The Federal Government has described as false, Rivers State Government’s claim that it was defaulting in its statutory contribution for the funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Rather, the Federal Government said it was Rivers that had consistently failed in making its contributions to the common pool for the operations of the 22-.year-old intervention agency.
To buttress its claim, the government pointed out that Rivers State has been receiving 100 per cent of its share of the Ecological Fund without surrendering 50 per cent of it as its own contribution for funding the NDDC.
The government also accused Rivers State of arm twisting the NDDC by demanding from it the sum of N50billion as tax liabilities.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami stated this via a counter-affidavit to a suit by Rivers State challenging the commencement of monthly deduction of 50 per cent from the Ecological Fund due to members states for NDDC funding as required by Section 14(2)(c) of the NDDC Act 2000.
In the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1138/2021, Rivers State is contending that it is arbitrary and unlawful for the Ministry of Finance to seek to enforce the NDDC Act in relation to the states, without first ensuring that the Federal Government met its funding obligations under Section 14(2)(a) of the NDDC Act 2000.
Listed as defendants by the state are Malami, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
In a supporting affidavit, Rivers State Finance Commissioner, Isaac Kamalu, claimed the Federal Government “has failed, neglected and/or refused to fulfil its funding obligations to the NDDC and that the defendants, particularly the 2nd and 3rd, have failed to implement the provisions of the NIC Act with respect to the funding obligations of the Federal Government.
Kamalu claimed that “Rivers State will suffer huge financial losses until the provisions of the NDDC Act relating to the funding obligations of the Federal Government and the member states, particularly Rivers State, are enforced and implemented uniformly. without any discrimination or distinction.”
But Malami, in his counter-affidavit, described the suit as a ploy by Rivers State to avoid making its statutory contributions to the NDDC.
The minister said: “The subject matter and purport of the instant suit are to prevent Rivers State from making its own statutory contributions to the funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (“NDDC”) based on its jaundiced interpretation of the NDDC Establishment Act.
“The plaintiff did not at any time engage any of the defendants on the contribution of the Federal Government to the NDDC fund but chose to reach a hasty conclusion that suits its whims.
“The plaintiff has not demonstrated that it has been contributing to the NDDC fund, the required 50 per cent of the Ecological Fund due to Rivers State prior to the issuance of a letter dated September 3, 2021, by the third defendant.
“The Federal Government is not under obligation to pay any 13 per cent statutory contribution to the NDDC fund.
“Furthermore, the approval for deduction in contention is a mere surplusage as the deductions are statutory and do not require the approval of the 2nd defendant before the deductions can become operational.
“The notification of the approval for deduction communicated by the third defendant to the plaintiff is merely salutary and done out of courtesy to serve as a reminder that the plaintiff has been defaulting in its obligations to the NDDC and also to put the plaintiff on notice of the expected deductions from Its statutory allocation.
“The notification of deduction was issued by the 2nd and 3rd defendants because the plaintiff has been in default of its statutory contributions for the development of the Niger Delta.
“Rivers State has been receiving ecological funds from the defendants regularly without making corresponding or consequential contributions to the NDDC Fund.
“The plaintiff, rather than contribute to the funding of the NDDC, has seen making huge claims against the NDDC as exemplified In NDDC Vs. Rivers State Board of Internal Revenue (2019) LPELR-49046(CA) wherein the Rivers State Government claimed N50billion under the guise of tax liabilities and also sought for the issuance of a warrant authorising it to levy distress and distrain any land and or any other property howsoever described belonging to NDDC.”
A hearing in the case is scheduled for February 7.
Source: The Nation Online