The slight disagreement between President Muhamnadu Buhari and the Senate on NDDC’s boards to be recognised seems a seed of discord that may tear their harmonious relationship apart soonest. Taiye Odewale reports.
Background to the unfolding disagreement
President Muhamnadu Buhari had in exercise of one of his constitutional powers, forwarded to the Senate for confirmation appointments of a 16 – member board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) via a letter dated 18th October, 2019.
Specifically, President Buhari in the letter sought the Senate’s confirmation for Dr Pius Odubu, former Edo state deputy governor as chairman of the NDDC and 15 others as members of its board among whom is the current acting Managing Director of the Commission, Dr Joy Yimebe Nunieh from Rivers state.
Other nominees are Bernard O. Okumagba from Delta as the proposed new Managing Director, Engr Otobong Ndem (Akwa Ibom) as Executive Director, Projects, and Maxwell Oko (Bayelsa) as Executive Director, Finance and Administration.
They also include Prophet Jones Erue, representing Delta State, Chief Victor Ekhalor (Edo), Nwogu N Nwogu (Abia), Theodore A Allison (Bayelsa), Victor Antai (Akwa Ibom), Maurice Effiwatt (Cross River), Olugbenga Edema (Ondo), Hon Uchegbu Chidiebere Kyrian representing Imo state.
The rest are Aisha Murtala Mohammed from Kano state representing North West, Shuaib Ardo Zubairu from Adamawa representing North East and Ambassador Abdullahi M Bage from Nasarawa representing North Central, on the board respectively.
The president’s letter reads: “In accordance with the provision of Section 2(2)(a) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) (Establishment) Act, 2000, I write to forward, for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the under listed nominees for appointment into the NDDC board, to occupy the positions indicated against their names.”
President Buhari, in the letter, expressed hope that “the Senate will consider and confirm the nominees in the usual expeditious manner”.
Accordingly, the written request, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by its President, Ahmad Lawan, was given expeditious consideration by the upper legislative chamber, which directed its standing committee on NDDC, to carry out screening exercise on all the nominees and report back within a week.
Confirmation of Buhari’s nominees
The Senate’s standing committee headed by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta North), carried out the screening exercise on 15 out of the 16 nominees on Thursday, October 31, 2019, upon which the Senate confirmed their appointments on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 based on report tabled before it by the committee.
Strikingly on the said date in plenary, while the Senate confirmed the appointments of the 15 nominees who appeared before its Committee on NDDC for screening, it rejected that of Dr Joy Yimebe Nunieh, who incidentally is the current Acting Managing Director of NDDC but nominated in the appointments confirmation letter sent by President Buhari as a member of the Board from Rivers state.
The rejection of the nominee from Rivers State by the Senate at the Committee of the whole was sequel to her refusal to appear before the Senate Committee on NDDC for screening as done by the 15 other nominees on Thursday, October 31, 2019.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta North), had in his report presentation, told the Senate that the nominee from Rivers state refused to appear for screening despite several communications made to her to that effect.
“We made all the required efforts to get across to her and reliably gathered that information sent to that effect was received by her without honouring it with her appearance “, he said.
Also in plenary on the said date (Tuesday, November 5, 2019), the question of a parallel NDDC management team constituted by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was raised by some of the Senators, who described it as sabotage.
First to comment on it, was the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), who accused the executive of playing ‘basketball ball’ with the whole process.
“While the president forwarded to the Senate for confirmation , appointments of chairman, Managing Director, Executive Directors and members for the NDDC board, somebody somewhere, is setting up an interim management committee (IMC), not captured by the Act establishing the commission.
“Anything outside the provisions of the Act should be considered as an Act of sabotage and it is unacceptable. We should abide by the laws we made for the country”, he said.
Speaking in the same vein, the former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP Enugu West), said the idea of setting up another management team outside the approved board by the Senate is unlawful and must not be allowed to stand.
“Anything outside the provisions of the Act is illegal and should remain so. Allowing such to stand will create unnecessary ambiguity in the entire process”, he said.
Ahmad Lawan’s bold stand
But dismissing the notion of ambiguity in the entire process at that time, the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his remarks said: “there is no ambiguity in this matter, President Buhari forwarded to us nominees for appointments into the board and as soon as we finish with the process, any other structure is vitiated”.
The Senate therefore confirmed the appointments of all except the current acting Managing Director of the Commission, Dr Joy Yimebe Nunieh from Rivers state.
Budget without board
However exactly three weeks after, the Senate on Tuesday , November 26, 2019, received request from President Buhari for consideration of 2019/2020 NDDC budget without swearing into office , the 15 member board , screened and approved by it three weeks earlier.
The request contained in a letter addressed to the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, reads: “Pursuant to Section 18(1) of the Nigerian Delta Development Commission Establishment Act, I forward herewith 2019/2020 budget estimates of the Niger Delta Development Commission for the kind consideration and passage by the Senate”.
But immediately after the letter was read, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), drew the attention of his colleagues to the fact that members of the NDDC board duly confirmed by the Senate were yet to resume official duty.
Abaribe, who rose through order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules to raise the issue, said the failure of the executive to swear-in members of the board duly confirmed by the Senate sequel to a request from President Buhari, may threaten early consideration and quick passage of the 2019/2020 budget of the NDDC.
He added that the Interim Committee of the NDDC, led by Dr Joy Nunieh, is an “illegal contraption” that lacks the backing of law to defend the commission’s budget.
He said, “Having regard to the fact that this Senate has confirmed members of the board of the NDDC and they are yet to resume office.
“I fear that we may run into a problem of delayed budget again since nobody will come to defend this budget. This Senate, having confirmed the board of the NDDC will not countenance any illegal contraption coming to represent NDDC.
“To prevent a late budget for NDDC that is helping Nigeria on revenue and development of the region, it will be better for us to prevent this issue from coming.”
Again, Lawan stoutly defended Senate
Lawan, who sustained Abaribe’s point of order in his ruling said, “As far as we are concerned, this Senate knows that we have confirmed the request of Mr President on the board membership of the NDDC, and we have communicated that.
“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 defend the appropriation request of Mr President”.
Forty Eight hours after, precisely on Thursday, November 28, 2019, when the Presidential request was forwarded to the Senate standing committee on NDDC, Lawan sounded more decisive on behalf of the Senate as far as which of the boards of the commission to be recognised, by ordering the Senator Peter Nwaoboshi-led committee to relate with the confirmed board by the Senate.
“The Senate Committee on NDDC should ensure that only the 15 member governing board forwarded to the Senate by Mr President, screened and approved by us, should be related with as far the budget of the agency is concerned and other official matters”, he said.
He further directed the Senator Peter Nwaoboshi-led committee to expeditiously engage the recognised board on the budget proposals and report back in two weeks.
But while the two weeks given the committee to work on the proposed NDDC’s 2019/2020 budget estimates, will expire in two days time, precisely on Thursday, December 12, 2019; the presidency had neither disbanded the Dr Joy Yimebe Nunieh Interim Management Committee nor sworn into office, the nominated and approved Pius Odubu led management Board.
Feelers from both camps indicate that further delay on the matter, particularly by the Presidency, may sour their harmonious relationship as Lawan based on his remarks so far, may not want to act contrary to Senate’s stance on the seemingly contentious issue.