The frosty relationship between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara and Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila over composition of the House Committees has deepened as the Lagos lawmaker boycotted the inauguration of the committees in Abuja on Monday. Gbajabiamila who was scheduled to deliver the opening remarks was nowhere to be found, with the task eventually taken over by the Deputy Majority Leader, Buba Jubril.
However, Dogara used the occasion to defended composition of the 96 committees for the lower legislative chamber, including the creation of additional seven committees. He said: “Some commentators have decried the large number of committees as being unwieldy and not cost effective. This criticism, even 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 over sighted 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 explained that the old Committee on Education had a mandate to oversight the budget and policy issues of the following institutions – 104 unity schools; 22 federal colleges of education; 36 federal universities and 24 federal polytechnics. “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 lawmaking and other representational responsibilities.”
Dogara went further in his defence: “The United States (U.S.) Congress has about 22 standing and select committees but about 100 sub-committees.
“This reasoning also informed the splitting of other committees, like Health which has about 150 institutions. Agriculture Committee was also split for the same reason. There is merit sometimes in setting up specific committees to handle specific problems.”
The reasons given above informed the creation of the new committee on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Refugees, and Initiatives on the Northeast, he adds.
Dogara reiterated further that the multiplicity of committees was to check corruption and impunity in government. According to him, “the legislature remains the only institution with appropriate constitutional and statutory powers to check the executive arm and ensure that it discharges its mandate to the full benefit of all Nigerians”.
The Speaker, also downplayed public perception of ‘juicy and non-juicy committees’, saying all committees have equal importance.
“The media has been awash with how some members got ‘juicy committees’ and some didn’t. 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.”
In his speech, the Chief Whip, Ado Doguwa, admitted the existence of a wide crack in the House, but pledged solidarity of the nine principal officers to Dogara’s leadership. “We stand by what you have done. We stand by the position of the leadership. Nine of us are religiously behind you Mr. Speaker,” he said.
Responding to a question on the absence of the House Leader, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media & Publicity, Jonathan Gaza, said: “I do not know why he was absent, but I believe it was for a good cause.”
He described Gbajabiamila’s absence as unfortunate and added that the country should be bigger than one. “Time has been wasted on several things…when you walk into that Chamber; it’s not about party 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.”
Meanwhile, there was a rash of resignations by members who were uncomfortable with the constitution of the committees prior to the inauguration. The Deputy Minority Whip in the Seventh House and a member of the APC, Garba Mohammed Datti, was the first to resign as Chairman, House Committee on Solid Minerals Development. He was followed by Sunday Adepoju (APC Oyo), who resigned as deputy chairman, Committee on Special Duties.
Another member from Benue State, Hassan Saleh (PDP) formerly communicated his rejection of the deputy chairmanship of the Committee on Local Content to the Speaker. Chika Adamu also resigned his committee position as deputy chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Compliance.
By Olisemeka Obeche