By David Ekuetafia
THE Nigerian Senate last week concluded the screening and confirmation of the presidential nominees to the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. The highlight of the exercise was the advice by the Senate urging members of the new Board to assume duties immediately.
The implication of the Senate pronouncement is that the interim management committee inaugurated by the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio has been shot down permanently to the relief of the perceptive observers. This conclusion derives from the history and provisions of the NDDC Act.
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The Act which established the NDDC was enacted by the National Assembly in 2000 during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was to specifically tackle the problems of under-development of the oil-rich belt. These challenges were caused by the activities of oil and gas exploration and production companies which resulted into environmental degradation and pollution that are further compounded by difficult and swampy terrains in both the riverine and upland areas.
The NDDC Act 2000 in section 1(1) establishes the Commission while section 2(1)(c) creates a Governing Board to oversee and run the affairs of the Commission which only Mr President has power to appoint and inaugurate after the screening and confirmation by the Senate in consultation with the House of Representatives as contained in section 2(2)(a)of the Act.
The President is empowered to give effect to resignation of a member of the Board in sections 3(2) and 5(1)(f) under the NDDC Statute. In section 5(3), the Act gives exclusive power to the President to make appointment to fill any vacancy in the Board of the Commission before the expiration of its term.
The NDDC Act 2000 does not make any provision for the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to delegate his power to control, supervise or direct the affairs of the Commission, to any Minister, individual or group of individuals whatsoever. This position is clearly stated in section 7(3) of the law as follows: “The Commission shall be subject to the direction, control or supervision in the performance of its functions under this Act by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The provisions of section 23 also make the same assertion. At best, in the discharge of its duties and functions, the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs only has a responsibility to liaise with the NDDC board in order to avoid duplications wherever their functions overlap. No more no less!
Under section 18(1)of the NDDC Act 2000, the President is clothed with power to receive the budget estimates of the Commission from the board and submit same to the National Assembly at a specified period for passage into an Appropriation Act. In the same vein, section 19 of the law states that the President possesses power to receive a quarterly report on the general activities and administration of the Commission. While section 20(1) and (2) give the right to the President to receive yearly audited report of the Commission and to present the audited accounts and the auditor’s report thereon respectively to the National Assembly.
As can be deduced from the provisions of the sections analysed so far, it is clear that due to the special nature of the Commission, the National Assembly while legislating on its establishment never intended it to be under the direction, control and supervision of any other authority than the President. This is most evident when in its relevant provisions the framers of the law did not give any option for anybody else to recommend persons to the President for appointment to the Board of the Commission; unlike such other Commissions such as the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC Act 2004, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND Act 2011 and so on and so forth. Appointments of members into these boards are not subject to the confirmation of the Senate.
However, let it be clearly stated here that by the Act of the National Assembly which established the Niger Delta Development Commission, it makes no provisions for an interim management committee to be appointed and inaugurated by a Minister. This is because each member of the board is of equal status with a Minister having also passed through the Senate screening and confirmation. Therefore, let it be known and equally asserted here that by the enabling Act, no person is lawfully permitted to assume the role or perform the functions of the offices of the Managing Director, Executive Directors and other members of the Board of the NDDC without fulfilling the statutory requirements of screening and confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
To further support this position, a review of the North East Development Commission, NEDC, Act 2017 is instructive. Appointment processes into the board of the NEDC are the same as those of the NDDC. This can be seen in section 2(5)(b) on the exclusive powers to appoint given to the President subject only to the screening and confirmation by the Senate while section 8(3) of the NEDC Act 2017 specifically states that “In the performance of its functions under this Act, the Commission shall be subject to the direction, control or supervision of the President”. By virtue of the aforementioned sections, the North East Development Commission is, at the moment, under the firm control, direction and supervision of the President in accordance with the provisions of its Act, the NEDC and is today not under any Federal Ministry. The NDDC should not be an exception as can be seen from section 23 of its Act.
In section 7(1)(a-f) of the NDDC Act, the functions and powers of the Commission are set out whilst the powers of the governing board are well enumerated in its section 8(a) -(f). It is these functions and powers that are replicated in the mandate and areas of coverage of the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs which was only established in 2008, though not through an Act of the National Assembly but by a presidential fiat almost seven years after the existence of the NDDC. This goes to also show that constitutionally, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, or indeed any other minister, has no statutory powers of supervision over the Commission.
I also want it noted that the law bars the Minister of being a judge in his own cause as the planned forensic audit by the Federal Government, when put in place, its terms of reference would cover the periods of 2007 to 2015 when Chief Akpabio was a member of the Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee created by section 11(1)(a) of NDDC Act 2000. It is therefore legally and morally wrong for the Minister to constitute and inaugurate a committee to oversee the investigation of the past boards (2001 to 2019) of the Commission of which he played prominent roles as a sitting governor and a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State. It was the PDP led Federal Government that constituted these Boards up to 2016.
The expectation of every well-meaning Nigerian is that Mr President should specifically direct the minister to stop usurping the statutory powers exclusive to the President under the NDDC Act 2000 by openly sacking the illegal interim management committee. Mr. President should formally inaugurate the Dr Pius Odudu-led Board which the Senate has successfully screened and confirmed, to enable them assume the duties of their offices without further delay.