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EXCLUSIVE: Crisis looms as Governor’s aide takes over NANS leadership

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The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) is about to be plunged into another leadership crisis after the impeachment of Bamidele Danielson Akpan as the 32nd President of the students’ body on Tuesday. The organisation, which is believed to be an avenue for some individuals to negotiate with government officials and solicit funds on behalf of Nigerian students, has been laden with a lot of crisis in the past.

Problems mostly result in the breakaway of a faction led by parallel executive members. In fact, the last of its kind was resolved after two factions of NANS agreed to put their differences aside and hold a unity convention in 2018. The two factions led by Chinonso Obasi and Aruna Kadiri, after a conciliatory meeting in Abuja, agreed to convene the NANS 2018 convention.

The outcome of the peace meeting led to the election of Mr Akpan, who was sworn in as the NANS President in July 2018. Before his impeachment on Tuesday, there has been an inside fracas over the prolonged tenure of Mr Akpan who ought to have relinquished power since 2019.

Stakeholders, including former Presidents of the association, intervened but nothing was achieved as Mr Akpan failed to organise the annual convention, which will usher in newly elected executives, POLITICS NIGERIA learnt.

Impeachment

The Gambo Mohammed-led Senate on Tuesday announced the impeachment of Mr Akpan who was accused of financial impropriety including the diversion of COVID-19 palliatives for students provided by government agencies. The president’s impeachment was part of the resolutions announced at an emergency senate meeting held via video conferencing on Tuesday.

The committee set up by the Senate indicted the president for financial impropriety, diversion of student’s COVID-19 palliatives, and concealing information relevant to help the growth of the organisation and the development of the country. One of the donors of the palliatives, according to the Senate, is the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The oil corporation was alleged to have donated $200,000 to the association through Mr Akpan.

Meanwhile, the NNPC spokesperson denied giving any money to NANS or any other organisations as COVID-19 palliatives when contacted by POLITICS NIGERIA. As a replacement of Mr Akpan, his Vice-president and a Special Assistant to the Delta state Governor on Students ‘Affairs, Chidi llogebe, was immediately sworn in as the President of the association.

My Impeachment doesn’t exist – Bamidele Akpan

The embattled former President has declared the impeachment process illegal, saying it does not exist. Speaking with POLITICS NIGERIA, Mr Akpan said his detractors are responsible for the action, which was intended to deter him from the reformation of the association.

“Some former leaders have not been comfortable with me and that style of reformation. They use it for business and all of that over the time but I said ‘No’ to it. Let us use it for the purpose for which it is meant. The impeachment does not exist. It is just a dirty fight against my person and the association.”

“For the Senate to sit on such matters, it must form a quorum and in taking decisions, it must have a two-third majority. Our constitution does not recognise Zoom meetings. This is one of the reasons why we have not been able to go on with the transition process.”

Responding to the allegations of financial impropriety, he said the Senate does not have any evidence to substantiate the claims.

“Now they went to bring a letter that we submitted to the NNPC requesting for support during the heat of the Coronavirus which did not get any approval or endorsement from the corporation. They are bringing it out as evidence. Does it show approval? Does it show release of funds?” he questioned rhetorically.

On the prolonged stay in office, Mr Akpan blamed the coronavirus and logistics issues. “Yes, we want transition. What is left is for us to get a state government to accommodate us for the convention.

When our reporter raised the issue of illegality based on the organisation’s constitution, Mr Akpan defended himself, saying none of the three Presidents before him spent less than 18 months in office.

“What the constitution provides is one convention to another. That is when the new leadership comes in. For the past fifteen years, it has not been held annually. Did I cause Coronavirus? And our constitution does not encourage electronic voting. I even told them I want to get married and start my life but my executives said I should continue,” he added.

Reacting to Mr Akpan’s defense, the Senate President told POLITICS NIGERIA that there is overwhelming evidence against the impeached President.

“When I approached him as the Senate President, it was swear upon swear that there is no money anywhere. As an arm of government empowered to checkmate the activities of the executive, we constituted a committee to investigate.”

“The committee came up with their findings. The money was meant for orientation and support in form of palliatives to Nigerian students. A lot of students were stranded with no means of livelihood. He wrote a letter to solicit support from multinational companies and federal agencies. Indeed, money was collected on behalf of the students and the President has absconded with the money.”

On the denial of NNPC, Mr Mohammed said the oil corporation can exonerate itself as expected of a corporate entity but the Senate has “sufficient evidence that he (Mr Akpan) has collected money.”

“The President took the money and up till now, he is still denying,” he said.

