There appears to be palpable trepidation in the two chambers of the National Assembly over the allegation by the Acting Managing Director (MD) and head of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Kemebradikumo Pondei, and the Executive Director of Project, Cairo Ojougboh, that the lawmakers padded the 2019 budget with insertion of over 500 projects.
Ojougboh had alleged that the House of Representatives bloated the 2019 budget with ₦85 billion, thus, “vandalized and raped” the commission’s budget.
The allegations unsettled the federal lawmakers who have been struggling with defence and counter confrontation with oversight functions and investigation of the N40 billion allegation of misappropriation of funds in the commission.
Pondei and Ojougboh alleged that the National Assembly is putting pressure on the Interim Management Committee to distort the forensic audit of the NDDC which was mandated by President Muhammadu Buhari. The NDDC IMC top brass further alleged that the “overbearing stranglehold” of the National Assembly investigative committees was the cause of the delay in passing the NDDC 2019 budget.
While the two chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly are still battling with clearing the NDDC budget padding allegations, there were insinuations that the 2020 national was purportedly padded from the presidency.
There were observations that the President Muhammadu Buhari while joining the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in lobbying for the presiding officers of the National Assembly, appeased the APC lawmakers to ensure the emergence of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, promising cooperation with the emergent Ninth National Assembly. In a seeming promotion of the cooperation, President Buhari had subtly defended the bogus allowances of the federal lawmakers, penultimate week, when he said that Nigerians say the lawmakers are earning too much. This is a president who in his first tenure constantly blasted the Eighth National Assembly for profligacy and exorbitant expenditures.
In presentation of the 2020 budget, it was alleged that the fiscal draft came padded, which was purported to be a condition for early passage of the budget in 2019.
It was alleged that first term members of the House of Representatives were granted N150 to N160 million for constituency projects; returning or ranking members N200 to N250 million; principal officers of the House N500 million, while the Speaker was purportedly allocated N1 billion for constituency projects.
In the Senate, first time lawmakers were assigned N200 for constituency projects; returning or ranking senators N250 million, principal officers over N500 million while the Senate President was allegedly allocated N1.5 billion for constituency project.
All allocations were alleged to be infused in the 2020 budget before presentation to the two chambers of the National Assembly in 2019.
However, both the House and the Senate scold the NDDC IMC for diverting attention from the oversight functions of the National Assembly. They reiterated the constitutional powers of the National Assembly to carry out oversight duties on federal parastatals to ensure transparency in the governance of the country. The National Assembly maintained that they cannot be intimidated or blackmailed in the investigation by the ad hoc committee of alleged N40 billion fraud in the NDDC.
The Senate Committee Chairman on Niger Delta Affairs, Peter Nwaoboshi, representing PDP, Delta North, was cited to have declared inter alia:
“What we are seeing is a case of a man sent to catch the thief but instead of catching the thief, he starts stealing too.
“If members of the IMC know that their hands are clean, they don’t need to panic or resort to blackmail which would not in any way deter the already mandated investigative committees of the National Assembly from carrying out their legitimate assignments.
“Their lies have short legs and unfortunately cannot run fast or fly…”