The Senate yesterday declared that it would not recognise the Interim Management Committee (IMC) in processing the 2019 and 2020 budget proposals of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Consequently, the upper chamber ordered its Committee on Niger Delta to relate only with the board of the NDDC, members of which it confirmed recently.
The controversial interim committee of the NDDC was constituted by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio to replace an acting management board of the commission.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, while referring the budget of the NDDC to the Committee on Niger Delta Affairs yesterday instructed the panel to relate strictly with the board screened and confirmed by the lawmakers. He told the committee to turn in its report on the budget in two weeks to enable the Senate to approve it.
“This budget is hereby referred to the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs. You’re to report back in two weeks. Let me state that the committee should only deal with board members confirmed by the Senate,” Lawan thundered.
Three weeks ago, the upper chamber confirmed 15 out of the 16 nominees forwarded by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly for confirmation as members of the board of the NDDC. Lawan had, after the confirmation, said the recent inauguration of an interim committee by Akpabio was alien to the law setting up the commission. He declared that with the confirmation of the board, the interim committee ceased to exist, warning that those who should protect the sanctity of the law should not deliberately flout it.
While reading a letter from President Buhari presenting the 2020 budget of the NDDC on Tuesday, Lawan said the right thing to do was for the president to inaugurate the new board. According to him, if the president inaugurates the board, the right people will appear before the Senate to defend the 2020 budget of the commission.
Lawan had said: “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.”
The Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, had, while speaking on the development on Tuesday, said the Senate should not allow an illegal interim committee of the NDCC to defend the 2020 budget of the commission.
Meanwhile, two groups, Niger Delta Youth Council (NDYC) and Coalition of Niger Delta Peoples with Disabilities, have backed the call by the Senate for the immediate swearing-in of the recently confirmed members of the commission’s board before the budget’s defence.
In a statement jointly signed by the leaders of the groups, Jator Abido, Beke Apere, Chief George Kpesu and Preye Simon, they also demanded an apology from the police for allegedly brutalising their members during a protest in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to call for the immediate swearing-in of members of the board confirmed by the National Assembly
The groups who alleged that the police officers were mobilised by the controversial interim board said it was unacceptable that the security agents would allow themselves to be used to disrupt a civil protest.
“It has become clearer that this illegal interim committee that was smuggled into the commission at the eleventh hour is the handiwork of those who fought tooth and nail to frustrate the composition of the board that has been applauded by all well-meaning Niger Delta people”, the statement read, describing as patriotic the call by the Senate on the executive to immediately inaugurate the board it had confirmed before budget defence.
Another group, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), urged the National Assembly to reject the 2019/2020 budgets of the commission, alleging that it is in breach of Section 18 of the NDDC Act that saddles the board with the responsibility of preparing the budget.
IYC also implored the National Assembly to prohibit the interim management committee from making further expenditure from the commission’s funds until a budget prepared by the confirmed board is passed by the lawmakers.
IYC president, Eric Omare, told The Guardian that by virtue of Section 18 of the NDDC Act, only the board of the NDDC was expected to prepare and submit a budget to the National Assembly and not the presidency.
Omare claimed that technically, the budget currently before the National Assembly was defective because by Section 18 of the NDDC Act, the budget ought to have been prepared by a substantive board that has not been inaugurated.
According to the IYC, the National Assembly ought not to have accepted the budget presented by the presidency because it was obvious that it did not emanate from a substantive NDDC board. “For the Senate to maintain that only a substantive board could defend NDDC budget, it is obvious that the NDDC Act has been breached.”
Besides,the Isoko Nation Youth Congress (INYC) warned that the retention of the three-member IMC by Akpabio posed a serious threat to the prevailing peace in the oil-rich region.
During a media briefing yesterday at Iyede, Delta State, the group lauded President Buhari for ordering the forensic audit of the agency but cautioned against the actions of the minister, which it claimed was creating tension in the area.
INYC president, Godstime Akokotu, stated that by insisting on his (Akpabio) appointed interim committee to run the NDDC while the board confirmed by the Senate was yet to be constituted, the former governor of Akwa Ibom State was stirring the hornet’s nest.
The INYC, therefore, urged the president to disband the interim committee, maintaining that it was “illegal and driven by selfish motives.”
He said: “Isoko Nation Youth Congress is sounding a note of caution to the minister to let the combustible underdeveloped Niger Delta guide his sense of judgment, as his illegal and unconstitutional interim team is tantamount to destroying the fragile peaceful coexistence in the Niger Delta.
“He, must as a matter of urgency, reverse his decision in the interest of peace and speedy development of the region because this needless and illegal act of constituting an interim committee is unnecessary and is heating up the polity. Let no one provoke the youths of the Niger Delta oil-producing states. We want Mr. President to swing into action and inaugurate the new NDDC board and personally appoint the forensic auditors to probe the commission’s finances.”
The Isoko youths also objected to the transfer of the NDDC to the Ministry of Niger Delta.
They added: “We are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately inaugurate the board of the NDDC because the law setting up the commission is unambiguous as there is no provision for the appointment of an interim management committee, rather it provides that it will be run by a board nominated by the president, screened and confirmed by the Senate.”
The youths further stated: “Mr. President, we believe in you and your integrity, which you anchor on due process and the rule of law. The illegality being perpetrated by Akpabio must stop now. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC, as an agency, were expected to work independently of each other, but with the common goal of bringing development to the region that had for long suffered untold hardship and neglect by successive administrations.
“This informed the decision to make NDDC an agency under the presidency free from ministerial control.”