By NBF News
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A Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, fixed March 31 to commence hearing on a suit filed before it by 21 traditional rulers of mineral producing communities in Nigeria, seeking a declaration that the acts of the Federal Ministry of Finance in non-disbursement of N500 billion from the federation account, being part of the statutory funding contribution to the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, between 2001 to 2009, was unlawful and ultra vires the powers of the Minster of Finance.

The Niger Delta monarchs, who approached the court under the aegis of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, are contending that the said funds meant for the NDDC between 2001 and 2009 was withheld by the Federal Government under President Olusegun Obasanjo.

They are specifically asking for an order directing the Attorney General of the Federation, Minister of Finance and Federal Ministry of Finance, to remit  N484, 450, 551, 137.91, to the NDDC, contending that the amount was the difference between the statutorily generated 15% total amount from the federation account as prescribed in the NDDC Act, between 2001 to 2009.

They are also asking for 'an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from further withholding the said amount and any other statutory allocation due for disbursement for the speedy development of the oil mineral producing communities of Niger Delta states of the federation'.

In a statement of claim they filed through their counsel, Dr Alex A Izinyon, SAN, the plaintiffs averred that the communities under their domain have witnessed relatively stagnated development projects under the mandate and supervision of the NDDC, with little or no immediate impact on the basic infrastructural need of the communities.

They maintained that 'the slow pace of developmental projects being carried out under the supervision of the NNDC, 4th defendant, in the Niger Delta is attributable to inadequate disbursement of funds to the commission for the development of the area.'

They insisted that between 2001 and 2009, the Minister of Finance and the Ministry of Finance, released the sum of N202, 202, 568, 107.00 only, as funds contribution from the federation account to the NDDC, out of a total of N686, 653, 441, 244.92, being the actual 15% statutory allocation which ought to have been paid from the federation accounts to the NDDC.

They argued that 'over the years, the oil mineral producing communities have suffered untold hardship both in their economic activities and living conditions due to the impact of oil exploration activities on their environment.

'The effect of the non release of these funds for the development of this area led to youth restiveness, rise in crime rate, militancy, kidnapping, joblessness and lack of social amenities: clean water, health care, roads, markets and food in the Niger Delta region.

'It is hypocritical and against the benefit of the electorate of the Federal Government represented by the 1st to 4th Defendants to make all these deductions and yet fail to address the deplorable conditions in the area as stated above.

'If the money is released, it will go a long way in solving the perennial problems and crisis bedeviling the region. It would serve the interest of justice for this honourable court to pronounce on the legality or otherwise of the act of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Defendants in withholding the said funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region and order the immediate release', they added.

Though hearing was originally slated to commence on the suit yesterday, the case could not go on owing to the absence of presiding Justice Ibrahim Auta, who however ordered the court registrar to adjourn the matter till March 31.