The leadership of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria is currently embroiled in a tussle over the running of one of Nigeria’s foremost environmental advocacy groups.
The tussle came to a head on Monday when the group announced it had appointed a new executive director, Chima Williams, to take over from Godwin Ojo.
A statement from the group’s Board of Trustees said Mr Williams, who heads the Legal Resources Democracy Outreach, will take over from Mr Ojo, who was appointed to the executive director in 2013.
On Wednesday, the group issued a follow-up statement reiterating that Mr Ojo is no longer one of them.
Contacted Wednesday night, Mr Ojo described the action of the group as “laughable.”
“I am the executive director, I remain the executive director.”
While the board released a statement announcing the sack of Mr Ojo, another faction met in Benin announcing the sack of the head of the board of trustees, Nnimmo Bassey and restated support for Mr Ojo.
The ERA/FoEN was established in 1993 as a Nigerian advocacy non-governmental organisation focusing on environmental rights issues in the country.
It is the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and the coordinating NGO for Oilwatch International, the global South network of groups concerned about the effects of oil on the environment of people who live in oil-bearing regions.
In the statement it issued in Lagos Wednesday, the board said that it had learnt of a purported General Assembly called on October 7, 2020, by the “recently disengaged executive director,” Mr Ojo.
“The Board would not have considered the illegal convening worth being given any attention but for the stakeholders of ERA/FoEN who might be scandalized if the Board remains silent,” read the statement issued by the Board of Trustees secretary, Ike Okonta.
“To put the records straight, Godwin Uyi Ojo was removed from the Trusteeship of the ERA/FoEN in 2015 following allegations of gross misconduct and actions inimical to peace and progress of the organisation.”
The statement added that the board of ERA/FoEN held an emergency meeting on October 3 where the decision to relieve Godwin Ojo of his appointment as executive director was taken.
“The decision followed the report of an independent evaluation of the organisation commissioned by the Board. The evaluation concluded that: ‘The current ED who is by nature of the position ultimately responsible for the day to day functioning of the organization and staff management appears to be out of his depth, lacking both leadership and management sufficient to the task.’”
The statement further added that members of the Board who signed Mr Ojo’s ouster, includes Nnimmo Bassey, Joe-Okei Odumakin, Margaret Okorodudu-Fubara, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Daphne Wysham, and Mr Okonta.
“Instead of abiding by the decision of the Board, Ojo has been involving himself in illegalities including the purported General Assembly Meeting where he brought together faceless civil society groups.
“The Board uses this medium to restate that Ojo is no longer a member of ERA/FoEN and does not in any way represent the organisation in any capacity. The public should take note.”
While one part of ERA/FoEN was drafting a statement in Lagos, the other was convening a ‘general assembly’ in Benin where they announced the removal of Mr Bassey as board chairman.
Mr Bassey, an architect, was the pioneer executive director of the group from 1993 to 2017. Mr Bassey, alongside Mr Ojo and Oronto Douglas, who passed on in 2015, co-founded the organisation.
In a statement it released at the assembly in Benin, the group said it resolved that “every step of illegality taken by him (Bassey) to undermine the interest of ERA/FoEN is declared null and void.”
“Nnimmo Bassey was executive director and chairman of the Board since 1993 to 2013 and he continued as chairman of the Board up till 2020, which is seven years. So, today, he has been removed by the general assembly.”
The meeting said it passed a vote of confidence on Mr Ojo and that Mr Williams “who is parading himself as acting executive director of ERA be subjected to disciplinary actions within the ambit of the law.”
The statement further named the board of trustees of the Environmental Rights Development Foundation to include Saint Emma Pii (chairman), Godwin Ojo (secretary), and Mike Karikpo and Jennifer Ero (members).