Plot to remove Ndukwe as NCC boss thickens
By Sonny Aragba-Akpore
TELECOMMUNICATIONS regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is in the news again. This time not over regulatory lapses or its unwillingness to wield the big stick against errant telecommunications operators or over licencing issues, but over who heads the apex commission either now before its present head’s tenure expires or after he serves his two term 10-year tenure.
Although the NCC current boss, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe was appointed towards the end of year 2000 under Decree 75 of 1992 to serve for five years, the Communication Act of 2003 empowers the President to renew that tenure and that no Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) could serve more than two terms of five years each.
But interest groups began another battle early in President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration to oust Ndukwe on the basis of age and other alleged clandestine consideration.
If that plot to illegally remove him failed between June and August 2007, those who are behind the move simply licked their wounds temporarily.
They are at it again, this time citing the age factor. Ndukwe will be 60 years old this month and those who want him out are saying he must go according to civil service retirement age of 60 years.
But is Ndukwe a civil servant or a political appointee? The Guardian sought this interpretation from government circles, legal practitioners and industry players.
“Ndukwe is not a civil servant and so not bound by civil service rules,” a senior official in the Presidency who for political reasons pleaded for anonymity explained to The Guardian
“Civil service rules have retirement age of 60 years for everyone who is appointed into the service but not for political or those who are named to head agencies of the Federal Government. These appointees are usually those who have had proven professional competence in their practice and so are brought in to beef up the structures that are on ground,” he explained further.
He cited cases of Dora Akunyili of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC), Maurice lwu of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). These officers are above the 60 years age bracket but still running. This authority also cited the cases of Abel Guobadia, Ephraim Akpata who headed INEC long ago.
Akpata left the Supreme Court at the age of 65 years and went on to administer INEC. Guobadia equally retired from the civil service in old Bendel State before joining INEC as its boss.
So this source wonders why the case of Ndukwe should be different.
Allegedly acting on a petition to the Presidency on Ndukwe’s age, Yar’Adua was said to have minuted this to Economic Adviser, Alhaji Taminu Yakubu who in turn sent a working paper to the President on the need for a change of guards at the NCC.
He hinged this change on the age of Ndukwe, who turns 60 this month.
Taminu was said to have on this account, recommended one of the executive commissioners in the Commission, Dr. Bashir Gwandu as Ndukwe’s replacement, raising suspicions that the plot may have been orchestrated from the Commission.
The calculation of some members of the group said to be seeking the position of Ndukwe for a particular section of the country, are said to have worked with the Economic Adviser who is said to wield enormous influence at the Presidency to cut short Ndukwe’s tenure which will end in 2010.
The plot to remove Ndukwe has been on since the advent of the current administration mid last year, as different interest groups have aspired to the position using political sentiments and connections but have been ignored by the Presidency. The latest move is being attributed to interests from the northern part of the country who believe that it is an opportunity to let a northerner take a shot at the popular position of the chief executive of the Commission, even if it will cost Ndukwe his job.
Indications emerged weekend that the President may have rebuffed the plot as he was reported to have forwarded the memo to the Minister of State for Communications, Alhaji Dasuki Nakande, for his comments. The minister was also said to have soft pedaled on the matter since 60 years is not the mandatory retirement date for Ndukwe whose job is on appointment and not lapse till 2010. He was said to have based his argument on due process which required that Ndukwe be allowed to run his full term since he has performed creditably well.
But Nakande is said to be under considerable pressure from some quarters who favoured Alhaji Ibrahim Nahuche, former NITEL managing director under Transcorp, as his “replacement should Mr. President insist on cutting short the tenure of Ndukwe.”
There were indications that the President may have put paid to the contents of their memo as the reasons advanced for Ndukwe’s replacement are not tenable. Presidency sources said Ndukwe is not due for retirement on account of age as many chief executives of Commissions are above 60. The source cited the headship of different commissions like the Independent National Electoral Commission, by Professor Maurice Iwu, who is far above 60, and chairman of the Financial and Economic Crimes Commission, EFCC Mrs. Farida Waziri who is a retired police officer.
“This is a political appointment, and not career civil service where the issue of retirement age comes in,”he said. The Presidency is also said to be wary of a likely public anger over replacement of Ndukwe who has very wide industry support for his performance against widely held views that key positions in all the federal parasatals are being moved to the North.
Recently, a group of opinion leaders from the South East has moved against the rumoured plans to remove the Central Bank Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo and replaced him with a northerner when his tenure is yet to be completed.
Telecom lawyers who reviewed the situation at the weekend concluded that there is no basis for such dubious recommendation.
According to one senior telecoms lawyer who pleaded anonymity, Section 12 (2) of the Nigerian Communications Act has ample and clear provisions about the status of the Chief Executive Officer of the NCC as an appointment based on tenure. According to him, the section provides that “the chief executive shall be a person possessing sound knowledge of and ability in the organisation and management of communications matters and subject to sections 8(3) and 8 (4) of this Act, he shall hold office for a term of five years and may be renewed for another term and no more.
Section 8(2) of the Act according to the lawyer, also provides that the Board of Commissioners of the Commission “shall make recommendations to the President on suitably qualified persons for appointment as the Commission’s Chief Executive and Executive Commissioners and the President shall take the Commission’s recommendations into consideration for the appointment,” he said.
He said the relevant sections of the law have provisions regarding the tenure and circumstances under which the tenure of the chief executive shall cease and none is applicable to the position of Ndukwe at the moment.
“It is therefore conclusive that even when Ndukwe’s second tenure lapses in 2010, the provisions for the process of appointment of the new chief executive officer for the Commission is clear.
“This backdoor activity is only preposterous and tendentious, and those behind it have no reference,” the senior lawyer added.
There is currently a long list of heads of various government commissions whose chief executives are above 60 years or are retired public servants.
For instance, the current former chief executive of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, Justice Akanbi, a retired Justice of the Appeal court, who is certainly above 60 years, had completed additional eight years of two tenures. His successor, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, is also a retired Justice. Same goes for the Independent Electoral Commission whose former chief Executive, Abel Guobadia and his successor, Professor Maurice Iwu, are more than 60 years old. The current chairman of the Economic and Financial Commission, Mrs. Farida, was a retired police officer.
Industry analysts think that the scramble for the position of the current EVC of NCC before his tenure ends in 2010 are those seeking relevance so that they will get consideration when the time comes in 2010, but the achievement of Ndukwe appears to be looming much larger than those being touted as his replacement in 2010.
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