Why Buhari Should Respect the High Court Ruling on IMC

Damian Nwikinaka, National Chairman of Niger Delta Renaissance Coalition, warns that the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission gives a wider latitude for corruption in the agency

It is shameful that the lies and plots undertaken by the Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio in hijacking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) have come to a shameful denouement in two illegal heads laying claim to the headship of the agency. It underscores the tardiness of the Buhari administration in its disregard for the law. 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 (IMC) 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 Akwa as the Sole Administrator of the NDDC, the Minister 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.

The notice announcing Mr Effiong Okon Akwa as Sole Administrator, which was made by the Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, claimed that: “The development 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 in Abuja.”

However, the court in a declaration made on Wednesday, January 20, said “that there was no order for interim injunction (against the IMC) granted by this court”. In effect, the Federal Government acted on a non-existent order. The objective clearly was to get a basis to further Akpabio’s fraudulent agenda with the appointment of his crony, Effiong Okon Akwa, as Sole Administrator instead of putting a Board in place in line with the NDDC Act.

In the ensuing judgement by Justice A.R. Mohammed, the court struck out the lawsuit against the Interim Management Committee by the Incorporated Trustees of Forum for Accountability and Good Governance on January 20, 2021. The court said there was no time it ever sacked the Pondei-led IMC.

The court also ordered in suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/617/2020 that two journalists undo the misleading news story, and tell the world the truth of its ruling.

The court was clear that the leave sought by the plaintiffs did not amount to an injunction but a permission to sue which was allowed but now stands struck out by subsequent findings of the court in January, 2021.

It will be recalled that the court granted the applicant, Incorporated Trustees of Forum for Accountability and Good Governance, to apply for judicial review for an order of mandamus in terms of reliefs set out in the statement which supported the application compelling the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission to investigate Pondei over a N40 billion, while five members of his Interim Committee were accused of over N3 billion contract fraud. The case was adjourned to December 8, 2020.

On the adjourned date, the court learned that there was a publication both in print and electronic media to the effect that the court had granted interim jurisdiction restraining/suspending the interim management of the NDDC. The plaintiff denied applying for an interim order of injunction on the motion exparte dated June 15, 2020.

On December 4, 2020, the plaintiff’s counsel served a Notice of Withdrawal and Discontinuance of the case to the defendants without serving the court its copy. The plaintiff failed to appear in court on January 13, 2021. The counsel for the defendants conceded no objection to the withdrawal of the matter.

Justice A. R. Mohammed, in his judgement, highlighted that the provision of Order 50 rule 2 of the Federal High Court Rules, 2019, holds that the plaintiff is entitled to withdraw his action without even the leave of court so long as he can do that not later than 14 days after service of defence on him.

It should be clear to all now that the Niger Delta Minister Chief Godswill Akpabio in the pursuit of his selfish agenda has bastardised the management and stability of the NDDC.

We wish to further remind the President of the massive looting that has been exposed under the imposed interim managements in the past 15-months under the supervision of Senator Godswill Akpabio. The reports of the Senate’s recent probe and the petitions from whistleblowers indicate that over N158 billion has been frittered away on non-existent contracts, fraudulent payments, financial recklessness and mismanagement in the last 15 months by the IMC under the guidance and supervision of Akpabio. And there is more money for Akpabio to share to his fraudulent backers in Abuja with the recent passage of the delayed NDDC 2020 budget by the Senate and House of Representatives. Given how the budget for 2019 was shared out by the IMC, it is anyone’s guess how the N453.2 billion approved by the Senate and House of Representatives for the remaining period of the NDDC 2020 Budget year, which ends on March 31, 2021, will be spent.

It was clear to us and perceptive Niger Deltans that the appointment of Mr Effiong Okon Akwa was part of the fraudulent manipulations of Akpabio in his drive to personally control and appropriate the resources of the NDDC through his cronies.

President Buhari should put a stop to this charade by inaugurating the Governing Board of the Commission as provided for in the NDDC Act. The unfortunate and unwholesome development where both an illegal IMC and an illegal Sole Administrator will now be laying claim to the headship of the NDDC is sickening and must not be permitted any further.

Since Akpabio launched his fraudulent schemes to hijack the NDDC in October 2019, the Commission has been riddled with instability, corruption, mismanagement and financial recklessness on a grand scale, while the agency has abandoned its goals and obligation to the Niger Delta people. This must not continue.

We call on President Buhari to stem the slide to anarchy at the NDDC orchestrated by its supervising minister, Chief Godswill Akpabio. Mr President should as a matter of urgency follow the law and inaugurate a Governing Board for the Commission to put an end to this descent to anarchy at the NDDC.

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