It was expected that with the composition of the 96 Standing Committees in the House of Representatives, the stage was set for real legislative business to commence in earnest, but developments of the past weeks suggest otherwise.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara had announced names of the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen for the standing committees for effective oversight functions, but the ripples from the election of the presiding officers and selection of principal officers still haunt the House.
The insinuation that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, appears not prepared to steer the ship of leadership and the party’s inability to manage victory due to personal interest as well as the alleged over bearing influence of the leadership of the party, especially on the legislature, have also become a threat to the growth of democracy.
Five months after the 8th National Assembly was inaugurated, the Senate and House of Representatives have not known peace. Some highly placed politicians have been accused of using some of the lawmakers to manipulate the system for selfish interests.
While the lawmakers who lost out, despite being backed by the influential politicians, have vowed to make the parliament ungovernable, the APC leaders are busy pursuing those that defeated their preferred candidates in the presiding officers’ elections.
It is common knowledge that Speaker Dogara was rejected by the APC leadership during the election of House presiding officers but supported by the opposition elements.
Meanwhile, analysts worry about the trend where issues concerning the legislature is decided at party headquarters and press conferences when there is a disagreement among members.
In the selection, the ruling APC has more Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of the standing committees, but some of the aggrieved members of the party, especially those that worked for the emergence of Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was the preferred candidate of the APC for speakership before he lost to Dogara, are still grumbling that the Speaker was not fair to them.
Interestingly, some opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, elements, who also worked against Dogara in preference for Gbajabiamila, have joined in the lamentation. Some of the PDP members, who are second and third term members, have accused the Speaker of jettisoning the House rule of ranking to compensate first time members and some of his cronies that voted for him in the speakership election. The aggrieved members claim that Dogara did not vote for the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, to emerge the Speaker of the 7th Assembly, but that did not stop Tambuwal from making him the Chairman, House Services.
Some APC lawmakers also accused Dogara of giving what they described as more juicy committees to the opposition PDP and even queried why Dogara should allow the PDP members head 45 committees as against 48 for the ruling party.
However, the Speaker has told those who cared to listen to him that every section of the country, irrespective of ethnic background or political affiliation, must be carried along so as to give everybody a sense of belonging.
Inaugurating the Chairmen and their deputies, in a special session boycotted by the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, but attended by representatives of Service Chiefs, the Head of Service, Inspector-General of Police, as well as some traditional rulers, among others, Dogara explained that there were no juicy committees.
He said, “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.
“We are committed to the anti-corruption fight of the present administration, therefore each committee of the House is expected to lead this fight through their legislative actions. The constitution has specifically reposed in the National Assembly, not the Executive, the duty and responsibility to “expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it’. (S.88 (2)b.).
“The Committees remain the most important mechanism for carrying out this solemn constitutional mandate. The leadership of the House will, consequently, be very sensitive to any report of wrongdoing or corrupt practices by any member or leadership of a committee”.
House members turn boxers
On Tuesday, a day after the inauguration, two members of the ruling APC engaged in physical combat over issues relating to the composition of the standing committees. A report said a member from Benue State had the upper hand in the clash but the situation was reportedly brought under control by Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun as an emergency caucus meeting of the APC was held to calm frayed nerves.
Reacting to this development, a member of the House, Chike Okafor, who is also an APC member representing Okigwe Federal Constituency of Imo State, said it was a normal thing in the political setting for people to be aggrieved and dissatisfied on decisions, adding, “It is all about interest. Politics, somebody says, is who gets what, when and how.
“You will not expect that, after the Speaker had exercised his constitutional responsibility of assigning members to committees, the exercise will go down well with everybody irrespective of whether it is APC or PDP.
“Don’t forget that this is a party that is less than three years old. Don’t forget also that this is a party that just took over power at the centre and equally assumed majority in the two chambers; so, it is not a matter of style, but I think it has to do with the fact that the party wants to get it right.”
But Rep Joan Mrakpor, PDP from Delta State, believes that the APC lawmakers and the party leadership were taking the issue too far. She condemned the attitude of members lawmakers fond of running to the party secretariat or the leadership when disagreement, that concern members arise.
She said, “People should be able to separate the legislature from party politics. We all came from different parties. I came in on the platform of PDP, but I want to state here that PDP has always been very mature to legislatures whether at the state or national level.
“I have been a part of the state assembly and by the grace of God, I am here now, the party has never ever tried to interfere in the running of the legislature. I don’t want to believe it is mainly the issue of the party, I think the members concerned should try to separate the party from the daily running of the National Assembly, a situation where you allow the party everyday to meddle into the affairs of the National Assembly, I don’t think it will breed healthy legislature.
“The legislature is supposed to be people with a mindset to do the right thing, a mindset to make the laws for good governance, a mindset to make people oriented laws, laws with human face and you must be in a particular frame of mind to be able to do that when you have to speak on a situation or an issue you know that will benefit Nigerians and you are afraid to speak because of what you think one party person is going to say to you is not in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians and the legislature.
“Even in the state House of Assembly, you hear people grumble about committees just like naturally as human beings, we grumble over everything. Some of us at a stage in our lives at times get to the stage where you even grumble about God when you want a particular thing and you are not getting it at a moment you begin to ask yourself whether God is in existent.
“It is not just possible that the 360 of us at any particular time, will be happy with the decision of the house. If you want the house to continue you just have to burry your own personal interest beneath the general interest. But when you are looking at a situation and you are looking at that it must be your own way, then you are selfish and that does not make for a healthy legislature or a healthy nation.”
On the way out, she said, “The way out is for the APC to exhibit maturity, it should just grow up. A married man who keeps running back to the mother everyday to complain that the wife’s soup is not delicious, will never have peace in that home, if you keep running back to your in-laws, that home will continue to be in crisis.
“As long as APC is always any little misunderstanding, you run back to the party secretariat, you run to the media, you make all sorts of uncomplimentary remarks, it is not in the interest of the legislature.”
Rep Emmanuel Ekon, from Akwa Ibom State, noted that it was normal for people to be aggrieved and that it was impossible to satisfy the 360 members of the House.
He also frowned at some members who resigned their committee positions as a result of the alleged advice of their leader.
Ekon said, “I see no reason why people should be aggrieved. A lot of people have resigned and they are saying some people asked them to do so. I told them that if my leader should ask me to resign because he is not satisfied with what I am given, I should first of all ask him to resign”.