President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the appointment of Orji Ogbonnanya Orji as the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). He succeeds Waziri Adio who was appointed in February 2016. The announcement was made by Willie Bassey, Director of Information, at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF).
Orji Ogbonnanya was enjoined by the president to serve the nation with all sense of responsibility, honesty, diligence, and promote good governance in the discharge of his duties.
The appointment of Orji Ogbonnanya has however attracted some mixed reactions. On the one hand, it is believed that Orji’s appointment might have come by way of compensation. In other words, there is an upswing of opinions in some circles that President Buhari might have appointed Orji as NEITI boss to assuage the feelings among some Igbos that they have been excluded from key positions in his administration.
Igbo leaders had voiced some concerns after the appointment of new service chiefs. They were very vocal that no single Igbo person was among the appointees. They turned to the position of IGP, imploring the president to appoint an Igbo person.
Although most political appointments are often made in line with the provisions of the Federal Character regulations, sensitive areas like security are usually exempted from such influence.
So when the lobbying by the Igbo leaders came, it was faulted, particularly given that the obstacles to merit and quality performance include political patronage, nepotism, and ethnic discrimination.
The extension of Mohammed Adamu’s tenure as Inspector General of Police was the last straw that broke the carmel’s back. But President Buhari carefully and diplomatically sent a powerful delegation led by his Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari to meet with Southeast governors, members of the National Assembly from Southeast, among others, at Government House, Enugu.
Gambari was accompanied by the Inspector General of Police, Director General, Department of State Services, Minister of Information and Ministers from the South East zone, to visit and hear from the leaders of the zone.
Those who spoke took turns to request that Gambari should tell the president that Ndigbo were not happy. A communique presented by Governor Dave Umahi on behalf of the zone stated that, “we, therefore with humility, request our President, the father of our nation, to please look into the demands of the various groups of our people, as presented today, receive same with a view to solving them”.
So when the appointment of Orji as NEITI’s new boss came soon after, it was somewhat understandable that many felt it wasn’t on grounds of merit and that it was merely a favour.
Besides, Orji was named NEITI’s acting Executive Secretary/CEO in 2015, a position he held briefly, before he was replaced with Waziri Adio in 2016.
While Buhari hasn’t directly commented on the issue of Igbo marginalisation, a few are already saying this is a strategic way of addressing this perception, coupled with his full backing of Okonjo-Iweala, that has seen her to the new position as WTO DG.
On the other hand, stakeholders in the global Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative have hailed Orji’s appointment as NEITI’s new chief. A leading civil society advocate on extractive industries transparency, Publish What You Pay (PWYP), said it “welcomed with satisfaction, the choice of Orji as the Executive Secretary of NEITI”.
Mr. Peter Egbule, the National Coordinator of PWYP, described the appointment of Dr. Orji’s appointment as a “sound judgment by President Buhari, which is driven by merit, competence, and integrity”. According to the organisation:
“As key partners to NEITI, we are delighted that Dr. Orji, an excellent personality, seasoned technocrat, and a resource-governance professional has been appointed by President Buhari to lead NEITI at this time. Our organization, and coalition of civil societies in our network will work with him and his team to broaden the base of stakeholders’ engagements in the nation’s extractive industries.”
Executive Director, Women in Extractives, Faith Nwadishi, equally described Dr Orji’s choice as excellent, while giving kudos to the president for acting promptly to appoint a replacement for the position:
“Dr. Orji is well and able. He is qualified and he has been in the NEITI process from the beginning and so he brings a lot of experience to bear on the job.”
Dr. Orji has also been involved in the successes of the NEITI as Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative revealed that NEITI has identified $9.8 billion by various players in the extractives sector owed to the Federal Government, of which $2.4 billion has been recovered through NEITI’s efforts.
Some have also made reference to his portfolio and good track record, which the president must have considered contrary to notions of him dishing out any favour to the Southeast.
Between 2004 and 2006, Orji Ogbonnanya worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as a national consultant on public procurement reforms. At the UNDP, he worked with other development partners such as the World Bank and USAID on institutionalising public procurement processes in Nigeria.
Orji had also served with distinction during five different regimes, part of which were under the military from 1993 to 2000, when Nigeria returned to civil rule.
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Nigeria was found to have achieved meaningful progress in implementing the EITI Standard according to the NEITI. The EITI process has exposed outstanding debts by the national oil company to the government, recovered uncollected taxes, identified weaknesses in the regulatory bodies, audited oil-related transfers to the subnational government, estimated oil theft, and examined oil sales.
Dr. Orji has equally been tasked on his new appointment to build on his previous successes and antecedents. It is believed he would use his new position to deepen the agency’s interventions in the oil, gas and mining sectors through wider stakeholders’ engagement and outreach.