…Why govt is re-examining the Act —Eradiri, SSA

…No revision bill before parliament —Sen Ekpenyong, Hon Oseke

…Forensic audit, a charade —PANDEF

…Review started long ago — Nwoko, ex – A’Ibom AG

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Davies Iheamnachor & Chioma Onuegbu

The Federal Government has discreetly commenced the re-evaluation of the Act setting up the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, without the knowledge of the National Assembly and stakeholders of Niger Delta.

Informed sources said the unannounced re-appraisal and other ongoing considerations were the reasons President Muhammadu Buhari has tactfully declined to give his nod to the inauguration of the governing Board of the Commission as provided in the establishing Act.

The Senate in November, 2019, over two and half years ago, duly screened and cleared the names of members of the governing board forwarded by President Buhari.

But Buhari’s administration took no further action on it thereafter. Rather, it initiated forensic audit and has neither made the report public nor issued a white paper since it was submitted in September, 2021, creating room for speculation.

Efforts to get the Presidency’s reaction last night proved abortive.

However, Senator Christopher Ekpenyong, representing Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district,  Preye Iseke, representing Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, ex-Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedime Nwoko, and Publicity of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, who spoke to Vanguard on the development, expressed surprise at the action of the Federal Government.

Review to correct inconsistencies- Eradiri

Senior Assistant to the Interim Administrator of NDDC on Youths and Sports, Udengs Eradiri, who confirmed the critical review at a webinar for youths of the region, explained that part of the crisis in NDDC was a result of the defective nature of the Act that established the commission and that the review was to correct the anomalies.

“If you check, many contractors have gone back to site because of the recommendation of the forensic audit report.

“The Federal Government has sent agents that are going after banks to retrieve money that are hanging because of the forensic exercise. A lot of fictitious contracts were awarded that the Federal Government has uncovered.

“So, the Federal Government again, based on the recommendation of the report, is trying to see how it can review the Act establishing the NDDC. The Act itself is obsolete.

“Part of the crisis in the NDDC is the default nature of the Act. These are some of the gains of the forensic exercise, which the Federal Government needs to get to a logical conclusion before it can constitute a board.

“There is delay in constituting the board because the forensic exercise has exposed a lot of things. First, the Act itself is faulty and that has resulted in most of the issues.

“For example, if you look at the organogram of the NDDC, you have a chairman whose responsibility is just to sign agreements, the same chairman has the entire slot to himself, many staff as vehicles, allocation. Where as in other agencies, the chairman is always the minister supervising that agency.

“The minister comes to the table every three months with his entire paraphernalia of office as a minister, not to be as a burden to the commission.

“In this case of NDDC, you see that when a budget is drawn, a huge chunk of money goes into servicing the chairman, whereas his functions is merely supervisory, which, of course a minister can do. We need to fine tune that.

Superior treatment of 4 states

“Ondo and Imo states, if not for the court judgment, had already got some wells. Edo State has had some new discoveries, including gas, which have seen its production and contribution to oil revenue go higher than what it used to be when the Act was enacted.

“Most of those states that are now doing better than the four big states – Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom and Rivers, these other states have significantly increased their production, but if you look at the Act, the Act recognizes the four states and preferential treatments are given to them and it is injustice to others.

“Therefore, the forensic exercise has been able to look at all these and said we have to look at all these, The executive directors, if three are not enough, they have to increase so that they can accommodate those states that have increased their production that bring so much money in the region and, of course, in the country.

“If you look at it, the Federal Government cannot in the middle of the game begin to change it, because the reason the forensic audit was ordered was because of the defective Act that has led to a lot of infringement and infractions in the management of the NDDC.

“Therefore, it will be very unwise for anyone to think that within this period, the federal government will go and appoint a board. When you appoint that board, then you have gone back to the same reason you carried out a forensic audit.

“Forensic audit has come with its recommendations, those recommendations as at the time everything is put together, all the t’s are crossed and the i’s doted, proper board that will be constituted will be devoid of infractions that led to the setbacks in NDDC”, he said.

Nothing wrong with interim administrator

Dismissed the contention over interim administrator running the commission, Eradiri said: “People keep saying this, but those who challenge the legality of a sole or an acting Managing Director need to go back and read the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“It leaves an absolute authority to the president to appoint in acting capacity wherever there is a vacuum in an institution of government.

“It is that sole responsibility, the sole right of the President, therefore, to its appoint an acting leadership. This leadership role is to hold forth, while the forensic exercise is being rounded off. At the end of the day, a board will be constituted.

“In this same country, we had an acting chairman in EFCC for over five years. The EFCC chairman acted for over five years, but the president was within the period trying to clean out the system. The same authority lies solely in the hands of the president, that is why all those who went to court to challenge him have lost.”

