By Ben Agande
The constitution and subsequent inauguration of the special and standing committees of the House of Representatives by Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal penultimate Thursday, was by every means a bold statement by the leadership of the House that it was indeed ready to plunge headlong into the full legislative business for its seventh session.
Coming almost three months after the election of the presiding officers of the House, the Speaker and his team demonstrated that they are good students of parliamentary history. Since the fourth Assembly, the constitution of committees has always been a source of sour grapes between members and the House leadership over what some members perceived as improper placement in committees that are below their expectations.
In a speech announcing the constitution of the committees, the speaker told his colleagues that “all Committees are equal in the essence of their constitution and being. The core objective is service. It will therefore be clearly unhelpful for lawmakers to see some as superior to others or that one is more ‘juicy’ than another. At this particular moment in our history, a solid closing of ranks would be far more preferable than a contentious in-house crisis over perceptions of inferiority or superiority of parliamentary committee chairmanship or membership”.
The bulk of the work of the national assembly is done not necessarily through the regular sittings of the parliaments but through its standing committees. This, therefore, makes it imperative that for the House to effectively carry out both its oversight functions and its law making responsibilities, there is the need to not only have an effective and efficient committee system but to ensure that the leadership and membership of these committees are peopled by representatives who have the capacity to drive it.
In theory, all the committees are of equal importance, but in practice, there are higher expectations from some committees whose activities have very significant implications for the welfare of the people, stability of the country and national economic growth.
Some of these committees include those on Appropriation (and Public Accounts); Works and Housing; Industry; Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA; Customs and Excise; Education; Security and Intelligence; Defence and Security; Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC; Finance, FCT, Interior; and Petroleum and Gas. Virtually all of them have a lot of responsibilities and challenges in view of the plethora of issues that relate to these sub-sectors and sectors.
Explaining the rationale behind the choice of leadership of some of the committees, Speaker Tambuwal stated that the selection committee and the body of principal officers “took time to ensure we got the right blend and mix of members in the leadership and membership of the Committees”.
According to him, “the membership of the House of Representatives is made up of highly skilled and qualified individuals and professionals trained and educated across the broad spectrum of knowledge and experience. In constituting the leadership and membership of the Committees, we have made every effort to be fair and ensure that the diversity of skills, knowledge and experience endowed in this House are appropriately deployed and assigned”.
The success or otherwise of the House of Representatives as an institution would be judged by the success or otherwise of its committees. According to the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, the expectations of Nigerians from the House of Representatives is not anything exotic but doing the basic of things to ensure that Nigerians live the decent life.
In a speech during the inauguration of the committees in Abuja, Agbakoba told the legislators that “the criticism of the National Assembly can be reversed if the output is increased. What Nigerians want from the National assembly is development and they are not getting it.
How much money is made from the petroleum industry? The present sharing arrangement of 40/60 between the NNPC and the international oil Company is not working for Nigeria. It is a huge fraud and these are questions that Nigerians expect the National Assembly to ask the NNPC” he said.
Giving further insight on how the International Oil companies short changed the Nigerian Economy, Agbakoba pointed out that four areas stand out in this nefarious scheme namely their legal services, banking, insurance and shipping.
He regretted that while ExxonMobil for instance spends over $1Billion for its legal services in a year, no Nigerian law firm is patronised while out of the over five thousand ships that ply Nigerian waters ferrying crude, no Nigerian ship is involved in the lifting of the crude.
While the appointment of some chairmen into certain committees was generally hailed as putting round pegs in round holes, the tendency to pander to ethnic and regional sentiments has seen a situation where some committee appointments are seen largely as patronizing rather than meeting the criteria espoused by the speaker during the announcement of the committees.
How well the leadership of the House of Representatives is able to closely monitor the activities of the leadership of the committees to ensure that their activities fit into the legislative agenda would determine how the seventh session of the House would be judged. The success of the committees in carrying out their activities would be the ultimate success of the House. And for the leaders of the various committees, how they pilot the affairs of their committees would determine whether they would be on the debit or credit side when the history of the Seventh session of the National assembly is being written.
One of the committees which aroused interest was that of Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, and foreign aids.
The committee, headed by Hon. Eseme Eyibo, according to information made available, would streamline the activities of NGOs in the country, as well as monitor the mode of foreign aids into the country, the purposes to which such aids are deployed and from which source(s) the funds flow.
The importance of this, according to those close to Speaker Tambuwal, is to check the process through which foreign organizations or countries surreptitiously bring funds into the country. Already, in the wake of the resurgence of the activities of the Islamist Boko Haram, there have been insinuations that the group is being funded from outside Nigeria. The focus of the Speaker, working through this committee, Sunday Vanguard was made to understand, is to ensure that Nigeria is spared the odium of poisoned foreign aids that come into the country unchecked.
The Speaker is said to believe that appointing Eyibo to head the committee would do a lot of good for the House and indeed Nigeria because of what a source termed the “articulate disposition of Hon. Eyibo as well as his temperament and level of exposure”.
Another Committee is that of Research, headed by Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, a former Information and Strategy Commissioner in Lagos State and member of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. Opeyemi, a lawyer, is expected to bring his wealth of experience to bear.
Then there is the committee on media, headed by Hon. Zakari Mohammed, with his deputy as Hon. Victor Ogene – both know their onions and are expected to do well for the House in terms of information dissemination and management of its image.