The clamour by Nigerians for the incumbent administration to curb profligacy and slash the cost of governance, may continue to be a pipe dream if moves by the House of Representatives to increase the number of committees in the lower chamber from 84 in the seventh assembly to 95 gets the final seal of approval.
This is coming as several ranking lawmakers of the 360-strong member chamber intensify lobbying for the headship of “Grade A” committees or what are otherwise considered “plum” committees.
It also coincides with the appointment of 112 aides by the Taraba State Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku, in the facing of dwindling revenue.
THISDAY scooped from the recommendations of the report of the just-concluded Selection Sub-committee on the Formulation of Ground Rules for the Placement of Members into Special and Standing Committees that 11 new committees may be created in the lower chamber, bringing the total from 84 to 95 in the present parliament.
The selection sub-committee is chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Yussuf Lasun. Other members of the committee are Hon. Onawo Ogoshi (Nassarawa PDP), Hon. Babangida Ibrahim (Katsina APC), Hon. Aisha Dukku (Gombe APC), Hon. Ayo Omidiran (Osun APC), Hon. Betty Apiafi (Rivers PDP) and Hon. Goodluck Opiah (Imo PDP). They represent all the six geopolitical zones.
The selection sub-committee submitted its report to the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, on Monday.
Should the House increase the number of committees from 84 to 95, the lower legislative chamber is expected to record a rise in total allocation to the various committees.
In contrast, the US House of Representatives has only 21 congressional committees comprising 20 standing committees and one select committee.
Not a few Nigerians have continued to express outrage over what is perceived as the huge annual budgetary allocation to the National Assembly, calling for drastic cuts.
With a precipitate fall in oil prices triggering a more than 50 per cent decline in revenue, the clamour for a radical cut in the National Assembly budget as well as the remuneration of other public servants has even become more strident, culminating in the reduction of the parliamentary annual budget from N150 billion previously to N120 billion in 2015.
By trying to increase the number of committees from 84 to 95, many Nigerians would see this as a serious contradiction by the House when government institutions should be rationalising and cutting cost in the face of prevailing economic realities.
In arriving at 95 committees instead of the original 84, the selection sub-committee unbundled some existing committees while others are totally new.
For instance, the Committee on Education is now broken into Basic Education & Services and Tertiary Education & Services.
Judiciary has also been unbundled into FCT Judiciary and Federal Judiciary; while Marine Transport now stands as Ports, Harbour & Waterways and Maritime, Safety & Admin Committees.
Agriculture was also broken into Committees on Agric Production & Services and Agric Colleges & Institutions while Information & National Orientation Agency now comes with two committees — Information, NOA, Ethics & Values and Information Technology.
Some of the proposed new committees are FoI Reform of Government Institutions, Lake Chad, Local Content as well as Insurance and Actuarial Science.
In addition, in order to guide the House in the allocation and operation of committees with a view to ensuring equity and fairness, the Lasun committee recommended that no lawmaker should belong to more than two committees considered as Grade A.
Grade A committees are 30 in number (including the selection committee), Grade B are 34 while Grade C are 31.
Membership of the committees, according to the recommendations of the selection sub-committee, should be on the basis of one per state.
Perhaps, because of its “juicy” nature, the selection sub-committee also recommended that a member of the Appropriation Committee should not be a chairman or deputy chairman of another committee.
The so-called plum Grade A committees are those of Appropriation, Public Accounts, House Services, Niger Delta Development Commission, Public Petitions, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Federal Character, and Constituency Outreach.
No member should also belong to more than one of such committees as Public Affairs, Finance and House Services, just as membership of standing committees should be pegged at 27, with the exception of committees whose membership is drawn from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The selection sub-committee also recommended that committee chairmen should carry their deputies along while such committees should meet regularly, at least monthly in line with Order XVII, Rule 110.
Committees that operate below expected standards are to be sanctioned henceforth, the report said.
In carrying out its assignment, the Lasun committee equally recommended that Telecommunications Committee should revert to its former name of “Communications” in view of the fact that its scope also covers postal services.
A lawmaker told THISDAY yesterday that with the report of the selection sub-committee now ready, the scramble for plum committees was on the upswing with many lawmakers trying to court Dogara to look in their direction.
It was gathered that this would include many ranking lawmakers from the South-east who lost out in the distribution of principal offices.
But in a bid to deflect the discontent that may arise from the eventual announcement of the chairmanship of the House’s committees, Dogara has chosen to play safe by asking the state caucuses to select among themselves heads of committees that would be allocated to their states.
The arrangement has however not gone down well with key supporters who worked for his emergence as speaker.
This group, who were front-liners of the “Consolidation Group”, which backed Dogara in his bid for the speakership post, believe this could undermine their status as “Dogara’s men” if they have to lobby their state caucuses for chairmanship posts, particularly as the arrangement does not guarantee that they would pick their desired committee slots.
