The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, on Thursday, said the 2021 and 2022 budget estimates of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, were delayed due to the forensic audit of the agency as well as other structural issues bedeviling the agency during the period in question.
Umana spoke when he appeared before the Senator Yusuf Yusuf (APC Taraba Central)-led Adhoc Committee on the 2021 and 2022 delayed budgets of the NDDC over alleged spending of the sums in the proposed estimates without National Assembly approval.
Responding to questions from the committee, he also blamed the National Assembly for not acting expeditiously to considering and approving the budgets five months after they were transmitted by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Umana added that he was not the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs during the period the 2021 and 2022 budgets of the NDDC were allegedly spent.
He said: “I was appointed minister in June 2022 and when I assumed office, as part of the briefing I got from the NDDC, I noticed at the time that the budgets of 2021 and 2022 had not been transmitted to the National Assembly.
“The commission, as expected, had put together the budgets for those years and because there was no board and government policy also allows the minister in the absence of the board to exercise the powers that the board should have exercised including looking at the budgets before it goes to Mr. President for onward transmission to the Senate.
“Those budgets were forwarded through the office of the Minister to Mr. President. But again there were issues, it took time before those budgets could be forwarded because the Presidency had decided that everything about the Commission be handled once the reports of the forensic audit have been reviewed by the office assigned to do that review and recommendations made to Mr. President.
“So we were able to push to a level where Mr President got the recommendations so those budgets were transmitted to the National Assembly in October last year.
“But unfortunately too, the National Assembly did not take expeditious action in looking at those budgets and approving those budgets. So that is the summary of the position as best as I know.”
Responding to another question, the minister said: “When I made enquiries, the reason for the delay of those budgets had to do with the forensic audit.
“During the pendency of the forensic audit a decision was taken not to transmit the budgets maybe the feeling was that there could be something from the recommendations that may help in the review of the budgets.
“We also have a weakness of the structures of the system. It is not only NDDC, there are several other parastatals and agencies whose budgets are delayed.
“It is also a structural problem because even when the budgets were finally transmitted in October 2022, this is May 2023, even the National Assembly did not act expeditiously.”
The Senate had while considering the budgets of the NDDC, raised concern that the agency had spent its 2021 and 2022 estimates without National Assembly.
The Red Chamber in plenary rejected the budget and set up the Senator Yusuf Yusuf Adhoc committee to probe the agency.
The Managing Director of the Commission, Samuel Ogbuku, had while appearing before a committee of the National Assembly said the 2021, 2022 and 2023 budgets of the agency were consolidated into what he called “Budget of Rewind to Rebirth.”
While defending the budget, Ogbuku explained that a total budget of N485.7 billion was proposed for the NDDC in 2021, N928.2 billion in 2022, and N876 billion in 2023.