The 96 new standing committees of the House of Representatives were yesterday inaugurated at a session boycotted by the House leader, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila.
Reflective of the continuing schism in the House, Gbajabiamila’s loyalists turned up at the national headquarters of the All Progressives Congress, APC where they accused Speaker Yakubu Dogara of mortgaging the interest of the party to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and of being in cahoots with the opposition party to derail the change mantra that brought the APC to power.
They fumed that besides splitting the leadership of the committees with the opposition PDP, Dogara allowed opposition House members to take control of sensitive House committees.
Loyalists of the speaker rebuffed the claim yesterday as they gave note of their readiness to frontally dismiss the insinuations today.
Speaker Dogara who side-stepped the rebellion from the House leader at the inauguration ceremony, nevertheless frontally addressed other criticisms arising from the increase in the number of the committees. Present at the joint inauguration of the committees were Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former principal and presiding officers, Head of Service, Service Chiefs, Civil Society Organisations as well as traditional rulers.
Saraki, in a goodwill message at the ceremony affirmed that the National Assembly would not allow itself to be a platform for the promotion of interests against the common good.
Dogara who vowed that any under-performing committee official would be removed said the joint inauguration of the 96 committees was to enable them to hit the ground running. He also dismissed insinuations that some committees termed juicy were of more material benefit.
He said: “The decision to formally inaugurate all the Committees at once is borne out of the need for them to hit the ground running. It is also informed by the need to save cost and reduce legislative time that may be spent in inaugurating each Committee independently.
“Some commentators have decried the large number of Committees as being unwieldy and non cost effective. This criticism, though apparently well intentioned, misses the point.
“Experience gained from the operation of committees since 1999, shows that some committees’ functions and mandates are very wide indeed and cannot be effectively supervised and oversighted by a single committee.
“For instance, the House split the Committee on Education into two, namely: Basic Education and Services and Tertiary Education and Services.”
He said that the old Committee on Education had a mandate to oversight the budget and policy issues of 104 unity schools, 22 federal colleges of education, 36 federal universities and 24 federal polytechnics. Stressing that the committee also had 25 other government agencies and all aspects of education in Nigeria, he further explained,
“There is no way a single committee can adequately oversight all these agencies with House members also attending to other issues in plenary sessions, like law-making and other representational responsibilities.”
He said the Standing Orders of the House enjoined Special and Standing Committees, to create Sub–Committees as may be required and to appoint Sub- Committee Chairmen, in consultation with the Speaker.
He said this had led to friction between chairmen of substantive committees and chairmen of sub-committees and that in order to avoid gridlock, even though the committees were still expected to have sub-committees, effort had been made to create substantive committees where necessary in order to devote more attention to issues of priority to the House.
“Undoubtedly, the legislature remains the only institution with appropriate constitutional and statutory powers to check the executive branch and ensure that it discharges its mandate to the full benefit of all Nigerians.
“It is important to note that the Change promised Nigerians can only endure and outlive any government that introduced it only when it is anchored on legislation and not mere policy. Policy can easily be changed by an incoming government.
“Change itself must be regulated, so that our people would not face the dangers of unregulated change. That is why the legislative institution is central to the future we seek as a people.
“It is necessary to point out that the splitting of committees has not resulted in increased cost of running the house. The committee clerks and other staff of the committees are sourced from the existing pool of staff that are paid salaries and allowances already by the National Assembly.
“The committee members are already paid salaries also by the National Assembly. No person gets an increased remuneration by virtue of appointment as a committee member or chairman.The National Assembly budget has not been increased as a result.
“The situation in the Legislature is slightly different from the situation in the executive branch where creating a new agency or ministry may lead to increased costs of running the offices.”
On the issue of juicy and non-juicy committees, Speaker Dogara said:
“Let me use this opportunity to restate that there is nothing like juicy committee or non-juicy committee. I personally do not understand what is meant by that. If it means opportunity to contribute, we can assure you that every member of a committee would enjoy ample and equal opportunity.
“Every committee of the House is very important and is designed to handle specific functions for the House and on behalf of the Nigerian people who elected us.”
Inauguration unique, says Saraki
In his goodwill message, Senator Saraki said the inauguration was unique as it signposts the readiness and commitment of the National Assembly comprising the House and the Senate to innovative lawmaking.
He said, “It will be recalled that for the first time in the history of the National Assembly the two chambers of the House and the Senate separately forged and adopted legislative agenda to guide its activities in order to give the 8th National Assembly ambition, direction and a national goal towards socio-economic and political reforms.
“To all Nigerians I say this, as your representatives, we owe you not only our hard-work, but our judgment. This National Assembly will not be a parliament of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests we maintain as agents and advocates against one another in perpetual conflict.
“Rather, the 8th National Assembly will remain a united, deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole nation, not local prejudices or affiliations but working for the public good with collective purpose.”
While Rep. Austine Chukwukere representing Ideato Federal Constituency commended the Speaker for carrying everybody along irrespective of tribe or political affiliation, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Jonathan Gaza could not provide explanations for the absence of the Majority Leader, especially as he was scheduled on the order paper.
Gaza while reacting to questions on why Gbajabiamila was not present at the inauguration, said, “I do not know why he was absent, but I believe it was for a good cause.”
He described as unfortunate, reports that some aggrieved members boycotted the inauguration, stating that Nigeria should be bigger than any individual.
He said: “Time has been wasted on several things…when you walk into that chamber, it’s not about parties anymore. We swore allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not to our respective parties; it is therefore about the progress of Nigeria. The wheel of governance is spinning and Nigeria would begin its upward move.”
In a lecture at the inauguration, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chibudom Nwuche declared that standing committees of the National Assembly enhance the efficiency and performance of the legislature in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities.
Speaking on the theme: “The role of committees in a presidential system of government,” he said globally, parliaments were relying more on committees to discharge their functions and to operate more efficiently.
Meanwhile, Dogara’s loyalists stormed the national secretariat just as the inauguration got underway to protest what they claimed as the plot by the speaker to devalue the APC brand in the House.
Following a closed door meeting with members of the National Working Committee, NWC of the party at the national secretariat in Abuja, the lawmakers who operated under the aegis of “APC House Loyal Members”, affirmed that it was against democratic principles to share committees equally with the opposition.