Tuesday, November 3, 2015 12:04 pm
Protests over composition of the House Committees threaten to snowball into another crisis for the Speaker
By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja.
Yakubu Dogara, the speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives was, for better part of last week, away in Israel for pilgrimage. Indeed, the Speaker was shown in some of his pilgrimages pictures circulated to the media praying at the popular wailing war in the holy city of Jerusalem. While it may be difficult to know the details of subjects of his prayers, it may not be out of place to hazard a guess that the Speaker’s entreaties to God would include helping him to avert a crisis brewing back home over sharing of committee’s position.
The simmering crisis has resulted in rejection of chairmanship position by two members, Sunday Adepoju and Garba Dhatti Muhammad announced as deputy chairman and chairman of House Committee on Special Duties and solid minerals respectively in the past one week. This magazine gathered that more members were assigned as chairman and deputy chairman of the 95 House committees announced by the Speaker on 21 October.
A breakdown of the composition of the Committees show that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP nearly equally shared the chairmanship and deputy chairmanship position at the ratio of 48 to 45 respectively. Two other parties – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – got one committee chairman each. Apart from the complaints about the nearly 50:50 share in committee leadership between the ruling and the opposition party, APC members complained that the leadership of some of the most important committees, especially those crucial to the economy and the reform agenda of President Muhammadu were handed over to PDP by the Speaker.
About 20 out of the 45 committees chaired by the opposition are regarded as ‘grade A’ or ‘juicy.’ The Committees and their PDP Chairpersons include Linus Okorie (agricultural colleges and institutions), Samson Okwu (Air Force), Rima Shawulu (Army), Nkiruka Onyejeocha (aviation), Jones Onyereri (banking and currency),Tajuddeen Yusuf (capital markets and institutions), Jerry Alagaoso (FERMA), Agbedi Frederick (gas resources), Betty Apiafi (health institutions), Nicholas Mutu (NDDC), Akinlaja Joseph (petroleum resources, downstream),and Victor Nwokolo (petroleum, upstream). Others are Patrick Asadu (ports, harbours and waterways), Daniel Asuquo (power), Busayo OluwoleOke (public procurement), Tobi Okechukwu (works) and Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (foreign affairs), among others. Thus, there have been allegations that the Speaker had used the allocation of the chairmanship of the Committees to reward PDP members who helped him to assume leadership of the House.
Dogara became the Speaker of the House in the election conducted on 9 June, scoring 182 votes to 172 votes of Femi Gbajabiamila, the preferred candidate of APC with the help of PDP lawmakers in a very rancorous process. Though due to pressure from the party, Gbajabiamila was eventually appointed the Leader of the House, sources said Dogara has stuck with working with some of his key allies in APC and members of PDP.
Thus, it was learnt that the Speaker has effectively shut out Gbajabiamila and those identified as his supporters from the decision making process of the House. In the instance of the composition of the Committees for instance, reports indicated that the House Leader was only shown the list of those selected to be members and chairpersons in the morning of the Thursday the Speaker announced them in the House. A source close to Gbajabiamila informed this magazine that this was despite the fact that the House Leader had some days before then written the Speaker to ask him about the progress being made in the composition of the Committees. “In essence, what the Speaker did was to foist a fait accompli on the House Leader,” said the source. That letter was not replied, the source who noted that less than 10 of Gbajabiamila’s loyalists were given committee chairmanship noted. Also, just one out of the eight committees clinched by supporters of the House Leader is regarded as Grade A, with James Faleke (Lagos APC) as chairman of Customs and Excise Committee. Sources said the House Leader would have protested the appointments if he had seen the list earlier. “The list speaks for itself. I saw it for the first time at 10a.m., a couple of hours before the announcement was made. This falls short of the consultation with Principal Officers required and mandated by our House rules,” the House Leader said in a text message.
In contrast, some of the loyalists of the Speaker who got grade A committees include Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (Aviation), Hon. Nnenna Elendu Ukeje (Foreign Affairs), Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Public Accounts), Hon. Muktar Aliyu (Defence), Hon. Tobi Okechukwu (Works) Hon. Herman Hembe (FCT), Hon. Babangida Ibrahim (Finance), and Hon. Zakari Mohammed (Basic Education and Services). Also, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas heads the Committee on Media and Publicity, while Hon. Abdulsamad Dasuki chairs the Committee on Navy. Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumini, who was the spokesperson for the Consolidation Group, which championed Dogara’s campaign for the Speakership was also made chairman of the Committee on Appropriation. “The speaker gave us the low graded committees like civil societies, anti-corruption, aids and loans, financial crimes, insurance, treaties, protocols and agreements. Are those serious committees? Only Sani Zorro got something fair, the newly formed committee on IDPs, and maybe because he has been the face of the House,” the lawmaker said.
