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Concerns over standoffs between NASS, heads of agencies

There are concerns over increased disagreements between members of the National Assembly, ministers and heads of agencies and parastatals. The heads of the agencies usually…

There are concerns over increased disagreements between members of the National Assembly, ministers and heads of agencies and parastatals.

The heads of the agencies usually accuse members of the National Assembly of undue interference, needless meddlesomeness under the guise of oversight functions, and in some instances outright extortion.

The development has degenerated to the extent that the legislators sometimes asked their clerks to walk out their visiting chief executives of agencies during heated arguments at plenary or at committees’ level.

Also, instances abound when chief executives of MDAs walked out on senators or members of the House of Representatives during “probes” as a mark of protest.

The altercations sometimes take place between legislators and chief executives outside the National Assembly.

 

‘Why we’ll continue to clash with executive’

A ranking lawmaker said yesterday that incessant encroachments into the constitutional responsibilities of the executive by the parliamentarians were responsible for the clashes between the two arms of government.

The lawmaker, who has been in the National Assembly for long, said the clashes will continue unless he and his colleagues respect the letters of the 1999 Constitution.

“Our roles are clearly stated in the constitution.

“If I must be frank with you, we should be blamed for all these clashes because we are encroaching into the jurisdiction of the executive,” he said, pleading not to be named.

Citing the faceoff between the Minister of State for Labour, Productivity and Employment, Festus Keyamo, the lawmaker said the minister was right.

“We have done our part, we have appropriated funds for the programme, what is left is oversight, to ensure that the money is properly utilised for the purpose it was appropriated for.

“It is not our business to dictate how the programme should be implemented.

“Do we tell MDAs the contractors to be engaged for project execution?

“The answer should be no. So, why are we dictating for the minister?

“Even the 15 percent of the 774,000 allocated to us was wrong.

“Everybody in your senatorial district or constituency is your constituent.

“So, why must you be given a certain number out of the 774,000 jobs,” he said, quoting Section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution.

The section says each House of the National assembly has the power to investigate (a) any matter in respect of which it has the power to make laws; and (b) the conduct of any parastatal or official responsible for administering any Act of the National Assembly or in charge of disbursing funds.

The section then says that this power to investigate is only exercisable for the purpose of enabling it (i.e. the Senate or the Reps) to (a) make laws on any matter within its legislative competence and correct defects in existing laws; and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws.

Our correspondents recalled that On June 30, Keyamo clashed with the federal lawmakers when he appeared before the joint committees of the National Assembly on Labour to brief them on the recruitment of 774,000 youths under the Special Public Works programme (SPW).

An argument over the composition of the selection of the committees of the scheme snowballed into a war of words between the minister and the lawmakers.

They asked the clerk to walk Keyamo out and thereafter announced the suspension of the scheme.

Subsequently, President Buhari, on Tuesday, reportedly threw his weight behind the minister by giving him a go-ahead to continue with the exercise, despite the suspension by the lawmakers.

Another lawmaker spoken to on Thursday blamed appointees of the executive for lack of respect being shown to the National Assembly by heads of MDAs.

“Whenever we have issues with those people when they appear before us, the executive arm will support and back their actions,” a federal lawmaker, who preferred not to be named, said.

“If the National Assembly also attempts to apply the sanctions it is allowed to take by law, still the executive will apply all tactics to prevent the sanctions from being applied,” he said.

 

Buhari, Lawan, speak

Speaking on the ensuing crisis, President Buhari on Thursday directed ministers and all heads of departments and agencies not to undermine the National Assembly as an institution, its leadership and members.

President Buhari said this when he received in audience Senate President Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila at the State House in Abuja.

The president, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said that any disrespect to the institution by any member of the executive branch would not be accepted.

He said Buhari and the leaders of the National Assembly recognized and acknowledged that the executive and legislative arms of government were essential partners in the fulfilment of their mutually aligned goal of improving the lives of the Nigerian people.

Also speaking to reporters after visiting the president, Lawan advised those appointed by the executive to emulate President Buhari.

The senate president, when asked whether there would be some changes in the conduct of some of the ministers from the outcome of the meeting with the president, said: “If you are an appointee of the president, you are supposed to be reflective of the attitude of the president towards the National Assembly…

“The National Assembly will take exception to any attitude or disposition that is not in support of the harmony in the relationship between the two arms of government.

 

Latest tussles between legislators and chief executives

The Niger Delta Development Commission Interim Management Committee (NDDC- IMC) on Thursday walked out on the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC investigating the alleged illegal spending by the commission of N81.5bn between January and July, this year.

The Director, Corporate Affairs, Charles Obi Odili, said in a statement that the Acting Managing Director of the commission, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, walked out on the committee because the commission did not have confidence in its chairman, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo.

“The MD/CEO was of the view that the committee chairman does not have the clean hands to sit in judgement over the affairs of the commission.

“Details will unfold subsequently,” Odili stated in the WhatsApp message.

Daily Trust reports that the NDDC MD had, before his team walked out of the venue of the two-day investigative hearing, alleged that Tunji-Ojo had been accused on many occasions of doing things that undermined the growth and development of the commission.