Commenting on the impeachment process termed illegal by Mr Akpan, the Senate leader noted that the virtual meeting was attended by over 150 student leaders across the country.

“The global practice because of the pandemic is the virtual meeting. The Zoom meeting was well attended by legitimate SUG Presidents across the federation. We discussed ASUU Strike and other matters. We concluded that if our President is so corrupt, we should take action. Over a hundred and fifty senators were present and the meeting lasted over three hours.”

The Senate leader agreed that the administration was due for a handing-over since 2019. “I am not trying to absolve myself of the prolonged stay in office. We all are supposed to have handed over long before now.”

More allegations

Mr Mohammed further alleged that the impeached President opened a bank account to perpetrate the crime.

“Our constitution stipulates that there are three signatories to the account – the President, Financial Secretary and the Treasurer. The President secretly opened an account. It is either he is the only signatory or he looked for one of his brothers to co-sign in that organisation’s account.”

However, when our reporter requested documents and other information the Senate had against Mr Akpan, Mr Mohammed refused to avail our reporter of the needed details.

“Some of these things are confidential to the organisation. I want to authoritatively tell you that the transaction that the President has made thereafter is something the organisation is aware of.

The media will be invited and provided with sufficient information, he promised after much persuasion from our reporter. Nevertheless, in his response to the allegations, Mr Akpan claimed there are over one thousand bank accounts opened in the name of the association but he has access to none.

“I took the organisation from the mud. It does not generate income,” he said repeatedly.

Government official who took over

The take-over of the NANS Presidency by Mr Ilogebe, a government official, is not in tandem with Article 23 of the NANS constitution. Ilogebe was appointed by the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State as a Special Assistants on Students Affairs in September, 2018.

However, as stipulated in its constitution, a NANS official shall not be a member or, belong to, or take part in the activities of any society or organisation whose membership is incompatible with the functions or duties of his office. Since majority of the agitations of the students’ body has always been against the government and its policies, the potentialities of the government influencing decisions of NANS under the leadership of Mr Ilogebe cannot be ruled out.

Speaking on this, Mr Mohammed shoved aside the concerns, saying; “That is a no-issue as far as this organisation is concerned. He has functioned effectively as the National Vice-President of the organisation. Up till yesterday, he has been championing the cause of the students. That has never been an issue.”

Although he acknowledged that stakeholders have also raised such concern, he claimed it was well discussed by “leaders of thoughts” in the organisation before such conclusion was arrived at.

Mr Ilogebe, in an interview with our reporter, said his position does not affect his appointment as a government appointee. “My appointment in a student-related office clearly supports my duties as an activist. It is not a big deal,” he told our reporter.

When our reporter probed further, Mr Ilogebe said he had resigned his appointment as a government appointee but kept mum when asked if the resignation is official.

“These are issues we don’t want to bring to the media because of its sensitivity,” he said after a long pause.

Kicks

Some members of NANS and education rights activists have kicked against this development.

“Regarding the recent declaration that the former VP (National), Chidi Ilogebe should assume post as the President of the association, is it constitutional that a Political appointee hold an elective post in NANS considering the stipulation of Article 23 of the NANS Charter of Demand?” asked the spokesperson of NANS in the southwest, Kazeem Olalekan.

The NANS officer described the Gambo Mohammed-led Senate as a failure for not impeaching Mr Ilogebe while he was a Vice-President.

“Should Chidi still be parading himself as an officer of NANS after he has been appointed SA Student to Governor of Enugu? Shouldn’t he have been impeached by the Senate arm of the association?”

Also, a rights activist and a former student leader, Festus Ogun, condemned the selection. “let me make it abundantly clear that it is illegal, unethical and unfortunate.”

“Ideally, a national organization of students should be led by nonpartisan individuals who will discharge duties without fear or favour,” he added.

According to Mr Ogun, NANS urgently needs a complete institutional and constitutional reform so that the hard labours of its founding fathers will not continue to be in vain.

Way forward?

Both the former President and the Senate President agreed that the issue is gradually degenerating into a crisis. “For some people to gang up and team up to use my Senate President against me… It has set in as a crisis,” Mr Akpan said.

He told POLITICS NIGERIA that he will consult with his executives on his next move. Mr Mohammed also promised to meet with some stakeholders in order to save the image of the association.

Meanwhile, the pioneer President of NANS, Danladi Oladele, said that he, alongside other past leaders, plan to weigh in and salvage the situation. He refused to comment on other issues raised by our reporter on the basis that he won’t address the media until the issue is resolved.

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