Members of the House of Representatives will face an avalanche of touchy and thorny issues as they resume today
BY LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
Change in leadership structure
Talks about the sack of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leadership of the House reached a crescendo immediately after 37 members of the ruling party defected to opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) on December 18, 2013 just a day before the House rounded off last year.
With the defections, the number of APC members which was 137 was jerked up, giving it more members than the PDP in the House. Now, APC has 171 members while the ruling PDP has 167.
All along PDP has boasted of falling short of their 208 members with only one member but an informed source from the House revealed to Vanguard that the PDP has since been reduced to 167 with many other members from the party threatening to leave immediately the House resumes.
However, there is politics of number which has apparently hampered the APC’s desire of assuming control of the House. The rule of the House stipulates that 181 members are required as a prerequisite for any party to substantiate the claim of being the majority. At least, this was the House position last year. The APC elements think otherwise.
The Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who is actually warming up to assume the position of the Majority Leader told Vanguard in an exclusive interview that anyone basing the argument on 181 is stirring up some difficulty in understanding the simple rule. He believes that the simple 181 applies only in the midst of two parties in the Parliament.
But since, there are more than two political parties in the House, he submits that it qualifies to say that a party with even a number above the others becomes the majority party and shall produce the House leadership.
His words: “You know there is time and season for everything. Yes, this could have been done last year but it was just a day before we went on our break.
We needed not to rush. So, we decided to tarry until we resume. For me, it is a change of leadership. It is not whether you want to or you don’t want to. If you look at the rules and laws that govern our operations in the House, it is an operation of law. It is whether we want or not. If we don’t, it is either we suspend our rules otherwise we are violating our rules because the rules are very clear. ”
The rules of the House say that the majority party shall produce the majority leadership and the minority party shall, it is “shall” and not “may”.
So by the operation of the law, automatically if APGA or PPN becomes the majority today, they automatically by operation of law become the majority leadership.
There is no where in the world,no legislature in the world that I know where the majority plays the role of the minority or the minority plays the role of the majority. Sucha situation will defy logic, common sense and the law as in this case.”
Declaration of decampee’s seats vacant in the wake of the defection of 37 PDP members to the APC, the leadership of the PDP threatened to declare the seats of the defectors vacant. This incident made the Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the cynosure of every Nigerian. But while suspicions mounted around it, the House through its Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, said that the Lower Chamber would do no such thing citing Sections 68 (1g); 109 (1g); 135 and 180 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) to support the House’s stand on the matter. It is still left to be seen what becomes of the situation.
Reshuffling committee chairmen. Though this issue is still latent as the time of filing this report, speculations are rife that 57 chairmen of different House Committees out of over 80 might lose their offices as the Speaker is set to makesweeping changes to strengthen the Committees.
The impending exercise is also coming against the fact that many of the committee chairmen showed some negligence in the course of their oversight responsibilities last year, an ill development that left the speaker shouting and begging for the reports of the oversight tours of the Committees. But whether this exercise would hold is still in the womb of time.
Marking Okonjo-Iweala’s answer scripts
One of the major works to be done is consideration of the 2014 budget proposal which was laid before the House late last year by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan.
But from every indication, it appears that the budget consideration would have to wait until the lawmakers debate, agree and are satisfied with the answers put forward by the Minister to the 50 questions raised by the House Committee on Finance at the twilight of 2013 on the state and performance of the economy. To them, the propriety or otherwise of the answers is germane to the consideration of the 2014 budget.
Though the Minister had last week given a 102-page answer to the questions, there still appears to be dissatisfaction among the members. In fact, on the heel of the responses, the House fired back at the Minister, saying that the questions put to her had not been answered.
Deputy Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene stated the position of House even as most members of the Parliament individually corroborated the position.
Ogene said: “First and foremost, I think that the House of Representatives Committee on Finance is the appropriate organ that will respond to those issues and in doing so will determine if her answers are in conformity with the realities on the ground. But as a House, we have always insisted that we will not bow down to any kind of grandstanding aimed at derailing us from our set goals.
The set goal is simply to hold government accountable to the governed and we will not shy away from doing that. But even from her response, you would see who clearly is playing to the gallery. If a Committee of the House has requested you to provide information which in most cases ought to be handled with circumspection; this is an interaction between you and the House and your response, the first thing you did, while the House is still on recess is to publicise it.
“Then the Nigerian people should now know that they have a Finance Minister who’s more interested in political drama than in the reality of addressing the Nigerian Economy. For instance, she talks about the fact that some of the issues raised by the Committee are already in the public domain and have been extensively debated by the government, Journalists, Civil Society organizations and the Private Sector.
And the simple question to ask is: do you run government on the basis of debate on the pages of newspaper in the mass media? The answer is clearly no.
”So, if she wants the House or its committee on Finance to base its decision on discussions held in the public arena as she is clearly insinuating in her response that again tells you the level to which governance has degenerated in Nigeria. She goes ahead to talk about questions being repetitive and I laugh at such a response.