By Levinus Nwabughiogu – Abuja
House of Representatives Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC has refuted claims that it was responsible for the delays in the presentation and passage of the agency’s 2020 budget.
The Committee said it had written to NDDC three times asking for the details of its 2019 budget performance to no avail.
The Committee said it was not possible to make a new appropriation for 2020 without seeing the performance of the previous expenditures.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo made the disclosure while reacting to a letter written by an elder statesman and leader of south south, Chief Edwin Clarke to the leadership of the National Assembly.
Clarke had in the letter asked the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to set up a new panel to probe the Interim Management Committee, IMC of the NDDC and the chairmen of supervising Committees in both chambers of the Parliament.
It will be recalled that IMC recently leveled some allegations of contract execution against the chairmen.
Clarke said: “The allegations made against both Chairmen are too weighty that they cannot be swept under the carpet. Their statements or explanations are not enough at all.
“A new investigative panel should be constituted to investigate both the IMC and these members of NASS.
“Issues of corruption in the NDDC have become endemic. It was as a result of these complaints, that Mr. President, promptly and courageously appointed the IMC, to supervise the forensic audit which he had also set up, to investigate all the alleged corrupt practices that had been perpetuated in the commission, before a board will be inaugurated for the commission.
“Any attempt to distract from Mr President’s directive that forensic audit of the NDDC should be carried out is unacceptable to the people of the Niger Delta. We are solidly behind Mr. President in this his directive.
“Therefore, Mr Senate President, and the Right Honourable Speaker, if nothing is done, and urgently too, to investigate these grievous allegations leveled against these members and by extension the National Assembly, I must say that it will erode the confidence people, especially, Niger Deltans, have on the National Assembly.”
But in his reaction, Tunji-Ojo said that the allegation was blackmail to stop the probe of IMC.
He however gave details of budget padding in NDDC, saying that national assembly will not be intimidated to drop the probe.
Tunji-Ojo said, “I want to state very clearly that Baba Edwin Clark is our revered leader, not just to the Niger Delta but also to Nigeria.
“He is a man that has committed so much towards the development of the Niger Delta. But the point that I personally disagree with is the issue of documentary evidence and delay of the budget.
“I have challenged the IMC more than three times on all media platforms, that if there is any documentary evidence against me, they should either bring it out or petition and submit such to the relevant government anti-corruption agencies.
“After all, I am a lawmaker and I do not enjoy any immunity. So, if there is any proof, they should act and stop throwing tantrums.
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“Anybody can accuse anybody of anything. The fact is that if you accuse somebody and if at any point in time you want to stop somebody from doing a job, and you throw an allegation at the person, and another person comes in and you still throw allegations against the other person, it means there will not be anybody to do the job.
“There is nothing like what they are talking about. I became chairman of the committee in September, IMC came in October. They have not awarded any contract, according to them.
“So, how could I have gotten a job that they are talking about? As far as I am concerned, all they have been doing is blackmail, blackmail, and blackmail.
“It is an issue of us doing what is right for our country, the region and the people. I stand on the very firm ground of truth. I will not and I know that the House and the National Assembly by extension – will not mortgage the future of Niger Delta people for the sake of our today.
“On the issue of the budget; when NDDC brought their (2019) budget, they brought a budget revenue projection of N409bn; they inflated their revenue profile by N63bn.
“On 2019 statutory transfers, the Federal Government gave them N100bn but NDDC stated N128bn. Where were they going to get the difference of N28bn?
“Also on payment of arrears by the Federal Government, it was nil in the 2019 budget but the NDDC stated N35bn. Where were they going to get it? When you add the two, it shows that the revenue profile was overestimated by N63bn. So, we had to reduce the budget from N409bn to a realistic N346bn.
“If your budgeted revenue decreases, naturally, your expenditure must also reduce. That was what led to the reduction of certain items in the budget.
“I sincerely believe that section 80-84 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear on the responsibilities of the National Assembly with regards to appropriations, nevertheless the percentage of new projects in the 2019 budget stands at 9.2% so, where does the issue of balkanisation of the budget come from?
“On their 2020 budget, we have written them three letters demanding (2019) budget performance of the NDDC. We wrote the first one on April 28, they did not reply.
“We wrote the second one on May 12, they replied on May 13, citing COVID-19 as an excuse. We wrote another one on June 1, 2020 asking them to give us budget performance.
“Apparently, we have been begging them since April for budget 2019 budget performance, to enable us to work on the 2020 budget which, as I speak to you, they have yet to submit to the National Assembly.
“So, who is delaying whose budget? If we don’t get budget performance, how do we do appropriation?”