NDDC..Wants Buhari  to immediately Swear-in Odubu, Okumagba, other confirmed NDDC board members

By Henry Umoru

THE Senate Tuesday said that those it screened and subsequently confirmed as Chairman and board members of the Niger Delta Development Commission,  NDDC are the only rightful people that will come and defend the budget of the Commission  before its Committee on Niger Delta Affairs.

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The Senate has however urged President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency, swear in the  Dr. Pius Odubu led NDDC Board.

Recall that the Senate in the first week of this confirmed President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominees for the board of NDDC.

The former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu, was confirmed by the Senate as Chairman of the NDDC Board, just as a nominee from Delta State, Chief Bernard Okumagba, was also confirmed as the NDDC Managing Director

The confirmation followed the presentation and consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs by its Chairman,  Peter Nwaoboshi, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Delta North

Also confirmed were Otobong Ndem who is now the Executive Director, Projects and Maxwell Oko as Executive Director, Finance and Administration.

The Senate had also  confirmed Prophet Jones Erue (Delta), Chief Victor Ekhator (Edo),  Nwogu Nwogu (Abia), Theodore Allison (Bayelsa), Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom), Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River), Olugbenga Elema (Ondo), Hon. Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyrian (Imo),  Aisha Murtala Muhammed (Kano), Ardo Zubairu (Adamawa) and Amb. Abdullahi Bage (Nasarawa).

Only a nominee from Rivers State, Dr. Joy Yimebe Nunieh was not  confirmed by the Senate as she did not appear for screening.

Speaking  shortly after reading the letter of President Muhammadu Buhari on   the 2019 and 2020 budget estimates of  NDDC, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan said that the onus was now on the President to do the needful by inaugurating  the Dr. Pius Odubu led NDDC following the confirmation by the Upper Chamber in consonnance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The President of the Senate said, ” I believe that the executive arm of government will attend to that quickly so that we have the right people to come and defend the Appropriation request of Mr. President.”

Lawan had read the President’s  request at plenary which is contained in a letter  dated November 21, 2019 and addressed to him on the approval of the budget proposals for the NDDC. .

The letter reads : “Pursuant to Section 18(1) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, I forward herewith, the 2019 and 2020 Budget Estimates of the Niger Delta Development Commission, for the kind consideration and passage by the Senate.

“While I trust that the Senate will consider this request in the usual expeditious manner, Please accept, Distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration”.

After reading the letter, Senate Minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Abia South raised a point of Order  43 of the Senate Standing Orders as Amended who reminded the Senate that members of the board of the NDDC were confirmed and yet to resume, warning that the Commission may run into a problem of delayed budget again against the backdrop that nobody will come to defend the budget.

Abaribe who  drew the attention of his colleagues to the fact that members of the NDDC board duly confirmed by the Senate were yet to resume official duty, said that the failure of the executive to swear-in members of the board duly confirmed by the Senate sequel to a request from President Buhari, may threaten early consideration and quick passage of the 2019/2020 budget of the NDDC.

According to him,  the Interim Committee of the NDDC, led by Joy Nunieh, is an “illegal contraption” that lacks the backing of law to defend the commission’s budget.

Abaribe said: “We just heard from you (Senate President) the communication from Mr President which relates to the presentation of the NDDC’s Budget for approval.

“Of course, what it will mean is that the budget will go to the relevant committee of Appropriation and the NDDC Committee and some persons will come to defend the budget.

“Having regard to the fact that this Senate has confirmed members of the board of the NDDC and they are yet to resume office, Mr. President I fear that we may run into a problem of delayed budget again since nobody will come to defend this budget.

“Because this August body having confirmed the board of NDDC, will not countenance any illegal contraption coming in front of us to say they are representing the NDDC.

“I know that this may be preemptive, but my people say that if we act quick we will prevent disaster from coming.

“So, to prevent a delayed budget for the NDDC, that is helping the region for development, it would be better for us to prevent this issue from coming and let the needful be done.”

Responding, President of the Senate, Lawan who sustained Abaribe’s point of Order, said: “Thank you Minority Leader but because you have come under order 43, this motion is not subject to debate but let me sustain your point of order.

“As far as we are concerned this Senate knows that we have confirmed the request of Mr. President for the board membership of the NDDC and we have communicated that and the next logical thing to do by law is for the appointments of the members of the board to take immediate effect.

“I believe that the executive arm of government will attend to that quickly so that we have the right people to come and defend the Appropriation request of Mr. President.”

