NCC Board: Between Senate And The Rejected Nominees

Date: 2016-11-29

Tongues are wagging over the Senate’s rejection of three out of seven of President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominees as members of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Communications Communication (NCC). BODE GBADEBO writes on the intrigues of the non-confirmation of the trio.

On Thursday, November 17, 2016 two of the President Buhari’s nominees for the position of Non-Executive Commissioners in the Governing Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) – Aliyu Sa’idu Abubakar and Pastor Ezekiel Yissa Benjamin – were not confirmed by the Senate due to some reasons, according to the Upper Chamber,  bordering on their competencies and suitability for the position.

The Senate at plenary however confirmed the nominations of Chief Olabiyi Durojaiye as chairman of the NCC Board and four others as commissioners in the Commission.

They are Sunday Dare (Executive Commissioner – Stakeholders Management); Clement Omeiza Baiye (Non-Executive Commissioner); Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla (Non-Executive Commissioner); and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume (Non-Executive Commissioner).

Recall that the Senate had on Thursday, October 6, 2016, referred the President’s request for the confirmation of the seven nominees to the its Standing Committee on Communications being chaired by Senator Gilbert Nnaji (PDP, Enugu) for further legislative action.

The confirmation of the five nominees and the rejection of the duo others followed the adoption of a report by the committee  which made the recommendations to that effect.

“Mr. Abubakar’s response to the questions and issues raised by the committee unveils him as a candidate who is not prepared for the demands of office such as required of a Non-Executive Commissioner on the Governing Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission,” the committee said about the nominee from Bauchi state.

Although Abubakar’s attitude while responding to questions before the committee was unbecoming but not a few believed that his confirmation as a NCC Board member was denied because of his previous public conduct against the institution of the Senate.

It can also be recalled that Abubakar, who was to represent North-East zone in the Board, openly called for the scrapping of the Senate to the amazement of people present during the screening exercise of the Senate Committee, which took place on Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

The committee further said it found out that Abubakar could not produce any credible educational certificate for it to verify at the screening exercise, and that he didn’t collect his Diploma in Computer Studies completed at the Abubakar Tarawa Balewa University in 2000 until after his nomination in September, 2016 because, according to him, he did not see any reason for its collection as “he never intended to do any government job with it”.

“He obviously lacks the professional and educational disciplines provided in Section 7(1)(a-h) of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003 which stipulates the qualification of the Commission’s Board,” it added.

The second nominee rejected – Pastor Ezekiel Yissa Benjamin – is from the North-Central zone and hails from Kwara State. Surprisingly, he was a Speaker of the State House of Assembly from 1999 to 2003.

Ordinarily, given his previous political office and if he were to be elected to the Senate today, Benjamin would be a ranking Senator but interestingly the committee did not recommend his confirmation as the NCC Board member.

“Pastor Ezekiel Yissa’s background as a career Nursing Officer however, will not put him in good stead to be able to effectively cope with the dynamics of the communications sector if his nomination is confirmed,” the committee pointed out.

Also, the Senate Committee said it found out that the former Kwara lawmaker’s educational qualifications are at variance with Section 7(1)(a-h) of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003 “which put a dent on his suitability for appointment as a Commissioner on the Board”.

But in a dramatic twist of fate, when the Senate resumed plenary the following week, precisely on Tuesday, November 22, 2016, the Senators’ attention was drawn to the confirmation of Obono-Obla – the nominee from South-South zone – in the Votes and Proceedings of the previous legislative day, which is Thursday, November 17, as not the true reflection of what transpired.

The observation was made by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Baba Kaka Garbai (APC, Borno).

“My name is Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai representing Borno Central Senatorial District. Mr, President, what is actually reported in the Votes and Proceedings is not a true reflection of what transpired on Thursday with regards to the confirmation of one of the commissioners under NCC, Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla.

“The decision then was a resounding ‘Nay’. So, because of that, it was a mistake,” Garbai had recalled.

Responding to the observation made by Senator Garbai, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki only muttered “Secretariat take note”.

Subsequently same day November 22, Saraki in a communication to President Buhari titled “Confirmation of Appointments” a copy of which was sighted by our reporter, Obono-Obla was listed as one of the three nominees whose nominations were rejected by the Senate.

Unlike the other two nominees, Obono-Obla, who is the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution attached to the Federal Ministry of Justice, has protested against what he called his back-door removal.

According to media reports on Monday, Obono-Obla accused the Senate President of unilaterally removing his name from the list of the confirmed NCC Board members, wondering why he was removed, according to him, after the Senate had confirmed his nomination.

“The entire major electronic and print media organs in the country, on the 17th and 18th November, 2016, carried the confirmation by the Senate of the Board of Nigerian Communications Commission.

“Surprisingly and curiously, the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki in a letter dated 22nd November, 2016, to President Muhammadu Buhari, titled ‘Confirmation of Appointments,’ falsely stated that the Senate did not confirm the following nominees: Aliyu Saidu Abubakar; Pastor Ezekiel Yissa and Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla,” he was quoted as saying.

What makes Obono-Obla’s case curious was the fact that the Senate Committee on Communications recommended him for confirmation in its report as evident on pages 9 and 10.

“Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla responded brilliantly at the screening exercise and promised to bring his legal experience to bear by collaborating with his colleagues on the board to further enhance the growth of the communications sector if his nomination is confirmed. He has the experience, competence and commitment to discharge the responsibility of a Non-Executive Commissioner,” the report had said on page 8.

Also, on page 9 of the same report, the committee said “Vetting enquiries conducted on the remaining five (5) nominees (inclusive of Obono-Obla) to ascertain their competence, credibility and suitability for appointment as Commissioners on the Governing Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission were favourable.”

Obono-Obla’s sin may not be unconnected with his stance on the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Orders. The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters had on Thursday, June 30, 2016 walked him out when he came to represent the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), during a hearing on the Senate Rules forgery suit.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Senate has cleared the air over the controversy surrounding what it called a purported confirmation of the lawyer-nominee, saying that its decision-making process on the matter was clear and sacrosanct.

In a press statement signed by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, and titled “Re: Senate Makes U-turn, Drops Already Cleared Buhari’s Nominee”, the Red Chamber said Obono-Obla was never confirmed as NCC Board member.

“The attention of the Senate has been drawn to media reports with the above headline to the effect that the Senate has dropped a nominee of Mr. President, Mr. Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla, as a non-executive commissioner on the Governing  Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) after he was purportedly cleared by the Senate.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the nomination of Mr. Obla was never confirmed or voted for since no decision of the Senate is said to be approved if not adopted during the consideration of the Votes and Proceedings of the Senate at the next legislative day.

“The Senate also wishes to note that the business of the Senate can only be binding when the votes and proceedings have been adopted and approved without any objection,” Abdullahi said.

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