By: Emeji K. Noble
The crisis rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission deepened on Friday when the House of Representatives differed with the Senate over the status of the Interim Management Committee set up by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The President forwarded the 2019 and 2020 budgets of the commission to the two chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday for their consideration and approval.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, referred the budget estimates to the Senate Committee on Niger Delta with a standing instruction to relate strictly with the nominees on the board of the agency screened and confirmed by the Senate since November 5.
But indications that the crisis in the commission appeared to be getting worse appeared on Friday when the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC, Olubunmi Tunji – Ojo, told one of our correspondents that the Green Chamber would not have anything to do with the board.
Tunji – Ojo, however, said that the House would as from next week begin interactions with the Interim Management Committee of the commission as the acting Managing Director, Dr. Gbene Nunieh, would lead her team to defend the budgets.
He said, “The board doesn’t defend the budget, it is the management that defends the budget. As far as there is no other directive from the leadership of the House of Representatives, our committee will go ahead with the budget defence with the interim management team as from next week.
“The budget has been referred to our committee and the management would defend it. Unless the board is inaugurated, we won’t allow them to come and defend the budget. As from next week, the interim management committee of the NDDC will be called upon to defend the budget.”
He disagreed with the position of the Senate Spokesperson, Godiya Akwashiki, who told journalists on Thursday that the red chamber would not interface with the interim management committee because it was illegal and unconstitutional.
Tunji-Ojo said, “Section 171 (1) of the constitution which is the grand norm states that the President has the power to appoint persons to hold or act in the offices to which this section applies.
“Sub-sections 2(b) talks about the offices of which the section applies. This includes Permanent Secretary in any office or head of any extra ministerial department, of which the NDDC is one.
“The NDDC Act is inferior to the constitution. There is no Act in Nigeria that has provision for people to hold offices in acting capacity because the power has already been given to the President under Section 171 (1).
“This has automatically killed the argument that the interim management team is illegal because the President is right, he has the power to appoint people in acting capacity. We are going ahead to take the interim management of the NDDC under the leadership of the acting MD.”
Senate says NDDC interim management team is illegal
Several efforts to speak with the Senate Spokesperson on the position of the House of Representatives over the NDDC interim management team failed on Friday as repeated calls put across to his mobile phone were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.
He had also yet to reply the text message sent to him by 6pm.
But Akwashiki had said on Thursday that the Senate would not have anything to do with Akpabio’s caretaker committee because it was not a legal entity.
The Senate Spokesperson told journalists after plenary that the Senate was waiting for Buhari to inaugurate the newly confirmed members of the NDDC board.
He had said, “We have confirmed the nominees sent to us by the Presidency. Assuming we didn’t confirm them, then we could be talking of a caretaker committee.
“We expect the President to inaugurate the new board. It doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to do that. We will deal with the board approved by the Senate in line with the constitution.
“We won’t recognise any caretaker committee, so, how are we going to deal with them?
“There is no room for caretaker committee in the NDDC. We won’t ask for the dissolution of the team but the Senate could call for their arrest if they want to forcefully defend the NDDC budgets.
“Let’s wait and see how far they (the caretaker committee) can go or how far they can move.”
Senate shuns Buhari’s order for a stay of action on board confirmation – Source
Meanwhile, a senior official of the Niger Delta Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue wondered why the Senate was insisting on dealing with the board which had not been inaugurated.
He alleged that the red chamber went ahead with the confirmation when the President had allegedly issued a stay of action order, on the board.
He said, “The President made some errors while putting the board together. The President has since realised, based on legal advice that some mistakes have been made in putting the board together.
“There are over 100 litigation in various courts against the composition of the board. Section 4 of the NDDC Act states very clearly, the order of appointment of the Chairman of the NDDC.
“It even mentioned it, state by state. At the moment, it is the turn of Delta State to produce the chairman, not Edo State. We cannot disobey the law.
“The President approved the board composition before his attention was drawn to it. As a law-abiding President, he decided to put further action on the board on hold.
“Section 12 (4) of the NDDC Act talks about the position of managing director which should be rotated among the oil producing states in order of quantum of production. At the moment, it is the turn of Ondo State to produce the MD, not Delta State.”
Another source in the Senate Committee on the NDDC, who preferred to speak off the record, said, “What is even more confusing is the fact that the President took the decision to suspend action on the board before the Senate screening started and I believe that the leadership of the Senate was consulted.”
He added, “There was a joint Senate and House of Representatives’ investigative hearing, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs showed us a letter in which the President made comments with his own handwriting and even appended his signature to it.
“The letter was dated October 26, 2019. Paragraph eight of the letter states that all actions should be suspended on the issue of the board and he approved the composition of the interim management committee.
“Paragraph six of the letter talked about the forensic audit. The President has the power to appoint interim management team. There is no Act of the National Assembly that made provision for interim arrangement but it can be made by executive fiat.
“Since the law abhors vacuum, what the President said was that pending when we would put our house in order, let us have an interim arrangement.”
A member of the House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC said going by the NDDC Act, the President was supposed to consult with other members of the Niger Delta Advisory Council before coming up with the board.
He said, “The President is the chairman of the council while the nine governors of the oil producing states are members. The highest power of the NDDC Act lies in the advisory council.
“The council was not consulted before the board was constituted. The President later met with the governors and when his attention was drawn to the errors made in the appointment, he ordered that further actions should be suspended on the matter.
“That was when we agreed that while the forensic audit is ongoing, there would be wide consultation with the stakeholders so that we would follow the law in the board appointment.
“The law states that the first state to produce the chairman is Abia, hence Ugochukwu Onyema was appointed and it was to be rotated in alphabetical order.
“The Senate should not force the President to implement illegality. The President has made a mistake and he has realised this by doing the right thing.
“The Act also stipulates that the approval of the board should be done in consultation with the House of Representatives but nobody consulted us. If the Senate had consulted us, the House would have passed a resolution on it.”
Probe NDDC’s interim management expenditure, IYC urges NASS
The Ijaw Youth Council, Worldwide, has called on the National Assembly to probe the expenditure of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC and sanction those spending Federal Government’s money without parliamentary approval
IYC President, Mr. Eric Omare, in a statement on Friday, described the interim management committee of the NDDC as illegal and urged the House of Representatives to join the Senate in stopping the NDDC interim management committee from defending the 2019/2020 budget of the commission.
Omare hailed the Senate for defending the interest of the oppressed people of the Niger Delta region, adding that it should maintain its stance to only deal with the confirmed board of the NDDC.
“We call on the House of Representatives to follow the lead that has been provided by the Senate and also bar the illegal IMC from coming to defend the 2019/2020 NDDC budget.
“We further call on the National Assembly to probe the expenditure of the illegal Interim Management Committee and sanction those culpable for spending money from the funds of the Federal Government without legislative authorisation.
“Recall that the Senate President, while referring the 2019/2020 budget of the NDDC to the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, directed the committee to only deal with the duly confirmed board of the NDDC and not the interim management committee appointed by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Akpabio.
“The Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide commend the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawal, and the entire Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for barring the illegal Interim Management Committee of the NDDC from defending the 2019/2020 budget of the Commission,” Omare said in the statement.
Describing the NDDC as a baby of the National Assembly, Omare recalled how the National Assembly under Chuba Okadigbo (Senate) and Ghali Na’Abba (House of Representatives) vetoed the presidential assent and passed the NDDC Act into law.