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Page 48 2 Dogara’s committees of national unity By David Augustine The release of list of chairmen and deputies of standing committees of the House…

Page 48 2

Dogara’s committees of national unity

By David Augustine

The release of list of chairmen and deputies of standing committees of the House of Representatives by Speaker Yakubu Dogara was received with so much joy and appreciation by Nigerians, because the composition took care of the fears in certain sections of the country, where doubt persists that they would be disadvantaged, due to the political configuration in the house, with APC in a clear majority. But, Dogara’s appointments took care of these fears, bringing balance and equity to the parties and the different sections of the country.

In his patriotic wisdom, Hon. Dogara increased the number of House committees to 96, with his ruling; sorry, governing All Progressives Congress having 48 slots, and Peoples Democratic Party keeping 45, while four committee chairmen were left for smaller parties such as All Progressives Grand Alliance, Social Democratic Party, etc.

In increasing the number of committees, the Speaker said he was guided by the desire to ensure that effective legislative oversight is carried out, without increasing the cost of achieving such result:

‘It is necessary to point out that the splitting of committees has not resulted in increased cost of running the house. (The) committee clerks and other staff (of the committees) are sourced from the existing pool of staff (that are) paid salaries and allowances already by the National Assembly.

‘Committee members are already paid salaries also by the National Assembly. No person gets an increased remuneration by virtue of appointment as a committee member or chairman. The National Assembly budget has not been increased as a result’, Speaker Dogara had said at the inauguration of the committees.

While acknowledging the right to constructive criticisms by some commentators on the number of committees, the Speaker said experience, gained from the operation of committees since 1999, shows that some committees’ functions and mandates are very wide indeed and cannot be effectively supervised and ‘oversighted’ by a single committee.

For instance, the House split the committee on Education into two, namely: Basic Education and Services and Tertiary Education and Services. The old committee on Education had a mandate to oversight the budget and policy issues of the following institutions: 104 Unity Schools, 22 Federal Colleges of Education, 36 Federal Universities and 24 Federal Polytechnics.

In addition, it had responsibility also for the Ministry itself and about 25 other Government Agencies and all aspects of education in Nigeria.

There is no way a single committee can adequately oversight all these agencies with House members also attending to other issues in Plenary Sessions, like lawmaking and allied representational responsibilities.

It is also worthy of note there are two schools of thought with respect to the method of executing legislative functions. One school of thought employs the strategy of fewer standing committees, with many sub committees to deal with relevant subject matters. For instance, United States Congress has about 22 standing and select committees but about 100 sub committees. The second school of thought employs the method of delineating various subject matters carefully and constituting separate committees to handle them.

Dogara said that the 8th Assembly embraced the second option because of practical experience of running committees since 1999. The Standing Orders of the House enjoin special and standing committees to create sub committees as may be required and to appoint sub committee Chairmen, in consultation with the Speaker.

However, in practice, this had led to friction between Chairmen of substantive committees and Chairmen of sub committees. So, in order to avoid gridlock, even though the committees are still expected to have sub committees, Speaker Dogara created substantive committees where necessary in order to devote more attention to issues of particular and priority concern to the House.

In terms of national spread, Dogara has ensured that even the South East that is obviously politically disadvantaged got their due with 16 positions, second only to North West with 18 positions. To further confirm his patriotism and sense of service before self, the least number of committees went to North-East where he is from: the zone got eight committee chairmen and eight deputies.

Surprisingly, this noble act of the Speaker has generated a lot of tension in the house with some members protesting the equitable distribution of committees, accusing the speaker of allocating more committee slots to opposition parties than he should have. Some even went on to accuse him of allocating what they termed ‘juicy’ committees to the PDP.

The world over, committees of the parliament are supposed to be for proper oversight functions. To that effect, the main considerations are usually the ability of members to function properly in their committees and the quality of oversight by the committees.

The house ought to function as a whole and not be allowed to continue to be polarised along party lines. The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Jonathan Gaza recognises this fact when he answered a reporter’s question thus: ‘Time has been wasted on several things … when you walk into that chamber, it’s not about parties anymore. We swore allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not to our respective parties. It is therefore about the progress of Nigeria. The wheel of governance is spinning and Nigeria would begin its upward move’.

The same sentiments run deep in the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki’s speech at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Committees, when he said: ‘To all Nigerians I say this. As your representatives, we owe you not only our hard-work, but our judgment. This National Assembly will not be a parliament of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests we maintain as agents and advocates against one another in perpetual conflict.

‘Rather, the 8th National Assembly will remain a united, deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole nation, not local prejudices or affiliations but working for the public good with collective purpose’.

The Speaker, himself, guided by his belief that the house should remain one, insists that no ‘juicy’ considerations were taken into cognizance when committees were set up. He maintained that the only consideration was service to Nigeria.

‘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’, the Speaker said at the inauguration.

The National Assembly must realise that the Nigerian people that elected this government are getting quite impatient. They want action; they want a speedy resolution of our country’s myriad of problems; they want a turn for the better for their impoverished lives. They are tired of the bickering and infightings that have continued to dog the house. Nigerians can never again be taken for a ride by any government. So, the earlier the governing APC gets its acts together, especially the legislature, the better for the party and the government it is currently running.

Nigerians want the house to get down to work. They believe that the fight for ‘juicy’ committees is not in the interest of Nigerians, but that of the privileged members of the house.

Now that the House has fully taken off, let the lawmakers move on and work for the Nigerian people. Indeed, it is time for both the Dogara and Gbajabiamila tendencies in the House of Representatives to come together and give Nigerians quality representation for which they were elected. Nigerians want nothing less, nothing more!

Mr. Augustine wrote from Enugu

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