THE crisis rocking the composition of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has moved to the court. We had complained about the disregard of the provision of the NDDC Act, by the President, when he appointed an interim management board to oversee the commission, after the senate had confirmed the names he earlier sent as board nominees. Interestingly, while the question of the legality of the interim management board lingers, the President has raised a presidential monitoring committee, to monitor the interim board.
We do not understand why the presidency is working at cross-purposes with itself on the NDDC board, by making controversial appointments. Now, a group of civil society groups has approached the court to test the legality of the interim management board, with President Muhammadu Buhari, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, sued as defendants. According to the claimants in the suit, “the appointment of the interim committee was in conflict with the statutory provisions of the NDDC Establishment Act.”
Regardless of the merits of the case, we are piqued that the three principal functionaries of our constitutional democracy have ignored the summons by the court. Without doubt, obedience to the orders of court is at the root of the rule of law, which is a fundamental principle of any democracy. We therefore condemn the disrespect of the court summons by the heads of the executive and the legislature. Even more condemnable is the disregard by the chief law officer and the attorney general of the federation, who should protect the sanctity of our courts very jealously.
If the president and the senate president chose to treat the court with disrespect, can Malami also disregard the court, without rendering his position as chief law officer untenable? Does Malami not know that as an officer of the court, it is his primary responsibility to ensure obedience to orders of the court? According to section 150(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) “There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the chief law officer of the federation and a minister of the government of the federation” and by section 151(2) such a person shall be “a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.”
So, in disregarding the summons from the federal high court, could it be that Malami did not appreciate the responsibility placed on his shoulders by the constitution, or was it that the trio has contempt for the constitution, from where their powers and privileges emanate? Maybe because the president had treated the senate with contempt, by disregarding the nominees the senators confirmed, and appointing the choice of the Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as members of the interim board, the senate president chose to ignore a case emanating on the same issue.
Regardless of who created the mess, it is the duty of all those sued to honour the summons of the Federal High Court. For the President and his coterie of officials who created the crisis, they should appear before the court to defend their actions, whether they like it or not. That is what section 6(6)(b) of the constitution envisages, whenever there is a dispute between citizens and government. If the three public officials have no defence, they should approach the court and own up.
We commend the civil society groups for approaching the court to contest the action of the President, instead of taking the laws into their own hands. Those sued must show obedience to the rule of law, which is fundamental to the survival of any constitutional democracy.