In the same vein, there have been complaints that the chairmanship of key committees did not favour the South-west. With the distribution of the Committee chairpersons, some members of APC members in the House have accused the Speaker of weakening the APC. A source noted for instance that in the last House, out of the 84 committees, the opposition, which was the APC then, chaired only 16, out of which only three can be regarded as key committees.
There are also allegations that some of the Committee positions were allocated in a way that can be interpreted that the purpose is to checkmate the President elected on the platform of APC. A member of the House who spoke to this magazine off record for instance pointed out that Rima Shawulu, the PDP Representative from Taraba State who was made the Chairman of the House Committee on Army was just few days before his appointment appeared on a programme on a national television station during which he rained abuses on the President. “Yes, I have tendered my resignation because I did not believe that the APC was fairly treated by the speaker. The committees on powers, aviation, works, petroleum and others are with the PDP. The speaker is intelligent enough to know the best way to handle this issue,” he added.
The change we wanted is not there yet. The opposition party is still in charge of affairs. The PDP has taken control of the strategic committees that should drive the change agenda of the APC. Such committees are very important to this regime because they are to help the country in bringing the desired change,” Dhatti –Muhammad said. “Dogara has short-changed his own party, APC, in favour of the PDP. But we are not surprised because that was the agreement they had before he became Speaker. All the critical committees that will play a role in the change mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari have been given to the PDP. Petroleum, Upstream and Downstream, Power, Works, Foreign Affairs; these are areas Mr. President would want to turn around in the country but they are conceded to the PDP,” Babban Kaita a Rep member from Katsina State who argued that protests about the composition of the committees is not about the Gbajabiamila group argued.
This magazine gathered that more House members, especially from the South may resign their position starting from this Tuesday. Apart from the resignations, this magazine also gathered that the angry APC members of the House are waiting on leadership of the party and the presidency to intervene in the issue. Some of the lawmakers have also alleged that the distribution of the Committee position is part of the ploys by Dogara to strengthen the PDP ahead of the 2019 elections, a plot they alleged he is coordinating with Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President.
This magazine gathered that PDP Reps who were favoured in the distribution of the House Commitees have vowed to defend the Speaker against any opposition on the issue. Also, Abdulrazak Namdsa, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs has also dismissed claims that the Speaker favoured a particular political party in the distribution of the committees’ leadership. “It is not true that the Speaker has handed over the committees to the opposition. In sharing these committees, due process was followed. We ensured that every member of the House got two Grade ‘A’ committees. Whether you are a chairman or deputy, you are still relevant,” said the APC lawmaker from Adamawa State.
While the lawmakers bicker over the grade of the Committees, Eze Onyekpere, Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice was more concerned about the implications of having such a high number of committees’ oversight functions as well as the cost implications. For instance, while President Buhari has said he may reduce the number of ministries to less than 20, with 95 committees, Onyekpere noted that a , a Ministry will have between 2 to 4 committees exercising oversight over different aspects of its functions.
“There are bound to be overlaps and duplication of functions in these committees. This will lead to several committees visiting and demanding the same set of information; summoning ministers, permanent secretaries and directors for the same set of facts. Eventually, it will lead to situations where members of the executive may resort to self help and start ignoring these summons and requests thereby leading to unnecessary executive legislative wrangles,” Onyekpere said in his weekly column in The Punch newspapers.
He also noted contrary to the situation in Nigeria, in the United States of America, the Senate has 16 Standing Committees and five Joint Committees while the House of Representatives has 21 Standing Committees and five Joint Committees, making a total of 47.
In the same vein, he noted that the United Kingdom Parliament has a total of 25 Standing Committees while the Australian Parliament, the Senate has 19 Standing Committees and eight Joint Committees while the House has 15 Standing Committees and 18 Joint Committees bringing the total to 60.
“So, why did the House of Representatives constitute 97 committees? And by the time the Senate constitutes its committees, we will be looking at over 150 committees,” queried Onyekpere.
“These committees can be consolidated for greater effectiveness and cost reduction. For instance, all the education and health committees can be merged. The Nigeria Delta is one and there is no need for two committees.
The Committees on Gas, Petroleum Resources (Upstream) and Petroleum Resources (Downstream) can be merged for one committee on Oil and Gas. The Committees on Air Force, Army and Navy can become one committee on Defence,” Onyekpere who further noted that running Committees involves a lot of resources advised.