Itsekiri leaders have advised President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr Umana Okon Umana to resist the urge to defy the judicial process by refraining from conducts which will render irrelevance issues presented in the court by representatives of Itsekiri Leaders of Thought and the Omadino Unity Forum.
The representatives of Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, Chief Edward Ekpoko and Engr. Victor Wood; and their counterpart for the Omadino Unity Forum, Mr Edward Omagbemi are seeking an order of the court not to swear in Mrs Lauretta Onochie and Chief Samuel Ogbuku as the Chairman and Managing Director respectively of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) until their suit is determined.
In a letter to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, the leaders urged the Federal Government going ahead with the inauguration of the Chairman and Managing Director of the NDDC would “erase the confidence reposed in the judiciary by the common man and a clog in the wheel of the administration of justice”.
In their petition to Malami, the communities said: “We have cause to believe, as documentary evidence clearly suggests, that the Federal Government through the Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, is making frantic and brazen efforts to inaugurate Mrs Lauretta Onochie and Chief Samuel Ogbuku as the substantive Chairman and Managing Director respectively of the Niger Delta Development Commission despite the pendency of the suit as well as several applications, and order made by the Court, with the sole aim of stealing a match, stultifying the ·court process and bringing the Rule of Law to ridicule’’.
“As the Chief Law Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and a strong proponent of the Rule of Law, you will not in any way advise the President and indeed the Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, to proceed with the inauguration of Mrs. Lauretta Onochie and Chief Samuel Ogbuku on January 4, 2023, as the Chairman and Managing Director respectively of the NDDC and or concretize their positions, pending the outcome of the adjudicatory process already initiated by our Clients’’.
In the letter written by Ekpoko on behalf of Ama Etuwewe and Co, Solicitors to the Itsekiri Ethnic Nationality, Omagbemi and Wood urged the Minister of Justice to counsel the relevant parties on the need to allow the judicial process take its course and refrain from taking steps which would “ridicule the Rule of Law and further weaken our nascent democratic structure”.
“The attendant implications on the faith and belief of the common man are dire and would almost be dampened if the executive and the legislative arms of government continue to bond towards shattering the fabric and fibre of the judicial process upon which true democracy is enshrined; which the judiciary seeks to mend and this certainly does not bode well for the Rule of Law if a precedent of executive and legislative disregard to court orders, is so easily displayed with impunity, just before the forthcoming general elections’’.
The grouse of the Itsekiri leaders is that, since the inception of the NDDC in 2001, no indigene of the ethnic nationality has been named either Chairman or Managing Director of the commission. They argued that the Itsekiri ethnic nationality has over 21 oil-producing communities and produces about 58 percent of the crude oil in Delta State and 17 percent of the country’s crude oil production.
This, they further said, “is doubtless a major contributor to the crude oil and gas resources in Nigeria, which by virtue thereof, the Itsekiri communities suffered and continues to suffer the attendant environmental degradation, loss of livelihood as well as destruction of their farmlands and water resources”.
They said that the Itsekiri have their “woes compounded by the marginalisation suffered in the hands of the Federal Government of Nigeria that has repeatedly failed to consider any Itsekiri nationals competent to occupy the positions of Chairman and Managing Director respectively of the NDDC despite having previously afforded other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta States the opportunity to fill such positions”.
Upon the dissolution of the NDDC Board in 2019 by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the NDDC, according to the Itsekiri leaders, has been run by various interim administrators with acting Managing Directors who hail from other oil and gas producing communities and “states to the exclusion and continued marginalisation of the Itsekiri ethnic nationality of Delta State of Nigeria”.