NDDC board members go to court over dissolution
SACKED Niger-Delta Development Commission NDDC board members have explained that they are approaching the judiciary to have their sack reversed by President Mohammadu Buhari because the law setting them up bars him from taking a unilateral action to send them home because they are in the same category as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and should have been left untouched also.
In a lengthy explanation and details of their position which civil rights lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, filed at the National Industrial Court (NIC), the board viewed as illegal and absurd the decision to keep three members of the dissolved board representing three States while others representing other oil producing States and other stakeholders were sent packing with no strong voice in the retained management to speak for their States.
Apart from asking for reinstatement, they want the President and National Assembly barred from reconstituting the board until their term expires in two years time.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa explained that on December 16, 2013, the Federal inaugurated the 4th Governing Board of the NDDC after members of the Board had been thoroughly screened by security agents and were all cleared and confirmed by the two Chambers of the National Assembly. The appointment was for a four year tenure, to end on December 15, 2017.
However, according to him, the President announced the dissolution of the Governing Boards of all Federal Government Parastatals, Agencies, Institutions and Government-owned companies.
“Given the clear provisions of the NDDC Establishment Act, we had all thought that the NDDC could not have been amongst the agencies whose boards were dissolved by that announcement. On July 23, 2015, a letter signed by the Permanent Secretary (General Services Office), was addressed to the Managing Director of the NDDC, for the implementation of the above circular, for the purpose of dissolving the NDDC Board.
“Under and by virtue of section 3 of the NDDC Establishment Act, “… a member of the Board, other than an ex-officio member, shall hold office for a term of four years at the first instance and may be re-appointed for a further term of four years and no more.
“The NDDC Establishment Act makes no provision for the removal of the Commission’s Board members before the expiration of the four year tenure, except the member resigns, is of unsound mind, is convicted by a court or is disciplined by his professional association or is found guilty of misconduct. None of these is applicable in this case.”
Adegboruwa stated that the dissolution of the NDDC Governing Board was illegal and violated the clear provisions of section 5 of the NDDC Act.
“It is important to state that the NDDC Governing Board is in the same category of those agencies established under section 153 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, whose tenure enjoy statutory flavour. It cannot be dissolved by a general circular, without complying with the provisions of the enabling Act.
“In the circular referred to above, it was stated that the President approved the dissolution of the boards, “in the public interest”, without stating the basis of such exercise and when there was no indictment or evidence of wrongdoing against the Board members, to suggest that they had acted against the public interest.
“Indeed, section 10 (b) of the NDDC Act stipulates that the Management Committee of the Commission, headed by the Managing Director, “ shall be responsible to the Board, for the general administration of the Commission.”
The implication of dispensing the with Board of the Commission, while retaining the Management Committee that is subject to the said Board, is to give room for unbridled arbitrariness and uncontrolled impunity, by the Management Committee. This is so because the States representatives who have been removed as a result of the dissolution, will no longer be available, to safeguard the interests of the States that they represent.
“Furthermore, the President has since the realisation that some of the affected Boards are regulated by statue, given due directive, for the re-instatement of these boards, like the EFCC, ICPC and even the Governing Councils of Federal Universities. However, in spite of letters written through the Permanent Secretary (General Services Office) for the rectification of this error, no response has been so far received with regard to the NDDC.”
He added that the Board as constituted under section 2 (1) of the NDDC enabling Act, includes the Chairman, the Managing Director and the two Executive Directors, all of whom are appointed at the same time as the other members of the Board and for the same tenure and therefore are required to vacate office and leave the Board at the same time as the others.
Adegboruwa recalled that in 2011, when the Board was dissolved and in 2013 when the tenure of the then Board expired, all Board members, including the Chairman, the Managing Director and the Executive Directors, were affected and had to leave office and two civil servants, Mrs. Osato Arenyeka in 2011 and Dr. (Mrs.) Christy Atako in 2013, took over as Acting Managing Director, respectively, until new Boards were constituted.
With the failure of letters of appeal and re-consideration written to the President and the SGF, the Board members including its Chairman, Bassey Ewa Henshaw Other members of the Board apart from its Chairman, Bassey Ewa Henshaw, Chief Samuel Nwogu, Eng. Etim Inyang, Ebebi Peremobowei, Tom Amioku, and Benson Amuwa.
Peter Osaretin, Dan Etete-Owoh, Kyrian Uchegbu, Paul Adehi, Lola Otegbola, General Suleiman Said, Mahmud AbdulMalik, Laurentia Mallam, among others initiated a formal suit.
They are seeking a “DECLARATION that under and by virtue of the Niger-Delta Development Commission Establishment Act, the Governing Board of the Niger-Delta Development Commission cannot be dissolved, either through the circular” by the Head of Service, Danladi Kifasi, dated 16th July, 2015, and the letter by the Permanent Secretary, General Services Office), Mohammed Bukar, dated 23rd July, 2015, which directed the managing Director of NDDC to take full charge and liaise with him, or in any other manner that constitutes a violation of sections 2, 3, 5 and other extant provisions of the said NDDC Act.
Other reliefs sought are:
* A declaration that the circular and letter are ultra vires, ineffective and ineffectual to ground the dissolution of the 4thGoverning Board of the Niger-Delta Development Commission and the same are invalid, null and void and oj no effect whatsoever, in so far as they relate to the dissolution of the said Governing Board.
* A declaration that the appointments of the claimants as members of the Governing Board of the Niger-Delta Development Commission are still subsisting, being tenured appointments of four unbroken years, commencing from the 16th December 2013 till 15 December, 2017.
* A declaration that under and by virtue of sections 2, 3 and 5 of the Niger- Delta Development Commission Establishment Act, the claimants are entitled to four years unbroken tenure from 16th December 2013 to 15th December, 2017 and they cannot be deprived of the said appointments, or removed from office, dissolved or their appointments terminated save and in accordance with the extant provisions of the said Act.
* A declaration that under and by virtue of the Niger-Delta Development Commission Establishment Act, the Senate and House of Representatives are not entitled to receive, entertain, countenance, consider, deliberate upon or in any other manner act upon any request, letter, application or demand for the approval, confirmation or endorsement of any other person (s) as members of the Governing Board of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, during the subsistence of the appointments of the claimants, as members of the said board.
They are also seeking orders to re-instate the sacked board members as well as nullify and invalidate the contentious circular by the Head of Service and letter by the Permanent Secretary in the SGF’s office.