A development that must qualify as a most worrisome development in the contemporary fortunes of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), is the brazen politicization of the position of the Managing Director with the incumbent – Mr Nsima Ekere, remaining in office several months after he statutorily ceased to be eligible. In a crass breach of extant Public Service Rules which apply to all categories of appointed public servants, including officers of Ekere’s caliber, he as an appointed public officer is currently serving as the MD NDDC as well as holding a political office as the authentic gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Akwa Ibom State, in the forthcoming 2019 general polls. He is therefore wearing two caps simultaneously – one as the chief executive officer of the NDDC and the other as a full blooded politician and likely governor of one of the states of the Niger Delta region, which constitute the operational ambit of the interventionist agency.
The NDDC was established in June 2000 with the primary mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. Now in its eighteenth year the question of how far the agency has successfully executed its multi-dimensional mandate, remains a matter of conjecture. While copious stocks of resources in terms of money and materials have been deployed in the zone, and numerous projects have been executed accordingly, the future of the entire interventionist agenda of the NDDC requires more discretional management and corresponding upgrade of the resources endowment for the region.
Meanwhile, in the course of time the agency had suffered sporadic in-house turbulences arising from sundry power plays among its officers who are usually drawn from the various target states. Until 2015 and except for Edo State, the entire Niger Delta zone was under the sway of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was also the party in power at the centre in Abuja. Hence the zone featured political leaders had cause to be more tolerant of each other.
However, with the relative loss of power by the PDP in 2015 and the imminence of the 2019 polls, the political landscape of the zone had also changed remarkably, with deep partisan divisions among the same political leaders of the zone. Put succinctly, the power structure in the zone is now polarized between the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP. How Mr Nsima Ekere as the MD of the regional body will operate without pandering to partisan interests and persuasions remains a wonder, just as it is strange to the regular processes of Nigerian politics.
Without prejudice to the gentleman’s pedigree is the fact that his present omnibus status constitutes a clear breach of extant Public Service Rules. As an individual Mr Nsima Ekere easily remains one of the most promising political figures in his home state Akwa Ibom, and therefore is eligible under normal circumstances to occupy any office on behalf of his people, in the land. Even his choice as the APC governorship candidate in the forthcoming 2019 polls constitutes a pointer to his merit with respect to the political permutations in that state.
However, it is for the reason of his edification that he needs to align with valid guidance with respect to toeing the path of rectitude as far as public service is concerned. It is therefore in that context that this advisory is featuring on this column today. For instance, Section 030423 of the current (2008) version of the country’s Public Service Rules (PSR) is clear on the position of the law with respect to appointed public servants and the contest for elective offices. For instance, Section 030423 under consideration expressly forbids any such officer from occupying political party positions such as Mr Ekere is presently doing. According to that section “Resignation is necessary before seeking public office. Howbeit any officer wishing to engage in partisan political activities or seek elective office, shall resign his/her appointment forthwith”.
Further to the strict provisions of the PSR is the preceding section 030422 which in various subsections states that “No officer shall without express permission of the Government, whether on duty or leave of absence, (a) Hold any office, paid or unpaid, permanent or temporary, in any political organization. (b) Offer himself/herself or nominate anyone else as a candidate for any elective office including membership of a local government council, State or National Assembly. (c). Indicate publicly his/her support or opposition to any party, candidate or policy. (d) Engage in canvassing support of political candidates.
From the foregoing it is incontrovertible that except for the fact that an express permission had been formally obtained from the President which allows Mr Ekere to enjoy the uncommon privilege of a dual mandate as both MD of NDDC and the gubernatorial candidate of the APC for Akwa Ibom, he remains unfit for the position for now. His stay in NDDC anytime after his nomination as the APC governorship candidate, constitutes a patent act of impunity and breach of extant public service rules, as well as the law of the land. Even if there was a Presidential approval for his case, such would still be irregular since there is no special reason in the public domain to provide the basis for such approval. Beyond any other reason such an anomaly constitutes an undue advantage for Akwa Ibom State, to the disadvantage of the other Niger Delta States.
However, a far more insidious angle to Ekere’s dual mandate is the patent threat with manifest adversarial implications, which his continued stay in the NDDC constitutes with respect to the interests of other Niger Delta states, especially those outside the control of the APC, including his home state, Akwa Ibom. In his capacity of a contestant to the seat of the Akwa Ibom State governor, his deployment of partisan considerations in the discharge of his duties cannot be ruled out. That factor alone constitutes the basis for vulnerable interests including the other Niger Delta states to question his continued stay in in the driving seat of the NDDC.