they are not PDP members.
However, it is important to charge the president to quickly define the supervisory relationship between the NDDC as an institution and the Ministry of Niger Delta which came later in time. The relationship of the two in the last dispensation was shaky and not smooth. It must be noted from the beginning that NDDC is not an extension of the Ministry of the Niger Delta. Each has its own budget and functions.
The new board has a responsibility to keep politics and in fighting away as to ensure that ongoing projects are executed properly.
The governors of the nine Niger Delta States are urged not to distract the presidency for the good choices it made.
Experience has shown that given the opportunity to nominate, the state governors will without minding public reactions go ahead to nominate their relations, town and village people, their girl friends and party affiliates.
- Chief (Barr) Eteng, a legal practitioner writes from Calabar.