By Etekamba Umoren
This is in direct reference to a piece as captioned above published on page 18 of Thisday Newspapers in Midweek Politics column of May 3, 2017. Given the wide and healthy circulation Thisday Newspapers enjoys, it is imperative that for the sake of its readership and the public, the facts as expressed by Segun James in that piece be put in their proper perspective so that the subtle slant (which seems to be the real intention after all) is exposed for what it is.
The writer commenced his voyage of mischief when he threw caution to swine and stated rather recklessly that owing to the indebtedness of Mr. Nsima Ekere to now rested Oceanic Bank, it was the order of the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo that “(H)is plot of land located at Plot A, 921 Lagos Street, Ewet Housing Estate, Akwa-Ibom was also seized”. He continued rather presumptuously that Mr. Nsima Ekere was just beginning to gain “respectability after years in the (political) cold” immediately he was appointed Managing Director/CEO of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He lumps Mr. Ekere in an ignominious class of politicians who “refused to pay debts owed Banks”. Nothing more could expose the writer for what he represents; a hireling rented to spew dirt against the person of Mr. Ekere.
One is compelled to agree with the writer and it is indeed salutary that His Excellency, Mr. Nsima Ekere has always been in the news. He is a veritable news subject and a reporter’s delight. For one who has spent the better part of his working life in the private sector as entrepreneur, his foray into politics in 1997 saw him winning elections as Member of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly under the platform of the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) for Ikot Abasi State Constituency. In the year 2007, he vied for the Governorship of Akwa Ibom State and surpassed all expectations at the primaries.
His doggedness and steadfastness saw him being nominated in 2011 as the running mate to Governor (now Senator) Godswill Akpabio. Prior to this, between 2007 through to 2012, he served simultaneously as Chairman of the State’s flagship investment agency known as Akwa Ibom Investment and Industrial Promotion Council (AKIIPOC) and Ibom Power Company. He also sat on the board of the Voice of Nigeria (VON). His landmark achievements at his duty posts in these two critical sectors of the State’s economy stand as indelible testimonials to a man of capacity, intellectual industry and foresight.
Mr. Ekere is indisputably a successful businessman. His success in business must have afforded him the mental stamina and requisite experience to steady the investment drive of the Akpabio-led government at the time. He was the “brain-box” of the era. His entry into politics could not have been a misadventure, but an aspiration borne out of deep-seated zeal, need and the clamour of Akwa Ibom people for purpose-drive leadership.
In consequence, in the run up to the 2015 general elections, Mr. Ekere once again, threw his hat into the ring and offered himself to serve as Governor of Akwa Ibom State. The intrigues and eventual outcome of the heavily flawed People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primaries in Akwa Ibom State that necessitated the formation of the now famous G-22 with Mr. Ekere as its natural leader is well documented.
All through his over twenty seven (27) years’ career in the private sector and stint at public office, Mr. Ekere has maintained a clinical approach to prudence, accountability and probity. He has lived and operated above board, reproach and accusation. It is therefore a disservice that he is being maligned by a section of press retained by his political opponents on account of his steadily rising profile.
In October 2012, Mr. Ekere resigned from office as Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State “on personal grounds”. It must be borne in mind that resignation is a natural course or direction for men of iron-cast principle and integrity where irreconcilable issues or differences arise, but such is seldom heard of in our clime! For a man who, under the same administration served as Acting Governor – the first and only one throughout the eight-year ‘maradonic’ reign of Governor Akpabio (who had three Deputies in his tenure). It weighs more in favour of Mr. Ekere’s character and personality that he was trusted with office of Governor in acting capacity than that Governor Akpabio exercised better judgment!
Since assumption of office as MD/CEO of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) a few months ago, it has become clearer that the NDDC had been enmeshed in systemic corruption and had totally derailed. Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) corroborated this recently at the opening of a two-day national dialogue on corruption organized by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) when he drew attention to the monumental fraud at the NDDC. He alleged that the commission purchased 70 cars including eight super lexus jeeps and ten landcruisers at outrageous costs thus depriving the commission of the capacity to discharge its functions to the citizenry.
Prof. Sagay’s alarm is not shocking, but his outburst cannot in fact, be directed at Mr. Nsima Ekere’s tenure at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or the current board under the Chairmanship of Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) which assumed duties on November 4, 2016. Indeed, the management of the commission has clarified in very elaborate and categorical terms that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) under the present leadership has not made such purchases as the Chairman and MD/CEO still use their private vehicles months after assumption of office. The commission stated that Due Process Compliance Certificate have just been received from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). Therefore, Mr. Ekere’s assertion that the commission is owed monumental sums cannot be faulted.
Certainly Mr. Ekere has no moral baggage to discharge. Could this be the same Nsima Ekere who has instituted an audit into past contracts/projects awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)? Could this be the same person who has ordered contractors back to site with dire consequences in the event of default?
