South-South Elders Progressive Forum, SSEPF, has accused the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, of a ploy to mislead President Muhammadu Buhari in the constitution of a substantive Board for the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
The SSEPF, whose membership comprises elders cutting across States in the Niger Delta region, alleged that the AGF was creating confusion by misinterpreting to the presidency, the clear provisions of Section 12 (1) of the NDDC Act 2000 as it relates to the appointment of the Agency’s managing director.
Section 12 (1) of the Act stipulates that: “There shall be for the Commission, a Managing Director, and two Executive Directors who shall be indigenes of oil producing areas starting with the member states of the Commission with the highest production quantum of oil and shall rotate amongst member states in the order of production”.
The SSEPF, on Sunday, expressed concern that while the unambiguous provisions of Section 12 (1) had been duly adhered to in appointments into the Commission’s Board by previous administrations, Malami, for inexplicable reasons, was attempting to rob Peter to pay Paul by misleading President Buhari in his interpretation of the Act.
In the statement jointly signed by its Chairman, Dr. Promise Okpolo and Coordinator, Community Relations, Chief Anderson Etiewo, the South-South elders stated that while it was indisputably the turn of a nominee from Bayelsa State to occupy the position of managing director in a statutorily composed Board, the AGF was allegedly plotting to manipulate the position in favour of Edo State.
While urging Buhari to be wary of Malami’s alleged antics, the elders warned that such move, if allowed to fly, will set the Niger Delta region on fire.
The SSEPF said it was shocked by reports at its disposal on the AGF’s alleged push to interpret the law in the breach against the rightful place of Bayelsa, a major oil producing State to take its turn for the position of managing director, more so, when the only indigene of the State, Chief Timi Alaibe, who at the time was the Executive Director, Finance & Administration, EDFA, only held the MD position for a period of two years from 2007 to 2009, to complete the tenure of the second substantive Board statutorily inaugurated for the Commission when the managing director, Mr. Emmanuel Agwariavwodo, who hails from Delta, resigned to contest the governorship election in his State.
It stressed that in line with the provisions of the NDDC Act on composition of a board for a tenure of four years in the first instance, no indigene of Bayelsa State with the huge quantum of oil it produces, has been appointed afresh into a substantive board since the Commission’s inception, as Alaibe was only appointed to fill in the gap on a board that he was EDFA upon the resignation of the MD.
Citing previous managerial precedents by past administrations for appointments into the NDDC Board, the South-south leaders posited that even States such as Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom which have had their indigenes appointed as managing directors on a substantive board, had replacements from the same State if an MD exited office before the completion of his four year tenure.
Part of the statement reads:
“The tenures of Board members belong to the states of the Niger Delta region and not to individuals and right from the inception of the Commission a robust procedure had been set for the appointment of the executive management. It is noteworthy that the NDDC is a statutory creation and its Establishment Act is explicit on how it should be administered. The Act did neither contemplate nor provided for an interim management.
“When the first Board, the pioneer managing director of the Commission, Mr. Godwin Omene who hails from Delta State was removed midterm in 2003, he was replaced by Mr. Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, also from Delta State who later resigned and Alaibe was uplifted from EDFA to complete the tenure.
“Again, when on September 14, 2011, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, an indigene of Rivers State was removed as the managing director of the Commission he was replaced with Mr. Christian Oboh, who hails from the same community with Mr. Ugwoha.
“In 2013, Mr. Bassey Dan Abia from Akwa Ibom State was appointed managing director of the NDDC by President Goodluck Jonathan. Though he was sacked before the end of his four year tenure and replaced in 2015 with Mrs. Ibim Semenitari in acting capacity by President Buhari, Mr. Isima Ekere, also from Akwa Ibom State was appointed on November 1, 2016 to complete Dan Abia’s tenure. Ekere exited office at the end of 2018, which was end of a substantive and lawfully constituted board for the NDDC.
“It is pertinent to note with emphasis that neither Prof. Nelson Brambaifa who was appointed acting managing director in January 2019 nor Prof.Kemebradikumo Pondei, also appointed acting managing director on February 20, 2020 to head an Interim Management Committee (IMC) for a forensic audit of the Commission ordered by President Buhari, were appointed substantive managing directors in a properly and duely constituted board in accordance with the provisions of the NDDC Act. It is a fact that Prof. Pondei was the fifth acting managing director of the Commission within a period of one year.
“Therefore, it is clear from the above that besides the fact that Brambaifa and Pondei, both from Bayelsa State, were never appointed managing directors in a statutorily constituted substantive board, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states which are key crude oil producers, have had at least two indigenes from each of the three states appointed as substantive managing directors of the NDDC on a duly constituted board.
“On the contrary, Bayelsa State, which is also in the league of the four major oil producing states in the region has never had an indigene appointed as a substantive managing director in a new board nor was anyone appointed to complete a full tenure after the two year period Alaibe was upgraded to fill in the gab after Agwariavwodo’s exit.
“It is also important to note that apart from having two each of their indigenes duly appointed as substantive MDs, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states have produced acting managing directors – Mrs. Semenitari –(Rivers), late Pastor P.Z Aginighan (Delta) and the incumbent acting managing director, Mr. Effiong Okon Akwa, who has headed an illegal interim contraption for almost two years, having been appointed in December 2020.
“We therefore appeal to President Buhari not to be misled by the AGF, Malami, who, for his personal interests, is intent on creating confusion and crisis amongst the oil producing communities and various ethic nationalities in the Niger Delta region that are presently living peacefully and harmoniously.
With Nigeria’s crude oil production slumping in July, 2022 to an average of 1.08 million barrels per day (bpd) from 1.16 million the previous month and consistently failing to meet the 1.8 million bpd production quota set by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the consequences of triggering a conflagration at this moment in the Niger Delta could better be imagined”.
Commenting on the development, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Onyema Omenuwa, urged the Federal Government to tread cautiously and follow the path of equity, justice and the rule of law.
“Section 12 of the NDDC Act appears clear enough not to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. There shall be a managing director, and two executive directors to be appointed. The criteria for the appointments are that the persons must be indigenes of areas that produce oil. And not just that, the appointments must begin with persons from states that produce the highest quantum of oil, and then rotates among all the other oil-producing states.
So the question is, has that pattern prescribed by the Act been adhered to by the appointing authority? Which State produces the highest quantum of oil? Did an indigene of that State get appointment as first MD of NDDC? After him, did an indigene of the State with next highest quantum of oil get the appointed? And so on?
“I won’t be surprised though if the government is flouting this statutory arrangement. Is it a government that is notorious for showing scant regard for legal provisions that will behave differently in this case? Have we not witnessed the concentration of very sensitive appointments in just one section of the country, which is against the spirit of the federal character principle?, Omenuwa, a former special assistant to ex-AGF, Mohammed Adoke, queried.