*What really went wrong between Akpabio, Pondei, Ojougboh?
By Emma Amaize
SINCE last Thursday when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja said that it never made an order dismissing the Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei-led Interim Management Committee, IMC, of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, concerned stakeholders of the oil-rich region have been waiting to hear from President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, where they obtained the court injunction they claim empowered them to foist an Interim Administrator, once again, on the interventionist agency.
Striking out the suit by the Incorporated Trustees of Forum for Accountability and Good Governance against the Pondei-led IMC, the presiding Judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, unequivocally stated: “There was no order for an interim injunction (against the IMC) granted by this court.”
For the avoidance of doubt, Justice Mohammed elucidated that the court only granted leave to the applicants to commence legal actions against NDDC IMC.
Curiously President acted on non-existent court injunction
President Buhari had, on December 12, last year, relying on an imaginary injunction by the court, kicked out the NDDC IMC, which was also put in place in controversial circumstance after the Senate had duly screened and approved a governing board for the Commission, October, last year, sacked the IMC and appointed the erstwhile Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mr. Effiong Akwa, as Interim Administrator.
The President’s Media Adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement, justifying the illegal action, said Akwa, a Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountants and a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, would assume headship till completion of the forensic audit of the NDDC.
His words: “The development (referring to Akwa’s imposition) became necessary as a result of a plethora of litigation and a restraining order issued recently against the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC by a Federal High Court, FHC, in Abuja.”
How President Buhari came about “a restraining order” issued by FHC, Abuja took many by surprise because there was indeed nothing of such as Justice Mohammed clarified last week.
Minister’s insensitive blunders
Stakeholders were practically unanimous that the appointment of a sole administrator was an impropriety, but Akpabio, clever at defending the indefensible, six days after the deed was committed, December 18, 2020, during the opening ceremony of the 4th meeting of the National Council on Niger- Delta, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said that it was wrong for stakeholders to refer to a presidential appointment as illegality.
According to him, “Even the first executive director of finance and administration acted as the sole administrator of NDDC at various times, we have also had a sole administrator from Rivers State in the person of Sime Tare; we have also had one from Cross River State, as well as Mrs. Enya from Bayelsa while awaiting the confirmation of a board.
“It is not correct that the NDDC has done well, they have not done well, and even in my time as governor, they did not do well. But the appointment of a sole administrator for the NDDC today cannot be regarded as illegality,” he fumed.
Dismissing the Senate-approved board, the former Senate Minority Leader said there was need to look at the developmental challenges of the region before talking about the board, maintaining that the board is just a conglomeration of appointees from politicians. He did not say how his own appointees in the commission were not from a politician.
Not done, Akpabio, speaking when he met with representatives of the Forensic Auditing team who were in his office in Abuja to submit progress report of the on-going mission on January 7, 2021, stated again that the appointment of a sole administrator for NDDC was based on court injunction, adding that it was not an official appointment made by the Federal Government.
He noted that the leadership of the Commission held by Mr. Effiong Akwa was not permanent and would only last the duration of the forensic auditing after which a board would be inaugurated probably in April.
Up-to-the-minute humiliation — Nwikinaka, NDRC
“However, the question many Niger-Deltans are asking is: From where did President Buhari and Senator Akpabio get the said court injunction which they boisterously relied on in sacking the controversial Pondei-led IMC, especially as Justice Mohammed had publicly declared that he gave no such injunction?
“Should the wise path be to inaugurate the Senate-approved Governing Board of NDDC with former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Hon. Pius Odubu as Chairman and Mr. Benjamin Okumagba as Managing Director- designate since 2019?
A group, Niger-Delta Renaissance Coalition, NDRC, last Thursday, advised President Buhari to follow the law and inaugurate the ratified board for NDDC in order to avert the looming anarchy that would befall the commission.
National Chairman of the group, Comrade Damian Nwikinaka, said: “It is shameful that the lies and plots undertaken by the Niger-Delta Minister in hijacking NDDC have come to a shameful denouement in two illegal heads laying claim to the headship of the agency.
“The latest embarrassment is from the ruling of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja which said in plain terms that the Federal Government lied in stating that it (the court) gave a restraining order against the Interim Management Committee imposed on the NDDC, on which basis Chief Akpabio caused one of his former aides, Mr Effiong Okon Akwa, to take over as sole administrator.
“In appointing Mr Effiong Okon Akwa as the sole administrator of NDDC, the minister had claimed that the court gave a specific restraining order against the IMC. At the time he made that imposition of Mr. Effiong Akwa in December 2020, we had pointed out the absurdity in replacing an illegal appointment with an equally illegal appointment.
“Both the IMC and the sole administrator are illegal appointments as they are unknown to the NDDC Act of 2000 as amended, which prescribes that the NDDC shall be managed by a Governing Board with membership from the nine constituent states,” he added.
Did anything go askew?
A source, however, told NDV: “The truth is that Senator Akpabio erroneously interpreted the decision of the court not that he wanted to impose another crony on NDDC.” The source added: “Prof. Pondei and Dr. Ojougboh and in fact, the IMC did not do anything wrong to warrant their sack.”
But a privileged informant stated: “If they say Akpabio misunderstood the court’s decision, then he must have misconstrued several decisions and hoodwinked Mr. President in the process all this while. How can you say he misapprehended what does not exist in the first instance and the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General did not also spot the illegitimacy before advising Buhari?
“Some immediate past superintendents of NDDC reportedly visited a high-ranking Federal Government official over some matters relating to IMC without authorisation from Akpabio and because of the sensitivity of the matter, the official in their presence contacted the minister, who took exception and decided to do away with the contraption, that is what happened. He is in charge and you do not toy with that,” he added.
Many, however, see the present-day “illegalities” perpetrated at the interventionist agency as very unhealthy for NDDC and the region. Not really an exclusive creation of Akpabio but he has escalated the tempo, which is why in dealing with the mounting confusion, President Buhari has to pointedly ask Akpabio how the phony court injunction was obtained, that is if truly he was hoodwinked.