The group, whose members have for long believed that the chairmanship of any committee they want is theirs for the taking, is particularly miffed that Dogara has chosen not to exercise his full powers to assist their interests.
THISDAY investigations revealed that even though he is statutorily the Chairman of the Selection Committee, Dogara constituted the sub-committee headed by Lasun to come up with ground rules to guide the composition and leadership of each committee.
A lawmaker, who spoke with THISDAY on the condition of anonymity, said the speaker has shifted the battle to state caucuses to choose who would be in each committee.
“They will now give a number of committees to each state, like two Grade A, two Grade B and a couple of Grade Cs, so among themselves, they fill the committees, thereby absolving the speaker,” the lawmaker said.
“But the issue remains how the Speaker would ask his loyalists to go and get their rewards from the state caucuses when they worked so hard for his victory against the House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila,” the lawmaker added.
The lawmaker however agreed that the speaker was simply trying to ensure equity and fairness.
Another lawmaker, who is one of the speaker’s loyalists, admitted that several lawmakers were not happy.
“If we worked hard for him – some of us stuck our necks – then it’s only fair that we are not left out in the dry,” the lawmaker who also asked not to be named lamented.
However, as the House made moves to constitute its standing committees, President Muhammadu Buhari last night held a fence mending meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly.
The president, who joined the lawmakers at exactly 9.15 pm for the closed door meeting that lasted one hour and thirty minutes, said he called the meeting to break the ice and to start interacting with the lawmakers as partners in the task of nation-building.
This was a departure from his aloofness in the past and unconcealed displeasure over the emergence of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, against the wishes of the ruling APC.
But last night, Buhari informed the National Assembly leadership that he had not interfered in the legislature and did not intend to do so for any reason.
Buhari, who is apparently eager to get his ministerial nominees confirmed in the Senate, was quoted as stating that the cooperation between the two arms of government was sacrosanct and that they have to relate on better terms henceforth.
“It was a very good meeting, which at least cleared the air of so many on the misconceptions. The president was very fatherly in his approach and said a regular interface between the two arms was important for the nation to move on.
“He dismissed the notion that he ever interfered in the affairs of the legislature and does not plan to do so. But more importantly is the cooperation between the two arms which he stressed with emphasis and I think that meeting marked the beginning of a good executive-legislative relationship,” said the source at the meeting.
Responding on behalf of the National Assembly, the source said Saraki, who is the chairman of the legislature, told the president that they were always ready and willing to work with him for the collective interest.
The source said the Senate president alluded to the fact that although they were all senators elected on different platforms, they had since become one and were working in the national interest.
Saraki, the source added, however enjoined the president to make the meeting a regular feature in the relationship between the two arms of government, adding that it was only that way that they both could work together and sync ideas in the national interest.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Saraki reiterated that the meeting of last night showed that there was cooperation between the executive and the legislature, adding that the meeting was a signal that the nation was working.
Other Senate leaders present at the the meeting which took place at the first lady’s conference room were Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume; Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn N’Allah; Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio; and Senate Minority Whip, Senator Phillip Aduda. Ekweremadu, however, was absent.
Dogara led other members of the House including Lasun and Gbajabiamila.
Meanwhile, the Taraba governor has approved the appointment of 50 special advisers and 62 senior special assistants, totalling 112 aides who shall be advising him in the Government House.
Similarly, the governor also approved the appointment of a former member of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Daniel Ishaya Gani, as the chairman of the state-owned football club, FC Taraba.
Although Taraba was not one of the states that applied for a bailout from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pay the backlog of its workers’ salaries, the state is one of the poorest in the country and has a huge infrastructure deficit, thus raising concerns over the governor’s decision to appoint 112 aides who will serve as a drain on the meagre resources of the state.
According to a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Alhaji Hassan Mijinyawa, among those appointed special advisers were a former senatorial candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Aliyu Sunday Dankaro and Elijah Nyaro.
Also on the list were the former Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Charity Green, Dr. Alfred Yahaya Kobiba, Hon. Henry Shawulu and a former member of the state House of Assembly, Hon Aminu Umar Jalingo.
The list also includes Rev. John Simon Jatutu, Hajia Zainab Idris Waziri, Alhaji Danjuma Ayuba, Hon. Tahir Nyawo and Mr. Soji Datanimu as well as Mrs. Veronica Alhassan.
Among those appointed senior special assistants are former ALGON chairman and gubernatorial aspirant, Obidah Bitrus, Mr. Phillip Ikyabo and Mr. Amfani Abdullaziz.
Others are Hajia Mairo Usman Bibinu, Mr Adamu Idi Tukura, Mrs Alice Ade, Alhaji Misa Abdullahi Chull, Mr Raphael Y. Mallum, Alhaji Akilu Dalhatu S. Maindy and Hon Tina Musa.
According to the statement, the date for the inauguration of the new political appointees would be announced in due course.
THISDAY however learnt that the list of appointed commissioners would be announced before the end of the week.