President Muhammadu Buhari is right now about to formally inaugurate the new board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Abuja.
The president arrived some minutes ago with the national anthem sung by invited guests and the appointed board members to signify the commencement of the event.
The acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua, yesterday morning held a valedictory meeting with the management staff to prepare for the handing over to new management.
Buhari appointed Mr. Audu-Ohwavborua in October 2022 to replace the former sole administrator of the commission, Effiong Akwa, who was relieved of his appointment.
Lauretta Onochie, a known loyalist of Mr. Buhari, is the new chairperson of the governing board of the commission.
Other members of the NDDC board are Dimga Erugba (Abia), Emem Wills (Akwa Ibom), Dimaro Denyanbofa (Bayelsa), Orok Duke (Cross River), Gbenga Edema (Ondo) and Elekwachi Dinkpa (Rivers).
Others are Mohammed Abubakar (Nasarawa), Sule-Iko Sani (Kebbi), Tahir Mamman(Adamawa), Samuel Ogbuku (Bayelsa) MD for a term of two years, Charles Airhiavbere (Edo) Director of Finance, and Charles Ogunmola (Ondo) Director of Projects.
The presidential inauguration of the board is going on in spite of protests by some oil-producing communities including Itsekiri Nation, and most recently, stakeholders in the Ilaje Local Government Area (LGA) of Ondo State who has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from inaugurating the governing board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) pending the hearing and determination of their suit.
The plaintiffs in the case are the former Clerk of the National Assembly and Chairman Board of Trustees of Ugboland Development Congress, Asiwaju Oluyemi Ogunyomi, the trustee Mr. Adebowale Karaki and the Secretary Dr. Mann Ali.
The other plaintiffs are Incorporated Trustees of Ilaje Advancement Forum, Mr. Idowu Mafimisebi, Mr. Olaniran Obele, and Mr. Ige Asemudara, all lawyers representing Ilaje Lawyers Forum.
They filed the suit yesterday at the Abuja headquarters of the Federal High Court through their counsel Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN).
According to a statement by Adegboruwa, the Plaintiffs are seeking, among others, an order of injunction to restrain the President from inaugurating, recognizing or dealing with Mr. Charles B. Ogunmola as the Executive Director, of Projects of the NDDC, arguing that he is from Owo in the northern axis of Ondo State and not an indigene of the oil-producing area of the state.
The other defendants in the suit are the National Assembly, the Senate, the Attorney-General of the Federation, and Mr. Charles B. Ogunmola.
Adegboruwa said: “Specifically, the Plaintiffs are seeking AN ORDER OF INTERLOCUTORY INJUNCTION restraining the 1st – 4th Respondents whether by themselves, their servants or agents and/ or privies from taking any step or further step in treating and/ or dealing with or in any manner according to the 5th Respondent the status of Executive Director of Projects of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, pending the hearing and final determination of the Originating Summons.
“AN ORDER OF INTERLOCUTORY INJUNCTION restraining the 5th Respondent from presenting himself out or in any manner parading himself or performing the functions and duties of Executive Director of Projects of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, pending the hearing and final determination of the Originating Summons herein.
“AN ORDER directing the parties herein, whether by themselves, their agents, servants or otherwise howsoever to maintain the status quo ante Bellum in respect of the exercise of the statutory duties of the 1st and 3rd Respondents in the appointment of an Executive Director of Projects of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, pending the hearing and final determination of the Originating Summons filed herein.
“AN ORDER OF INTERLOCUTORY INJUNCTION restraining the Respondents, whether by themselves, their servants or agents and/ or privies from taking any step(s) in relation to or that may jeopardize, affect, ridicule the fair and just determination of the subject matter and issues surrounding the substantive matter, pending the hearing and final determination of the Originating Summons herein.
“In the main Originating Summons, the Plaintiffs are challenging the appointment of Mr. Charles B. Ogunmola on the ground that it is in violation of section 12 (1) of the NDDC Act wherein it is specifically stated that the Managing Director and the Executive Directors of the NDDC must be indigenes of the oil-producing areas.
“No date has been assigned for the hearing of the suit, which has been served upon the President and the Attorney-General of the Federation.”
Again, a Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, December 23, 2022, advised President Buhari, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the Senate of the National Assembly, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie and Chief Samuel Ogbuku on the consequences of flouting an earlier restraining order even as it stopped the inauguration of the new NDDC board.
In a notice of the consequences of disobedience to the order of the court dated the 23rd day of December 2022, the court passed directions to President Buhari, Lawan, Onochie, and Ogbuku.
“Take notice that unless you obey the directions contained in this order, you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to prison’’, with it the Federal High Court put a stop to the inauguration of the board of the NDDC as confirmed by the Senate.
The presiding judge, Justice J. K. Omotosho, had earlier instructed that all actions on the confirmation of the nominees be suspended pending the determination of the suit filed by some stakeholders representing the Itsekiri nation.
The Frontier reports that Ms. Onochie has been a special assistant to the president on new media, and was enmeshed in a controversial appointment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in 2020.
She was appointed by Mr. Buhari as an INEC commissioner to represent Delta State.
The appointment generated a public outcry from civic groups and opposition parties who wrote petitions staged protests and called on the Senate to reject Ms. Onochie’s appointment.
Many also described the appointment as unconstitutional – majorly because she is partisan and has openly campaigned for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Although Ms. Onochie told the Senate committee on INEC that she had quit politics in 2019 and that she was no longer partisan – a claim which turned out to be false. The Senate rejected her in July.
The basis for her rejection was, however, not her partisanship. The Senate had said her appointment was rejected because “it breaches the federal character principle.”
Recall that Onochie’s nomination by Buhari as NDDC chairman also faced some resistance from some Senate committee members notably on the grounds that she is not from an oil-producing community in Delta State where she hails from, which is against the NDDC Act, preventing her from chairing the commission.