“We are not comfortable with the chairman of this committee.

“Mr Tunji-Ojo has been accused of various crimes against the commission and as an interested party, he cannot preside over this meeting,” he argued.

However, a member of the committee, Shehu Koko, dismissed the allegations, saying “If you have anything against this chairman, you can go to EFCC, ICPC or any of the security outfit to lay your complain but as far as the rules of this house are concerned, you cannot come here and decide how we should conduct our affairs.”

The spokesman of the house, Benjamin Kalu, said “There is no petition before the house against the chairman’s misconduct.

“So you cannot come here and tell us how to conduct our affairs.

“You have a right to fair hearing.

“That is why you are here.”

Trouble started after Tunji-Ojo delivered his address and was the turn of the NDDC IMC to start its submission.

Buhari has ordered a speedy and better coordinated job among security and investigating agencies with the National Assembly on the activities of the NDDC.

 

Past allegations against lawmakers

In May 2018, a former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala revealed how the Goodluck Jonathan presidency had to part with the sum of N17 billion to lawmakers, in order to have the 2015 budget passed.

Okonjo-Iweala revealed this in her new book titled: ‘Fighting corruption is dangerous, the story behind the headlines’.

In March 2019, the Director-General of the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mojisola Adeyeye, said she was once asked for a bribe by the House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services.

Speaking when she featured on a Channels TV programme, Adeyeye said the committee asked her for the bribe in the form of “money for welfare” when they visited her in December, 2017.

The NAFDA DG said this happened at a time the agency was “bleeding profusely” as a result of lack of funding.

In May 2018, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, accused the members of the National Assembly of bribe taking.

Jega made the allegation in Abuja while delivering a lecture titled, “Peace building and good governance for sustainable development in Nigeria,” as part of activities organised to mark the 2018 Democracy Day.

The former INEC boss told the gathering that included President Muhammadu Buhari; the then Senate President Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, that the federal lawmakers took bribes at will under the pretence of committee work and oversight functions.

Jega said, “Members of the National Assembly engage in bribe taking when they pursue committee works and oversight and I wonder what is happening with intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly.

“I have passed through the university system.

“I have heard so many stories of many vice-chancellors about the horror that they go through on the question of budget and so-called oversight assignments,” he said.

Back in 2012, the then Director- General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh, had during a hearing on developments in the capital market accused the then Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and other Financial Institutions, Herman Hembe, of witch hunting her because she failed to accede to the House’s request for a N40 million bribe .

The House had earlier walked out officials of SEC from a meeting with revenue generating agencies of government over the near collapse of the capital market.

 

Lawyers, CSOs speak

Lawyers spoken to yesterday said that the “walkouts” are a reflection of lack of equilibrium in the two independent arms of government.

Professor Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, said the development is evidence of system failure and breakdown of governance, adding that the National Assembly was dabbling too much into executive functions.

“And to know that the same political party controls both the executive and legislative arms of the federal government speaks negatively on good governance,” he said.

Also speaking, Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, said the existing trend does not portend well for the people and signposts a demystification of what was supposed to be a sacred institution.

Abdulhamid Mohammed said “Those oversight functions of the National Assembly are constitutional, but the scope and the limits have not been defined by the constitution.

“In such circumstances, some members of the legislature tend to be overzealous in the discharge of their functions, while the executive agencies also want to assert itself as an independent arm.”

The Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, said that the growing trend of executive appointees walking out on legislators during probes is the most embarrassing affront on the National Assembly.

“It signals a lack of respect for constituted authority and aberration of our constitution. There should be sanctions for this assault.

“However, we can’t absolve the legislature of the blame for such blatant misdemeanour.

“Like the African proverb, how you make your bed, that’s how you lie on it.

“If legislators upload the principles of neutrality, professionalism, transparency and accountability during legislative oversight, such institutional assault will be minimised,” Itodo said.

On his part, the Convener, Good Governance Team (GGT), Mr. Tunde Salman, said that the National Assembly had ignored the early warning signs that it would come to a period when officials from MDAs would be walking out of their committees.

According to him, “this should not have been the case if legislative oversights or investigative hearings are not turning to blackmailing tactics to extort money from the MDAs,” he said.

The Convener, Say No Campaign Nigeria (SNC-Nigeria), Ezenwa Nwagwu, said that the National Assembly carries unpleasant reputation overhang which has refused to shake off, as their inability to clarify their role to constituents and the push to ‘do well’ as we often say here drives them to overreach themselves and carry an inflated idea of their importance.

“They must see political office as call to service and not investment, so as to  truly be called Honourable, many Nigerians see them currently as their biggest problem, second to COVID-19 and corruption,” Nwagwu said.

The Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said that Nigerians know that when the National Assembly sets up probes, nothing tangible ever come out of it, as most citizens believe that so called probes by the National Assembly, are just opportunities created for the self aggrandisement of members.

“As such, not much value is placed on those probes in the public eye. Those appearing before National Assembly also know that many of the legislators engage in conflict of interest. As such, they are quick to dismiss them, knowing that the members are not standing on strong moral grounds,” Zikirullahi said.

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