The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, wednesday inaugurated 105 standing committees, as he said the House intends, without reservation, to exercise the full authority of the legislature with regards to the oversight of the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs)
He, however, pointed out that the purpose of such oversight would not be punitive, neither are they intended to be adversarial, but in furtherance of the green chamber’s shared objectives of national development, peace, progress and prosperity for all.
The Speaker stated this at the plenary during the inauguration of the committees of the ninth House which had in attendance the presiding officers, former principal officers and members, former clerks, service chiefs, and representatives of MDAs.
He said the legislative committee system is as old as the legislature itself, stressing that it is through the committees that most of the work of the legislature is done, and accomplishments are achieved.
The Speaker noted that whatever the judgment of history would be for the ninth House, whether for good or not, would depend largely on the conduct and activities of the committees.
Gbajabiamila stressed further that in constituting the committees, the leadership of the House had taken time to ensure that members are assigned to committees that fit perfectly with their legislative interests and priorities; their prior experience and skills as well as the identified needs of the constituencies they represent.
The Speaker said it was now left to the chairmen and members of the committees to go forward and show themselves capable of meeting the responsibilities to which they have been assigned and deserving of the mandate which they hold in trust for the Nigerian people.
He, therefore, charged them to be dutiful in the discharge of their constitutional responsibilities of oversight and law-making, while ensuring that at all times, their conducts are without reproach, and their service is motivated only by considerations of the best interests of the country.
According to Gbajabiamila, “Let me use this opportunity to appeal to the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government for their cooperation and collaboration. It is only through our joint efforts that we can meet the objectives of the administration and keep the promises we have made to the Nigerian people.
“We in the House of Representatives intend, without reservation, to exercise the full authority of the legislature as it relates to the oversight of the MDAs. However, our purposes are not punitive, neither are our intentions adversarial, but in furtherance of our shared objectives of national development, peace, progress and prosperity for all. To this extent, we will be fully supporting and empowering our committees for effective oversight, particularly the Committee on Legislative Compliance.”
The Speaker, therefore, directed the Ad–hoc Committees on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and that on the Ports and Harbours to conclude their investigations and submit their reports by October 4, 2019.
He also directed that all other ad hoc committees should conclude their activities and submit their reports before the October 14, 2019.
While commending the chairmen and members of the ad-hoc committees for their dedication and a job well done, Gbajabiamila said the House had begun to act on some of the issues they have unearthed and the recommendations they have made, adding that these efforts would continue through the respective standing committees.
Earlier, the former Director-General of National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Prof. Ladi Hamalai, while presenting a paper on ‘The role of committees in the presidential system of government’, said there was very little legislative committees can do if they are not effectively funded.
She stressed that oversight visits, training, public hearings, inquiries, analysis of bills referred among others gulp money, adding that without funds, these activities cannot be carried through.
According to her, committees must be properly funded, saying it could be one of the reasons legislators are accused of being funded by the same agencies they oversee.
Hamalai noted that the total budget for the National Assembly has been between N120 billion and N130 billion, adding that it has been declining in terms of proportion to the national budget.
She stated: “In dollar terms in 2015, it was about $600million. The United States Congress had $4.3billion to spend. Committees in the US Congress spend $295.4million in 2015. The US Congress spent $106million on only library and books in 2015. The N18.8million allocated to the National Assembly committees can be gulped by only oversight functions and may not even be enough.
The former NILDS DG stressed that this is contrary to public outcry, while stating that the National Assembly is underfunded, adding that the committees are impoverished and compromised.
She said they are left to depend on MDAs and the sponsors of bills to fund their activities, which she said, was a negation of their independence and some of their ethical codes
She added that there was an urgent need to improve the funding of committees through budget allocations
On his part, the Speaker of the fifth House of Representatives, Hon. Ghalli Na’Abba, said the engine with which the parliament works is the committees.
He said he felt highly embarrassed when committees visit ministries and parastatals, stressing that he felt these parastatals and ministries should be invited to come to the National Assembly.