The shame in the National Assembly

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AFTER months of procrastination, the Senate and the House of Representatives have finally constituted their committees. The setting up of the committees is the signal of the readiness of the National Assembly to settle down for business.

This is because the committee system is the engine room of the legislature – the platform upon which the business of lawmaking and legislative oversight are accomplished.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, who announced the constitution of the Senate committees penultimate Wednesday named 65 committees, nine more than the 56 committees of the preceding Senate.

Speaker Yakubu Dogara had earlier announced chairmen and deputy chairmen for 96 committees with one, the Committee on Niger Delta still being awaited. The 97 committees in the House are seven above the 90 committees that were constituted in the immediate past House of Representatives.

The proliferation of committees is in remarkable contrast to the ongoing shrinking of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) of the Federal Government. This is especially worrisome given that the executive and the legislative branches of government are controlled by the same party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The contradiction in the style of leadership of the party in the two branches of government is indicative of a conflict of ideology, which is unhealthy for good and cohesive governance.

Remarkably, the proliferation of the committee system is not new, having become an operational tool for political survival by past leaders of the legislature. Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House adopted the culture of using committee positions to win the loyalty of lawmakers. Of particular interest are the so-called “juicy” committees, which are committees that give legislators more opportunities to squeeze illicit funds from the MDAs.

To strengthen their hands, the Senate President and the Speaker have further spread the ‘juice’ by splitting the “juicy” committees.
The closest example of a presidential democracy to Nigeria’s is in the United States where the Senate and the House of Representatives each has twenty standing committees.

By proliferating the committees, the legislature is not just adding to its overhead cost, it is also going to make the work of the executive branch a bit more cumbersome. Ministers and government officials are compelled to make multiple presentations and appearances before the multiple committees overseeing them.

We condemn the idea of regarding committees as “juicy” and “non-juicy”, with those who got committees in the latter category resigning or engaging in fisticuffs.

If indeed the senators and representatives are interested in serving the nation rather than lining their pockets, we expect them to stop fighting, settle down and face the work for which they were elected.

The National Assembly has spent six months squabbling and holidaying.

That is unacceptable.

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