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Recall that the expired NDDC 2018 budget of N346. 5 billion, N2.883bn was earmarked for capital expenditure, while N311.371bn was approved for development projects just as N19.521bn was for personnel cost and N12. 737bn was approved for overhead expenditure.

Similarly, in 2017, the NDDC got a total of N364 billion as its annual budget out of which the sum of N329.850 billion was approved for capital projects.

It was gathered last week that intrigues and game play within and outside the Niger Delta region as regards the affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC contributed strongly to the delay in the presentation of the agency’s 2019 Budget Proposal to the National Assembly.

According to a source, the delay in the presentation by President Muhammadu  Buhari may not be unconnected with the power play between forces behind the current Interim Management Committee of the NDDC and those supporting the inauguration of persons already appointed and confirmed as substantive members of the Commission.

The development however reared  its head, a month to the end of the year.

Also recall that the  National Assembly had with  the expiration of the life span of the 2018 budget of the commission in July,  raised several queries about the resort to extra budgetary expenditure by the NDDC management and board instead of making genuine efforts towards submitting the 2019 budget proposal for the commission.

It would be recalled that last week Tuesday, the House of Representatives  invited the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC for explanation on the non-availability of the Commission’s 2019 budget.

It would be recalled that In spite of the order by  the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan some weeks ago that the interim committee should immediately  give way to those appointed and confirmed as members of the NDDC management and board.

Also recall that even with the tall order from the Senate that  after the screening and subsequent confirmation of the Nominees, the Interim board dies immediately, President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to act on the confirmation.

Lawan had said after the confirmation of Dr. Pius Odubu as Chairman of NDDC board and his team that “with the completion of this process now (confirmation), I am sure that any other structure that exists now (in NDDC) is vitiated.

”I don’t think we have anything to worry about because this is one thing that is clearly established by law.”

The quagmire  has however continue to  generate serious concerns among stakeholders in the Oil Producing region.

Recall that the interim Committee was set up by the Minister of Niger Delta  Affairs,  Godswill Akpabio and he currently manages the commission.

Also recall that Akpabio had said that the three-man committee will oversee the management of the commission to create an “enabling environment” for the audit.

He said Buhari approved the appointment of  Dr Gbene Joi Nunieh as the Acting Managing Director; Cairo Ojougboh, as acting executive director, projects; and Ibanga Bassey, as acting executive director, finance and administration.

Akpabio had asked the interim committee to discharge their duties ”without fear or favour”.

He said the outcome of the committee’s work will go a long way in alleviating the suffering of the people of the Niger Delta region.

According to the Minister, the Committee will run the NDDC for six months and oversee the forensic audit of the agency.

Following the expiration of the life span of the 2018 budget of the commission last July, the National Assembly had raised several queries about the resort to extra budgetary expenditure by the NDDC management and board instead of making genuine efforts towards submitting the 2019 budget proposal for the commission.

The Committees of the two chambers in charge of the NDDC had in a letter in August drawn the attention of the NDDC management to the provisions of section 80(4) of the Constitution which stipulated that “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund except in a manner prescribed by the National Assembly”

Also recall that both committees had in the letter threatened that the National Assembly would not hesitate to invoke its full legislative powers to deal with any infraction of the Constitutional provisions.

The letter with reference number NASS/SEN/HR/2019/VOL.1/003  dated August 5, 2019 and titled ‘Extra Budgetary Expenditure’ was jointly signed by the Chairman of the Senate committee on NDDC, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and Chairman, House Committee on NDDC, Hon. Olubunmi Ojo.

It read: “The committees on Niger Delta and NDDC of the Senate and House of Representatives respectively, wish to call your attention to the expiration of the 2018 NDDC budget which specifically elapsed on 31st July, 2019.

“Accordingly, you are directed to stop forthwith any spending except for personal Costs and Overhead. You may note the provision of section 80(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (as amended) which states that : ‘money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund except in a manner prescribed by the National Assembly’.

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“Therefore, any expenditure in contravention of this express provision will amount to an illegality and the National Assembly will not hesitate to invoke its full legislative powers to deal with such infraction of the law.

“In furtherance of the above, you are requested to furnish the committee with the following documents :Summary and comprehensive details of 2018 budget performance showing project description, Allocation, Release, Utilization, Oustanding Balance and other useful information; Statement of all Commission’s accounts (local and domiciary) from January 2018 till date; Information on the procurement processes for all Recurrent Expenditure made by the Commission From January 2018 till date.”

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