By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- AT last, President Muhammadu Buhari has forwarded to the Senate for approval , the 2019 and 2020 budget estimates of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
President Buhari’s request is coming four months after the expiration of the 2018 budget estimates of the development agency which expired on the 31st of July 2019.
NDDC’s budget ordinarily ought to have been forwarded to the two chambers of the National Assembly at the expiration of the NDDC 2018 budget in July, but that was not done until now that a letter has been forwarded to that effect.
The President’s request is contained in a letter dated November 21, 2019 and addressed to the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
The letter reads : “Pursuant to Section 18(1) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, I forward herewith, the 2019 and 2020 Budget Estimates of the Niger Delta Development Commission, for the kind consideration and passage by the Senate.
“While I trust that the Senate will consider this request in the usual expeditious manner, Please accept, Distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration”.
Recall that the expired NDDC 2018 budget of N346. 5 billion, N2.883bn was earmarked for capital expenditure, while N311.371bn was approved for development projects just as N19.521bn was for personnel cost and N12. 737bn was approved for overhead expenditure.
Similarly, in 2017, the NDDC got a total of N364 billion as its annual budget out of which the sum of N329.850 billion was approved for capital projects.
It was gathered last week that intrigues and game play within and outside the Niger Delta region as regards the affairs of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC contributed strongly to the delay in the presentation of the agency’s 2019 Budget Proposal to the National Assembly.
According to a source, the delay in the presentation by President Muhammadu Buhari may not be unconnected with the power play between forces behind the current Interim Management Committee of the NDDC and those supporting the inauguration of persons already appointed and confirmed as substantive members of the Commission.
The development however reared its head, a month to the end of the year.
Also recall that the National Assembly had with the expiration of the life span of the 2018 budget of the commission in July, raised several queries about the resort to extra budgetary expenditure by the NDDC management and board instead of making genuine efforts towards submitting the 2019 budget proposal for the commission.
It would be recalled that last week Tuesday, the House of Representatives invited the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC for explanation on the non-availability of the Commission’s 2019 budget.
It would be recalled that In spite of the order by the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan some weeks ago that the interim committee should immediately give way to those appointed and confirmed as members of the NDDC management and board.
Also recall that even with the tall order from the Senate that after the screening and subsequent confirmation of the Nominees, the Interim board dies immediately, President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to act on the confirmation.
Lawan had said after the confirmation of Dr. Pius Odubu as Chairman of NDDC board and his team that “with the completion of this process now (confirmation), 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.”
The quargmire has however continue to generate serious concerns among stakeholders in the Oil Producing region.
Recall that the interim Committee was set up by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and he currently manages the commission.
Also recall that Akpabio had said that the three-man committee will oversee the management of the commission to create an “enabling environment” for the audit.
He said Buhari approved the appointment of Dr Gbene Joi Nunieh as the Acting Managing Director; Cairo Ojougboh, as acting executive director, projects; and Ibanga Bassey, as acting executive director, finance and administration.
Akpabio had asked the interim committee to discharge their duties ”without fear or favour”.
He said the outcome of the committee’s work will go a long way in alleviating the suffering of the people of the Niger Delta region.
According to the Minister, the Committee will run the NDDC for six months and oversee the forensic audit of the agency.
Following the expiration of the life span of the 2018 budget of the commission last July, the National Assembly had raised several queries about the resort to extra budgetary expenditure by the NDDC management and board instead of making genuine efforts towards submitting the 2019 budget proposal for the commission.
The Committees of the two chambers in charge of the NDDC had in a letter in August drawn the attention of the NDDC management to the provisions of section 80(4) of the Constitution which stipulated that “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund except in a manner prescribed by the National Assembly”
Also recall that both committees had in the letter threatened that the National Assembly would not hesitate to invoke its full legislative powers to deal with any infraction of the Constitutional provisions.
The letter with reference number NASS/SEN/HR/2019/VOL.1/003 dated August 5, 2019 and titled ‘Extra Budgetary Expenditure’ was jointly signed by the Chairman of the Senate committee on NDDC, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and Chairman, House Committee on NDDC, Hon. Olubunmi Ojo.
It read: “The committees on Niger Delta and NDDC of the Senate and House of Representatives respectively, wish to call your attention to the expiration of the 2018 NDDC budget which specifically elapsed on 31st July, 2019.
“Accordingly, you are directed to stop forthwith any spending except for personal Costs and Overhead. You may note the provision of section 80(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (as amended) which states that : ‘money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund except in a manner prescribed by the National Assembly’.
“Therefore, any expenditure in contravention of this express provision will amount to an illegality and the National Assembly will not hesitate to invoke its full legislative powers to deal with such infraction of the law.
“In furtherance of the above, you are requested to furnish the committee with the following documents :Summary and comprehensive details of 2018 budget performance showing project description, Allocation, Release, Utilization, Oustanding Balance and other useful information; Statement of all Commission’s accounts (local and domiciary) from January 2018 till date; Information on the procurement processes for all Recurrent Expenditure made by the Commission From January 2018 till date.”