Buhari, Senators collides over president’s submission of 2019/2020 NDDC budget

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The fragile cordial relationship between the Executive and the Senate is facing a threat following the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the newly-confirmed board members of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Three weeks ago, the Senate confirmed 15 out of 16 nominees forwarded by President Buhari for confirmation. President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, had after the confirmation, said the recent inauguration of an interim committee by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, was alien to law setting up the Commission. He said with the confirmation of the board, the interim committee ceased to exist and warned that those who should protect the sanctity of the law should not deliberately flout them. Speaking yesterday while reading a letter from President Buhari, presenting the 2020 budget of NDDC, Lawan said the right thing to do was for the president to inaugurate the new board. He said if the president inaugurates the board, the right people will appear before the Senate and defend the 2020 budget of the Commission. Lawan 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.” Raising a point of order, Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the Senate should not allow an illegal interim committee of the NDCC to defend the 2020 budget of the Commission. “We just heard from you (Senate President) the communication from Mr. President which relates to the presentation of the NDDC’s Budget for approval. “Of course, what it will mean is that the budget will go to the relevant committee of Appropriation and the NDDC Committee and some persons will come to defend the budget. “Having regard to the fact that this Senate has confirmed members of the board of the NDDC and they are yet to resume office, Mr. President I fear that we may run into a problem of delayed budget again since nobody will come to defend this budget. “Because this August body having confirmed the board of NDDC will not countenance any illegal contraption coming in front of us to say they are representing the NDDC. “I know that this may be preemptive, but my people say that if we act quick we will prevent disaster from coming.  So, to prevent a delayed budget for the NDDC, that is helping the region for development, it would be better for us to prevent this issue from coming and let the needful be done,” Abaribe stated. However, the House of Representatives said it would leave no stone unturned in its quest to uncover any corrupt practices in the NDDC. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila stated this at a one day investigative hearing organised by the House Committee on NDDC in Abuja, yesterday. Gbajabiamila said the investigative hearing was to afford stakeholders an opportunity to ventilate their opinion on issues regarding the operations of the NDDC since inception, as well as assist the committee in its probe of the activities of the agency “Everything is on the table. Where corruption or mismanagement is the issue, we will uncover them and take necessary corrective action, and we will do so without political consideration or preference for any predetermined outcomes. Where funding or the lack thereof has been an issue, we will also take action to remedy the situation. Our objective is to ensure that the Commission is properly positioned to carry out its mandate effectively and meet the obligations it owes to the Niger Delta and to the country. “ After the opening session, the members of the committee went into a closed door session with the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and other top officials of the ministry. Speaking with journalists after the closed door session, Akpabio, who did not disclose the outcome of the meeting said everything went well. The minister noted that efforts were on to set things right in the Commission, noting that the forensic audit was to enable government know what has happened in the agency. However, aggrieved Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has urged the National Assembly to disregard any budget approval request from NDDC submitted by the Interim Management Committee inaugurated by Chief Akpabio National President of pf the group, Eric Omare, said under Section 18 of the NDDC Act of 2000 only the substantive Board of the NDDC can submit a budget to the National Assembly for consideration. Section 18 of the NDDC Establishment Act, Number 6 of 2000, as amended, states that, “the Board shall not later than 30th September in each year, submit to the National Assembly, through the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces an estimate of the expenditure and income of the Commission during the next succeeding year for approval.” Omare said the National Assembly has a duty to defend the law. He maintained that the problem with NDDC since its inception is  non-adherence to the law establishing the Commission. “Instead of strictly complying with the law establishing NDDC, emphasis is placed on political patronage instead of using the NDDC as a platform to develop the Niger Delta region.” The IYC President regretted that despite the Senate confirmation of a substantive Board for NDDC,  the government has not deemed it fit to inaugurate the Board.

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