Only NASS can review Act — Sen Ekpenyong

Reacting to the alleged review, Senator Ekpenyong, said he was unaware of any current review of the NDDC Act, stressing that only the National Assembly could repeal existing law and re-enact, and not the presidency.

“If somebody is sponsoring a bill on that, it has not been brought to the purview of all the senators. It is not the presidency that can review, We (National Assembly) can review, repeal certain provisions. But so far, I am not aware and no bill can be passed secretly without the knowledge of all of us.”

Asked if the presidency could secretly withhold implementation of part of the Act establishing NDDC on grounds that it was reviewing the Act, Senator Ekpenyong responded: “I know you people are just worried about this issue of appointment of NDDC board.

“The law is explicit, if the president refused to appoint board of directors of NDDC, we do not know why, that is left for them. We had since in the discharge of our obligation, confirmed the names of nominees which we forwarded to him for appointment.

“I think there is political undertone between the president and the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, who was given the responsibility of supervising the agency. That does not suggest that the president flouted the law if he withheld the nominations,” he said.

Presidency violating Act — Nwoko

Speaking on the matter, former Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, Barr Uwemedimo Nwoko, said the issue of the Federal Government secretly reviewing the NDDC Act “is not a matter that is left for any kind of argument.”

He said:  “If I am to comment on that, I will tell you yes, they are doing that. Do not forget that for more than four years, there has not been a governing board of the NDDC as prescribed by the NDDC Act. And it is an intolerable degree of impunity on the part of the Federal Government.

“I do not think that will surprise any Nigerian because this present administration of Buhari has the character, disposition to work outside the stipulation of the law, even the Constitution, and they have never hidden it.

“The presidency does not have the power to stop executing any provision of an existing Act, which the National Assembly has not amended. They do not have the power, which is why I said it is a violation.

“It is only the National Assembly that can review any law that is in existence. Extant laws must be obeyed. The point I am making is that it is not in the nature of this present administration to obey laws.”

No amendment bill — Oseke

The member representing Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency, Preye Oseke, said: “There is no such review to the best of my knowledge. Every Act of parliament can be reviewed by way of an amendment bill before the National Assembly. But at the moment, we do not have any amendment bill before the National Assembly on the NDDC Act, which in the first place is an Act of parliament.”

“‘As to changing project execution and development plan, the executive arm does have such prerogative because it is at realm of policy implementation,” he said,

Act not the problem — PANDEF

National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, said: “That is preposterous, they are all jokers. What we were told in 2019 was that there needed to be a forensic audit and after the audit,  a board will be constituted. Now, they are talking about review of the NDDC Act.”

“The problem with the NDDC is not the Act. It is the implementation of the Act and the mismanagement of the Act.

“They keep coming up with one excuse or the other. When that forensic audit report was submitted, PANDEF challenged the then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, even the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to make the report public.

“Because we said they was no sincere, proper audit that was carried out, rather some persons sat down in hotel rooms and prepared a document based on guess work and concoction of lies and gossips and presented a report to the president.

“We asked Mr. President to query the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs at the time because some of the figures that were made public from the report were outrageous and completely fallacious.

“A wrong system is a wrong system. We have to call right, right. We cannot begin to prevaricate. The truth of the matter is that what is going on in NDDC is unacceptable, it is callous disrespect to the Act establishing the NDDC.

Lost hope on NDDC

“No matter how they want to say it. They could buy some persons, but they cannot buy all the people all the time. For us in PANDEF, we have forgotten about the NDDC. We will give them the next 10 months or thereabout to do whatever they like with the hope that a better government, more sensitive will come and Nigeria will be a better country.

“Some of them will be called to answer what they have done in that three years with the commonwealth in NDDC.

“We have said it again and again that we do not believe in that forensic audit. Some of the facts that came out of the report were fallacious, the amount of money NDDC has received in the years that it has been established, the contracts that were abandoned and those executed, and even to extent that NDDC management should be on part-time clearly shows that those who carried the audit did not even scrutinize the Act establishing the NDDC. So they were speaking out of hearsay.

“The truth of the matter is that there is no authentic forensic audit report anywhere. That document was hurriedly put together to perhaps criminalize some political opponents in the Niger Delta they don’t like and discredit some persons.

“We are not saying there are no fraudulent activities, of course, NDDC has been full of corruption and so some of our local persons are involved. But a greater number of those involved in the mismanagement of NDDC fund are outside the Niger Delta.

“They are those in the corridors of power in Abuja, Lagos, Zamfara, Bauchi, and Kaduna, across Nigeria, they contributed to the wastage of the resources of the Niger Delta people. Resources that would have been put into the development of the Niger Delta.

“If you say there is a report, make it public. Publish those that are have been involved. The problem with the NDDC is not the Act itself. Yes, after 20 years, there may be need for a review because the realities today are no longer what it was when the Act was made. There is need for review but it is not expedient,” he insisted.

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