By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, disqualified himself from presiding over a suit accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of breaching extant laws by nominating persons not from oil producing regions, into the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
The suit marked FHC/CS/602/2016, was filed before the court by the Incorporated Trustees of Oron Union, Akwa Ibom State.
Specifically, the plaintiff challenged the legality of President Buhari’s nominations of Mr. Obong Nsima Ekere and Frank Samuel George, as Managing Director and Commissioner, respectively, on the Board of the NDDC, when they are not indigenes of oil producing areas of Akwa Ibom State, contending that the action was in violation of section 12(1) of the NDDC Act, Cap N86, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Aside President Buhari, those also cited as defendants in the suit were the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the National Assembly and the two nominees.
The plaintiff, among other reliefs, prayed the court for, “A declaration that the nominations of the 5th Defendant as the Managing Director of NDDC, and the 6th as Commissioner on the Board of the said NDDC, by the 1st and 2nd Defendants, and the subsequent forwarding of the names of the 5th and 6th Defendants to the 3rd and 4th Defendants for confirmation and for appointments as Managing Director and Commissioner respectively on the Board of NDDC when the said 5th and 6th Defendants are not indigenes of oil producing areas of Akwa Ibom State, are all done contrary to the provisions of section 12(1) of the NDDC Act, Cap N86, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, and therefore illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever and howsoever.
“A declaration that the 1st and 2nd Defendants cannot lawfully and legally nominate the 5th and 6th Defendants to be Managing Director and Commissioner on the Board of NDDC outside the NDDC Act and that the nominations and subsequent forwarding of the names of the 5th and 6th Defendants to the 3rd and 4th Defendants for confirmation as aforesaid, are not only in breach of NDDC Act, but same is unconstitutional in that the said nominations and appointments are discriminatory against the indigenes of the plaintiff who are eminently qualified to be so nominated and appointed as Managing Director and Commissioner respectively.
As well as, “A declaration that upon the dissolution of the Board of the NDDC on December 12, 2015, by the 1st and 2nd defendants, the plaintiff herein, whose member, Etim Iyang Junior was on the said Board, was entitled under section 5(2) of the NDDC Act to have another member of the plaintiff, from Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, where the said Etim Iyang Jnr hails from, appointed to complete the remainder of the tenure of Etim Inyang Jnr and to represent the interest of the plaintiff on the Board and that the nominations and forwarding of the names of the 5th and 6th Defendants who are not from Oron , constitute a violation of the right of the plaintiff under the NNDC Act and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended”.
The Oron Union which covers five Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State further prayed the court to issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining the National Assembly from confirming the nominations.
Meanwhile, when the matter came up for hearing on Monday, all the defendants asked Justice Abang to hands-off the matter since he is also from Oron.
The defendants took the position following an application by the 6th defendant, George, who also wrote a letter to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking that the case-file be retrieved from Justice Abang.
Consequently, in a bench ruling, Justice Abang disqualified himself from the suit and remitted the case-file back to the CJ for reassignment to another judge.
“Having regard to the fact that I am from Oron nation of Akwa Ibom State with the plaintiff and the 5th and 6th defendants are also from Akwa Ibom my state of origin, I hereby disqualify myself.
“Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. This case is hereby remitted back to the CJ for reassignment to any other judge other than myself, upon the court resumption from vacation”, Justice Abang held.