The appointment of Mr. Nsima Ekere by President Muhammadu Buhari as MD/CEO of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was and is still widely celebrated throughout the Niger Delta especially in Akwa Ibom State where for the first time, the people can now feel and see the impact of the agency in the area of roads construction and rehabilitation. Such cannot be impugned by a stroke of the pen. Indeed, his appointment was no surprise. The surprise would have been if his nomination was rejected (as was the case with some nominees) by the Senate. Mr. Ekere has surpassed all expectations and has gone ahead to reinvigorate the intervention agency by setting new standards and opening new vistas in his quest to bring rapid development to the Niger Delta region.
For the records and for sake of clarity, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) initiated the case under reference pending before Hon. Justice Ijeoma L. Ojukwu through an ex parte application at the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo. The implication is that Mr. Nsima Ekere was not put on notice or served with the Court processes and could not have had an opportunity to make a response either on merit or otherwise. Rest assured that Mr. Ekere has a response both in fact and under the Law!
Under the AMCON Act, the corporation is empowered to apply for temporary freezing orders on accounts/properties of debtors under its purview. The Law requires that in making an application for such Orders, AMCON will mandatorily make “full disclosure” of all facts before the Court to enable the Court make a fair assessment of the prayers and determine whether to grant the prayers and make Orders. In this case, it is appalling that that was not to be.
In its affidavit in support of the ex parte application dated 9/3/2017, AMCON through its Solicitors said Mr. Ekere was indebted to Oceanic Bank (now rested) since 2007 and that he was a “recalcitrant” debtor who upon “repeated demands” has refused to liquidate his indebtedness to the Bank. The affidavit further stated rather ludicrously that there was likelihood that Mr. Ekere will dissipate all monies standing to his credit in Banks and sell his residence at Plot A, 92 Lagos Street Ewet Housing Estate Uyo, Akwa Ibom State if the application is not granted!
It was expected and has been expressed in several quarters that given the “paltry” sum involved, Mr. Ekere ought to have liquidated the amount before now. But how do you pay for what you do not owe? This is the gravamen of arguments put forward by Mr. Ekere’s Solicitors. In an application to set aside the earlier freezing Order dated 27/4/2017, it is lucid that AMCON, for whatever reason, suppressed vital facts from the Court and therefore the Order thus obtained ought to be set aside.
First, AMCON did not inform the Court that between 15/11/2016 and when the Orders were sought and obtained, Mr. Ekere’s Solicitors were in deep discussions as to how to defray the exposure and had actually remitted the sum of N5, 000, 000 (Five Million Naira) to AMCON with a further proposal to pay another installment within 30 days. AMCON never mentioned any communication whatsoever with Mr. Ekere or his Solicitors just to give sail to its contrived “recalcitrant debtor” narrative.
It is preposterous, that in making such a sensitive application, AMCON failed to mention the status (both private and public) of Mr. Nsima Ekere in society. Is the Managing Director/CEO of NDDC that stricken with such impecuniosities that he will contemplate evacuating funds from his bank accounts, sell his residence and flee to escape indebtedness of N27, 000, 000? It is certainly more convenient to vilify Mr. Ekere on the pages of newspapers while failing to state the obvious in Court – where it matters.
From the affidavit filed in support of the application, it is evident that though Mr. Ekere applied for and obtained approval for the loan, he never drew down on the facility; the facility was meant for the purchase of ordinary shares in Dangote Flour PLC; the loan was applied by Oceanic Bank for other convenient trading purposes of which Mr. Ekere’s consent was not sought, neither was he informed nor aware – since 2007!
Be that as it may, the case is not a criminal case. It is not a case of fraud and the issues even predate his holding of public office and therefore it is not true that he “used political influence while in office to take loans from bank without any intent of paying back”. This is a reckless way of drawing conclusions based on obviously jaundiced facts. It is rather preposterous that a spin is introduced to this hitherto innocuous episode just to draw attention for cheap political gain. From the enrolled Order of Court (which is available at the registry of the Court upon request), the Court expressly refused to grant prayers 1 and 2 of the reliefs of AMCON. For the avoidance of doubts, the said Order reads:
“4. That prayers 1 and 2 are refused due to insufficient evidence that the property named and called Plot A, 92 Lagos Street Ewet Housing Estate Uyo, Akwa Ibom State belongs to the Defendant. That granting such Orders as in prayers 1 and 2 may lead to a breach of the peace peradventure the Defendant/Respondent is not the actual owner”.
It is important that while commenting on cases pending in Court (sub judice), the facts must be stated as they are devoid of sensationalism and the urge to score political points must be resisted. What the writer in his overzealousness has done is to re-write the Order of the Court ostensibly to suit his patrons!
Etekamba Umoren writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.