Senate suspends NDDC budgets, demand Board’s inauguration

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The crisis rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) became messier yesterday as the Senate resolved to await the inauguration of the board members before working on the commission’s 2019 and 2020 budgets proposal submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

While the lawmakers were confirming the appointment of 15 nominees to the board of the NDDC three weeks ago, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had stated that the current Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission had become vitiated.

 

“With the completion of this process (confirmation) now, 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,” Lawan had said while commenting on the confirmation of the nominees.

 

The IMC set up by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, currently manages the commission. The minister had said the committee would run the NDDC for six months and oversee the forensic audit of the agency.

 

But shortly after Lawan read Buhari’s letter forwarding the NDDC’s budget to the Senate yesterday, the Minority Leader, Enyinanya Abaribe, raised concerns over the appropriate officials of the commission that should defend the budget.

 

“With due regard to the fact that this Senate has confirmed members of the board of the NDDC and they are yet to resume office, there is fear that we may run into a problem of delay of this budget since nobody will come to defend it, and because this August body, after confirming the board of the commission, will not condone any illegal contraption coming in front of us to say that they are representing NDDC.

 

His point of order was sustained by Lawan, who stated: “As far as we are concerned, this Senate knows that we have confirmed the board membership of the NDDC and we have communicated that to the president. 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 would heed that quickly so that we can have the right people to come and defend the appropriation request of the president.”

 

Also yesterday, the Senate hinted that it might pass the 2020 Appropriation Bill next week. Lawan, who dropped the hint during plenary, explained that the upper chamber had planned to pass the budget this week but could not due to the failure of its committee in charge of processing the bill to conclude its work. He said that the Senate would by next week not tolerate further delay in the submission of the budget report by the Committee on Appropriation headed by Barau Jibrin. Lawan gave the committee a deadline of next Tuesday to turn in its report at plenary.

 

Meanwhile, Akpabio has defended the ongoing forensic audits of the activities of the NDDC. Fielding questions from reporters after he met behind closed doors with the Olubunmi Tunji Ojo-led House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta, the minister assured that the commission would live up to the expectations of Nigerians at the end of the audit.

 

He disclosed that work had begun in earnest on NDDC’s abandoned projects spread across the oil-rich Niger Delta. “For instance, we are on the head office of the NDDC which was started and not completed, and we promise that, working closely with the committee, we will deliver the project by April 2020.

 

“The big cardiovascular hospital abandoned for years which is 80 per cent complete, we are also working to ensure that it is completed. About 91 containers of electrical equipment, including 5000 transformers, are at Onem port and we are on the verge of clearing them. We believe that when we do, we will provide light to a lot of communities in the region. The forensic audit is on course. The intention is that if anybody has committed misappropriation or otherwise, it is a window of opportunity for them to go back to site for monies they collected and complete the projects. If the forensic audit unearthed those things, people have to make refund or face the law.

 

“The essence of it may not necessarily be to unearth fraud, it is to find out reasons for the failure of the agency in 18 years, because we cannot say it has been a success story. Why has it not lived up to expectations and why do we have so much poverty in the Niger-Delta? Nobody seems to own all those projects of the Niger Delta. There has been misplacement of priorities. You have no single primary school but you can buy up to one million desks and pile them till they get spoilt,” the minister lamented.

 

Akpabio also spoke about the oil firms operating in the region. “Why have they not been remitting their statutory percentage to the commission? How come many of them remitted those monies to wrong accounts and they are still owing the commission? You also have to talk about the quality of deliveries; how come roads of the NDDC cannot last five years. Is it just cut and paste or a function of politically motivated infrastructure which is just meant to syphon money?”

 

Speaker of the House Femi Gbajabiamila, acknowledged that the NDDC had failed to live up to expectations of addressing the problems associated with underdevelopment of the region in spite of the enormous amounts of money allocated to it over the years. Gbajabiamila, who was represented by the House Leader, Peter Akpatason, assured that the House would uncover allegations of wrongdoings in the NDDC and take necessary corrective action without political consideration or preference for any predetermined outcome.