By David Ekuetafia
In recent weeks, there has been a rash of misconception being peddled in both the print and electronic media about what next steps Mr President needs to take on matters relating to the Governing Board of Niger Delta Development Commission.
Most of these misconceptions are deliberate falsehood designed mainly to obfuscate the issues and confuse the non legal minds. Others are simply orchestrated to cover up and protect selfish individual or clannish interests without reference or empirical proof of facts.
In a number of cases, the positions have been very incorrect and misleading.
This was the case of what we read from a Nigerian Newspaper of Saturday 30th of November, 2019 and other social media platforms credited to the Chairman of the House Committee on Niger Delta, Rep Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo who was quoted as saying that he saw nothing wrong with the 3-man interim management committee of Senator Akpabio.
This is against a 15 members Governing Board as provided for in section 10(a) of the NDDC Act 2000. Tunji-Ojo said he was willing to welcome the 3 members of the interim management committee to come and represent NDDC to defend the 2019 and 2020 NDDC Appropriation Estimates submitted last week by Mr President to both Chambers of the National Assembly.
As if his position is not misleading enough, he went further to misinform his audience and members of the public that the provisions of section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution legalize the interim management committee, an assertion that is most contrary to the true meaning of that section of the Constitution.
For the avoidance of doubt, the bodies or agencies affected by the provisions of section 171 of the Constitution neither relate to nor include the NDDC.
In order to set the record straight and for a better understanding by stakeholders and members of the general public, the section of the Constitution under reference is hereby reproduced as follows: 171 –
(1) “Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the offices to which this section applies and to remove persons so appointed from any such office shall vest in the President.
(2) The offices to which this section applies are, namely –
(a) Secretary to the Government of the Federation;
(b) Head of the Service of the Federation;
(c) Ambassador, High Commissioner or other Principal Representative of Nigeria abroad;
(d) Permanent Secretary in any Ministry or Head of any Extra-Ministerial Department of the Government of the Federation howsoever designated; and
(e) any office on the personal staff of the President…”
Contrary to the statement credited to the House Committee Chairman, Section 171 does not relate to the NDDC.
To further compound and exhibit his lack of deep knowledge of the NDDC Act (even as a member of the National Assembly), and the Nigerian Constitution, he was quoted as saying that the provisions of the NDDC Act are inconsistent with those of the Constitution.
This is most unfortunate. There is no section of the NDDC Act that conflicts any constitutional provisions at all.
There is no gainsaying the fact that some other individuals are being openly sponsored on live telecast particularly one Arc Nya Etok Ezekiel who appeared on a live show TV on Saturday night on November 30, 2019.
He also erroneously hinged his defence of the illegal interim management committee on the same provisions of Section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999.
He equally misinformed his audience and listeners that the section gives Mr President the powers to appoint an Interim Management Committee for the NDDC simultaneously with his appointment of a new Board for the Commission. This assertion is most incorrect, false and misleading as there is no such provisions in both legal instruments.
Let it be also noted that section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution came into force on May 29, 1999 even before the conception and eventual birth of the Niger Delta Development Commission in the year 2001.
This implies that its provisions were not framed in anticipation of NDDC or any other body and their operations which are not referred to in the section under reference.
Like the provisions of sections 2(2)(a) and 5(3) of the NDDC Act 2000 that requires Senate confirmation of members of the Commission, subsection (4) of section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution equally states that “An appointment to the office of Ambassador, High Commissioner, or other Principal Representative of Nigeria abroad shall not have effect unless the appointment is confirmed by the Senate.
The combined effects of the above provisions clearly confirm the illegality of the 3-man contraption which has been put in place against public outcry and contrary to every good will and notwithstanding the promptness and dispatch with which the Senate treated Mr President’s nominees by properly stamping them with the seal of legitimacy in accordance with the NDDC Act 2000.
The NDDC Act 2000 under section 2(1) states that ” There is hereby established for the Commission a governing Board which shall consists of a Chairman, a Managing Director, two Executive Directors, one board member each from the 9 oil producing states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.”
By this provision and others, the NDDC Act prohibits the 3-man interim management committee from assuming the responsibility to take over the functions and powers of the Commission.
Let it be noted by all Nigerians and Niger Delta stakeholders that, the fact that Mr. President, a few days ago, has invoked his right and power under section 18(1) of the NDDC Act 2000, by presenting budget estimates for the Commission in respect of 2019 and 2020 to the National Assembly for consideration and approval, does not give any legitimacy to the Dr Joy Nunieh led interim management committee.
The Interim Management Committee is not the appropriate authority of the Commission to appear before any relevant committee of the National Assembly to defend such budget proposals.
For a deeper and proper understanding of the provisions of the NDDC Act and the intentions of members of the National Assembly that worked on its bill and passed it even through a two-third majority vote (a few of whom are still present in this 9th National Assembly), it would be advisable for the leadership of the House to make copies of the Act available to all members for better understanding of its content and in appreciation of the efforts of their predecessors.
However, one must commend the leadership of the Senate for consistently encouraging and appealing to the executive to do the needful by inaugurating the Board in order to nip in the bud further controversy.
In conclusion, I observe with dismay different statements and inferences credited to some respected members of the green chambers of National Assembly insinuating their readiness to work with the interim management committee with regard to the NDDC budget proposals presented by Mr President instead of standing with the Senate in defence of an Act duly passed by the Parliament which impartiality and integrity they all swore to protect on June 11, 2019 when Mr President proclaimed the 9th National Assembly.
In my view, allying with the position of the Senate seems a better and proper option for the Representatives instead of attempting to dance to discordant tunes of some selfish political gladiators who appear to be desperate and determined to cover some old footprints.
No matter the interest, let every elected lawmaker remain a lawmaker and every political appointee remain an appointee. By this is meant to defend, maintain and protect your institution while the other does same to his or hers own institutions too.
David Ekuetafia, Esq. is a Constitutional Lawyer