The NDDC appointment saga may pose the biggest challenge for Senator Ahmad Lawan senate presidency with the way things are going.
Lawan may have to answer to Mr. President himself how names of NDDC appointees got to him for screening and subsequent clearance while he was away, a dependable villa source said Sunday night.
President Muhammadu Buhari had while meeting with Niger Delta Governors put on hold issues of the appointment until the vexed issues are sorted out and forensic audit report on NDDC submitted to him.
BIGPEN Online reports that President Buhari also followed that directive up with a letter approving the inauguration of the Interim Management Committee for the NDDC.
A top senate committee official who crane anonymity was quoted to have said in a PUNCH Newspaper report that a letter from Buhari dated October 26, 2019 had asked the senate to stay action on the NDDC board confirmation.
Prior to this, issues of the appointment of the board as were exclusively reported by BIGPEN Online had boiled over and it was that state of confusion that forced the Niger Delta governors to request for an audience with President Buhari.
But for reason yet to be established, Lawan recent actions smacked of someone who is being railroaded. Sources said that he may have to face issues of integrity surrounding his role in the NDDC appointment saga.
Besides clearance and confirmation of appointees, senate may not have any role to play in nomination of appointees by Mr. President but it has become strange why the Lawan’s senate has become desperate about NDDC, the source said.
Lawan recently made a statement in the floor of the senate that smacked of a “threat” to frustrate the nation’s 2020 budget just because Buhari forwarded the NDDC 2019 and 2020 budget estimates to the senate.
The Senate President at that sitting tacitly goaded President Buhari to swear in those screened and subsequently confirmed as chairman and board members of the NDDC if he wants a quick passage of the agency’s budget nay federal budget.
Speaking shortly after reading the letter of President Buhari on the 2019 and 2020 budget estimates of NDDC, President of the Senate, Senator Lawan said that the onus was now on the President to do the needful.
“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”, Lawan was quoted to have said.
But a senior official of the Niger Delta Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue wondered why the Senate under Lawan was insisting on dealing with the board which had not been inaugurated.
While Lawan’s senate is insisting to relate strictly with the nominees on the board of the agency screened and confirmed by the Senate since November 5, his counterparts in the House of Representatives had maintained that they would have nothing to do with the board.
According to PUNCH report, the official alleged that the red chamber went ahead with the confirmation when the President had allegedly issued a stay of action order, on the board.
He said, “The President made some errors while putting the board together. The President has since realised, based on legal advice that some mistakes have been made in putting the board together.
“There are over 100 litigation in various courts against the composition of the board. Section 4 of the NDDC Act states very clearly, the order of appointment of the Chairman of the NDDC.
“It even mentioned it, state by state. At the moment, it is the turn of Delta State to produce the chairman, not Edo State. We cannot disobey the law.
“The President approved the board composition before his attention was drawn to it. As a law-abiding President, he decided to put further action on the board on hold.
“Section 12 (4) of the NDDC Act talks about the position of managing director which should be rotated among the oil producing states in order of quantum of production…”
Another source in the Senate Committee on the NDDC, who preferred to speak off the record, said, “What is even more confusing is the fact that the President took the decision to suspend action on the board before the Senate screening started and I believe that the leadership of the Senate was consulted.”
He added, “There was a joint Senate and House of Representatives’ investigative hearing, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs showed us a letter in which the President made comments with his own handwriting and even appended his signature to it.
“The letter was dated October 26, 2019. Paragraph eight of the letter states that all actions should be suspended on the issue of the board and he approved the composition of the interim management committee.
“Paragraph six of the letter talked about the forensic audit. The President has the power to appoint interim management team. There is no Act of the National Assembly that made provision for interim arrangement but it can be made by executive fiat.
“Since the law abhors vacuum, what the President said was that pending when we would put our house in order, let us have an interim arrangement.”
But in what appear like desperation, the Senate President, Lawal was quoted to have even directed the new board, members to “take over affairs at the commission immediately” during their confirmation of appointment in accordance to the law setting up the NDDC, because according to him, the law setting up the NDDC does not recognize any interim arrangement once a board is in place.
This came few days after Buhari left the country with the alleged letter of stay of action on NDDC which presumably the senate under Lawan is aware of, sources told BIGPEN Online.
A member of the House of Representatives Committee on the NDDC said going by the NDDC Act, the President was supposed to consult with other members of the Niger Delta Advisory Council before coming up with the board.
He said, “The President is the chairman of the council while the nine governors of the oil producing states are members. The highest power of the NDDC Act lies in the advisory council.
“The council was not consulted before the board was constituted. The President later met with the governors and when his attention was drawn to the errors made in the appointment, he ordered that further actions should be suspended on the matter.
“That was when we agreed that while the forensic audit is ongoing, there would be wide consultation with the stakeholders so that we would follow the law in the board appointment.
“The law states that the first state to produce the chairman is Abia, hence Ugochukwu Onyema was appointed and it was to be rotated in alphabetical order.
“The Senate should not force the President to implement illegality. The President has made a mistake and he has realisedl this by doing the right thing.
“The Act also stipulates that the approval of the board should be done in consultation with the House of Representatives but nobody consulted us. If the Senate had consulted us, the House would have passed a resolution on it.”