The 9th House of Representatives early last month crossed the halfway mark of its lifespan. The House under Femi Gbajabiamila had at its inception promised to embark on reforms.
Mr Gbajabiamila had said in his inaugural address that the lawmakers will ‘shake table.’
While it has recorded some success with landmark legislations like the BOFIA law, CAMA, PSC, Police Trust Fund and returning the annual budget to the January to December financial cycle, the House is, however, struggling with the most important component of the legislature – its committees.
Over the years, successive Speakers have been expanding the number of committees to ingratiate their loyalists. In the fourth House (1999-2003), the number of standing committees was 40. It was increased to 78 under Speaker Aminu Masari in the fifth House but the 6th House under Patricia Etteh/ Dimeji Bankole reduced it to 68.
The 7th Assembly under Aminu Tambuwal increased the number of the committees to 93 and the 8th Assembly under Yakubu Dogara increased it to 96.
Mr Gbajabiamila has taken the committees from 96 to 110. Despite the bloated number of committees, he is still creating ad hoc committees to investigate issues that are within the purview of the standing committees.
PREMIUM TIMES had analysed the composition of the committees back in 2019 when Mr Gbajabiamila did it.
Recently, 12 ad hoc committees were discharged of assignments referred to them.
The 12 committees discharged by the House
Four of the bills were referred in 2019, while the other eight were referred in 2020. The committees violated the standing rules of the House, Order Seventeen, Rule 3 (1)(g) which states that any matter referred to the committee shall be treated within 30 days, otherwise, the committee will stand discharged after 60 days and the matter committed to the committee of the whole for consideration.
The 12 committees violated the above provision and the trend is not a one-off. Rather, it is a violation that is now committed by many of the committees. The motion to discharge the committees of the assignments was moved by Abubakar Fulata (APC, Bauchi).
The Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), said the committees have not been able to discharge their assignments because the accounting department had not been releasing funds to them.
Mr Gbajabiamila appears to have bought the argument. PREMIUM TIMES had reported that the Speaker recently lamented the inability of the committees to function due to inadequate funding. He argued that the House was under financial constraints, therefore, was unable to perform.
A former member of the House, Sani Zoro, said the expansion of the committees makes it hard for the speaker to monitor their activities. He noted that efficiency has been sacrificed for patronage by the speaker.
“The US Congress has either 13 or 23 maximum, what they have are sub-committees, and they are more effective. The National Assembly has been partitioning the committees for patronage, just to reward those who have voted for them, who have canvassed for them. That is what has allowed corruption to sink in because there are allegations that people buy committees, they buy committees. There is no way that such committees will function.
“I think in the House now, they have over 90 committees or so. Tell me, when will the Speaker have time for 109 chairmen? When will he have time to read the reports? It is not possible. Even under Dogara, we fought with Dogara because he was not giving us attention. It is not humanly possible to do administration and attend to workers welfare and legislation. The House functions through committees.
“The Speaker will not know what the committees are doing? If you say there is no money, why are you now creating them? If they are not funded, then it means they can be compromised. The MDAs that they oversight will be the ones to be paying for the oversight visits.
“For instance, there is a committee on anti-corruption and there is another on financial crime. The duplication of committees is widespread across board. In the health sector, you have the committee on HIV AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria control, and there are two other committees on healthcare; healthcare services and health institutions.”
Funding of committees
Findings by this paper revealed that committees are no longer funded through monthly upkeep, but rather by referral. This means that if a bill, motion, or petition is referred to a committee, the committee will be funded.
According to a lawmaker, the current arrangement is N2 million per referral. You get an assignment, you get two million naira.
Mark Gbillah, a member of the House, confirmed that the committees do not get monthly upkeep and that the lack of funding of the committees has affected oversight capacity.
“I will tell you for a fact, being someone who was a deputy chairman in the 8th Assembly, and who also chairs an ad hoc committee, it is so bad that committees do not have a monthly allocation, to do what they are supposed to do, it is now on a referral basis.
“This is how bad it is – the funds that they get statutorily every month to carry out their activities, it is no longer like that, it is now on referral. Referral means when a motion comes, on the floor, and an issue is referred to a committee, and they get funded, a committee gets two million naira to carry out an investigative hearing. What are you supposed to do with that? We need to get resources to investigate, we need to travel to locations, and we need to get equipment to do some of the work.
“And that is just one item of the work we need to do. How can you work with two million naira? Like I said, this is not a monthly allocation, it is on a basis of referral. Most of the committees don’t get funding at all.”
Size of committees in other parliaments
There are 20 standing committees, three select committees and four joint committees in the United States House of Representatives.
Ghana parliament, which is a bicameral parliament, has 14 standing committees, 20 select committees and one ad hoc committee.
The National Assembly of South Africa has 32 committees and six joint committees, while the National Council of Provinces has 11 committees.
Mr Gbillah agrees that the number of committees in the Nigerian parliament is bloated, but says that is not the major problem hindering efficiency.
“The intention to create more committees is to make them more effective, even though some people might think somehow that it is over-bloated. Yes, some committees are over-bloated. Yes, some committees might not seem relevant, there are reasons behind their creations, but the point is, Nigerians need to respect.”
“It is unfortunate—but I won’t say that it is under this 9th assembly that the issue has prevailed but would say especially under the 9th assembly, there have been concerted efforts to compromise the functions of the committees because of partisan interests.
“Several actions are initiated and are not allowed to go to the conclusion, to the very chagrin of some of us and we are ashamed of our institution. But fundamentally, that is not only the problem. Like you rightly pointed out, there is also a problem of the capacity of the committees to carry out oversight functions, which is fundamentally the function of the legislature – because of funds.”
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