19 August 2012

Nigeria: Looming Shake-Up in Representatives Committees - the Performers - and Pretenders

With a war chest of N150 billion appropriated in the 2012 national budget, federal lawmakers are well funded to carry out their constitutional oversight responsibilities over the executive arm of government. Against this background and ahead of an imminent shake-up in the House Standing Communities, EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE in this report splits the 90 standing committees of the House of Representatives in two halves -the active and under-performers.

As a pundit captures it, "This is an embarrassed House". Indeed, the House of Representatives has suffered a heavy dose of public sting chiefly on account of corrupt activities of some of its standing committees - proven and alleged.

Taken further, some of its committees have been simply put, strangely redundant. In July, the Lower House Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal threatened to sack committees that have failed to turn in their report to the Lower House.

With a war chest of N150 billion appropriated in the 2012 national budget, arguably, federal lawmakers are well funded to carry out their constitutional oversight responsibilities over the executive arm of government.

So, as a fall-out from last month's closed-door meeting between Tambuwal and Chairs and Deputies of the ninety standing House committees, the Lower House leadership is said to have concluded plans to reshuffle "non-performing" committees.

Also, committee's leadership that have failed to turn in their reports to the Lower House following expiration of timelines allowed, risk axe by the sweeping purge. Committees embroiled in corruption allegations are also set to be reshuffled.

Federal lawmakers will resume from their two-month long recess on September 18.

At the meeting between the speaker and the leaders of the committees, the former had reportedly issued shape-up warnings to some committees in view of the embarrassing scandals that rocked the Lower House probes and related oversight activities before federal lawmakers proceeded on their scheduled annual recess.

It will be recalled that a first inquest into the near collapse of the country's capital market suffered ill-fate when a N44 million bribery allegation led to the disbandment of the Herman Hembe-led panel. Also, a $620,000 bribery tale tainted the probe of the federal government's fuel subsidy regime leading to the sack of the Chairman of the committee, Farouk Lawan.

A popular gauge for the performance of standing committees will be on oversight - public hearings, interface and supervisory activities of government Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

A quick check reveals that a handful of committees, chiefly, Appropriations; Aviation; Communications; Customs and Excise; Defence; Diaspora; Environment; Ethics & Privileges; Finance; Foreign Affairs are set to survive the purge Others are: Marine Transport; Media/Public Affairs; Ministry of Niger Delta; Navy; NDDC; Pension; Petroleum Resources(DownStream); Petroleum Resources(UpStream); Public Accounts; Public Petitions; Public Procurement; Agriculture; Rules & Business; Science & Technology and Sports.

Committees that will be battling a "non-performing" tag include: Aids, Loans & Debt Management; Air Force; Anti-Corruption, Ethics & Value; Army; Banking & Currency; Capital Market & Institutions; Climate Change; Co-operation & Integration in Africa; Commerce; Constituency Outreach; Culture & Tourism; Donor Agencies; Drugs, Narcotics & Financial Crimes; Due Process; Electoral Matters; Emergency & Disaster Management; FCT Area Councils; Federal Capital Territory; Federal Character; Governmental Affairs.

Others are: Health; HIV,Aids and Malaria Control; House Services; Housing & Habitat; Human Rights; Industries; Information & National Orientation; Inter-Intra Party Relations; Inter-Parliamentary Relations; Interior Affairs; Internal Security; Judiciary; Justice; Labour, Employment & Productivity; Lake Chad; Land Transport; Legislative Budget & Research; Legislative Compliance; Marine Transport; Millennium Development Goals; National Security & Intelligence; Pension; Rural Development; Selection; Solid Mineral Development; Special Duties; States & Local Government Affairs; Steel; Urban Development; Water Resources; Women Affairs; Women Parliament; Works; Youth and Social Development.

If the reported shake-up takes place, for Tambuwal, this will indeed pose a major acid test after his controversial emergence as the Lower House Speaker. It will be recalled that an intriguing power play, led to his emergence as speaker.

Tambuwal's emergence was popular, with support cutting across political party lines.

Historians were full of praises for the lower chamber for entrenching what they call 'independence of the Legislature'.

Back to the subject, the poser is how far the Lower House rides on its populist footing and successive pro-people resolutions that have many times made it a hit with many Nigerians - of course with several embarrassing bribery tales, bungled probes and issues around redundant committees lurking.

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