Challenges Inauguration of NDDC Advisory Committee without Board.
Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Inibehe Effiong, has dragged President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN and the National Assembly before the Federal High Court in Abuja over the President’s ‘illegal’ submission of the 2019 and 2020 budget estimates of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) to the National Assembly without and in the absence of the Governing Board of the NDDC.
The case which was filed on Wednesday, 11th March, 2020 with Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/349/2020 also has the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, the NDDC and the Ag. Managing Director and head of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC, Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, as 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants, respectively.
Effiong in his Originating Summons asked the court to determine the following four questions:
“Whether by the provisions of Section 18 (1) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc.) Act, 2000, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can validly submit estimates of expenditure and income (budget estimates) of the Niger Delta Development Commission to the National Assembly without and/or in the absence of the governing Board of the Commission.”
“Whether the 2019 and 2020 estimates of expenditure (budget estimates) of the Niger Delta Development Commission is not ultra vires, illegal, invalid, null and void having been submitted to the National Assembly by the President without and/or in the absence of the governing Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission in view of the express provisions of Section 18 (1) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc.), 2000.”
“Whether the Interim Management Committee appointed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to manage and supervise the affairs of the Nigeria Delta Development Commission, can legally exercise the power exclusively vested in the governing Board of the Commission, including entering into contracts and expenditure of the funds of the Commission, in view of the express provisions of Sections 8 and 14 (3) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc.), 2000.”
“Whether the existence and inauguration of the governing Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission is a condition precedent to the inauguration of the Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee; a body statutorily charged with the responsibility of advising the governing Board and monitoring the activities of the Commission in view of the provisions of Section 11 (2) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment, etc.) Act 2000.”
In his 40 paragraphs affidavit with 8 exhibits attached, Effiong stated that he is from the Niger Delta Region. He sated that President Buhari dissolved the extant Board of the NDDC headed by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba in January 2019 and appointed an Interim Management Body to manage the affairs of the NDDC. He stated that Buhari in October 2019 wrote to the Senate seeking the confirmation of a new 16 member governing Board which has Dr. Pius Odubu from Edo State as chairman which was approved by the Senate.
Effiong deposed that despite the approval of the governing Board by the Senate, Buhari unilaterally suspended the inauguration of the Board and continued to retain the Interim Management Committee now head by Professor Pondei.
According to the activist, Buhari on the 26th November, 2019 submitted the 2019 and 2020 budget estimates of the NDDC to both Houses of the National Assembly without and/or in the absence of the Governing Board of the NDDC which attracted condemnation from the National Assembly, and that the Senate during its Plenary on Tuesday, 26th November, 2019 passed a resolution directing its Committee on Niger Delta Affairs not to recognize the Interim Management Committee but to relate only with the approved governing Board of the Commission when considering the budgets.
“Following the condemnation of the President’s submission of the said budget estimates without and/or in the absence of the governing Board of the NDDC by the National Assembly and the resolution of the Senate, the President by a letter dated 23rd December, 2019 formally notified the Senate of his decision to “put on hold” the governing Board appointment confirmed by the Senate “to allow the Interim Management Committee to manage the Commission pending the outcome of the Forensic Audit.” Effiong said.
According to the lawyer, in contravention of the earlier Senate resolution, the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs recognized the Interim Management Committee while considering the 2019 budget of the NDDC on the 12th February, 2020 and allowed the said Interim Management Committee to defend the 2019 budget and that on Wednesday, 4th March, 2020 and Thursday, 5th March, 2020 the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively considered and passed the 2019 budget estimates of the NDDC without and/or in the absence of the governing Board of the Commission.
He also deposed that the National Assembly is currently considering the 2020 budget estimates of the NDDC without and/or in the absence of the governing Board.
Effiong also complained that on 10th March, 2020, President Buhari constituted and inaugurated the Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee at the Council Chamber, State House, Abuja, consisting of the nine Governors of the Niger Delta States and other persons appointed by the President without and/or in the absent of a governing Board for the Niger Delta Development Commission.
In his written address, the Lagos lawyer argued that the power to submit estimates of the expenditure and income of the Commission is statutorily vested in the Governing Board of the NDDC and not the president. He contended that the role of the President is that of agency; in the sense that the President merely acts as the courier of the Governing Board. The President, he argued, cannot perform his role under Section 18 (1) of the Act without and in the absence of the Governing Board. He said that a contrary interpretation will do direct violence to the spirit and letters of the NDDC Act.
Effiong further argued that “only the Governing Board of the Commission can exercise the power exclusively vested in it by the NDDC Act. There is no part of the said Act that empowers the President to put the existence of the Governing Board “on hold” and arrogate the statutory power of the Governing Board to an Interim Management Committee. The Interim Management Committee led by the 6th Defendant is an aberration and has no statutory backing”
On the inauguration of the Niger Delta Development Advisory Committee, Effiong submitted that “the existence of the Governing Board of the Commission is a condition precedent to the constitution of the Niger-Delta Development Advisory Committee. This is only logical since the advisory committee is required to advise the Governing Board. It is therefore my respectful contention that the inauguration of the Advisory Committee by the President is premature and against the due process of law and the intendment of the NDDC Act without and/or in the absence of the governing Board.” He argued.
Effiong prayed the court to declare that the President cannot validly submit the budget estimates of the NDDC to the National Assembly without and/or in the absence of the governing Board of the Commission. He therefore asked the court to set aside the 2019 and 2020 budget estimates of the NDDC submitted to the National Assembly by Buhari.
He also prayed for an order of injunction restraining the Interim Management Committee from exercising the power of the Board. Finally, he asked that the court should declare that the inauguration of the NDDC Advisory Committee was premature and against the due process of law.
Effiong told the court that “the Defendants should not be given a free hand to run the country amok without recourse to the dictates of the law. That will only lead to one result – anarchy. This Court has a sacred duty to halt descent into anarchy and uphold the rule of law. It is only by so doing that the future of Nigeria as a democratic country can be guaranteed.”
No date has been assigned for the hearing of the case.