Reps and fight against corruption
The decision by the House of Representatives to relieve some of its ad-hoc committees of their duties has raised questions about the capacity of the lawmakers to assist in the fight against corruption. It is so because the investigative assignment given to them was supposed to help expose corrupt practices. In this report, TONY AKOWE examines the capacity of the law-making chamber in the fight against corruption
At the outset, the 9th House of Representatives had resolved to assist the government in the fight against corruption. To this end, various standing and ad-hoc committees of the house were mandated to undertake one form of investigation or the other with a mandate to report back to the chamber within a maximum of eight weeks. Several months after, a number of the committees are yet to present a report for consideration. While many of the committees have not begun the assignment given to them, some others went halfway and abandoned the exercise.
While the house rules stipulate that “any matter referred to a committee shall be treated within 30 days”, several of the committees have often been given between four and six weeks. Yet, many of them have failed to submit their report. Interestingly, the rules also allow these committees to return to the floor and seek an extension, of not more than two weeks. Only a few committees have sought for extension; with these extension requests coming on the heels of the speaker’s demand that they present their report within a stipulated time or be discharged of the responsibility assigned to them.
Interestingly, before the house went on the last Christmas break, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila gave all ad-hoc and standing committee saddled with one responsibility or the other till the end of January to submit their reports. This request was repeated several times when the house resumed and prior to the Easter break, the speaker gave what looked like a final order. While some committees hurriedly concluded and submitted their reports, several others failed to heed the order and the house wielded the big stick on 10 of the committees, with several others still awaiting the same fate in the coming days. A few others have had to ask for extensions to enable them to conclude their assignments. The decision to strip the committees of their assignment in line with the rules of the house may not have come to members as a surprise. But, reporters were taken aback when the committee handling the probe for the purchase of arms by security agencies was listed among those stripped of their assignments.
However, a member of the committee, Bede Eke rose to protest the decision, saying he was aware that the majority of the members have signed an interim report which was to be presented to the house. Eke said relieving the committee of that responsibility would amount to denying them the opportunity to present the report. He appealed to the house to give them till Thursday, May 6 to do so. But, it is not certain whether that was done or not, but there was no indication to that effect, as it was never listed. Even though Eke protested, it was obvious to all that the assignment was far from being concluded; especially considering the fact that at its last sitting, the committee gave the Chief of Army Staff two weeks to compile records needed and return to it.
It was however not clear whether the army chief returned to the committee before it was stripped of its assignment. The Nation recalled that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru had told the committee that since he was not in office when arms were purchased, they should invite those who handled the affair to offer the needed explanation. Even though the rules state that the assignment will be committed to the committee of the whole (the whole house at plenary), it is not clear how the assignment will be carried out by the house, or whether that brings an end to it. The house however has an option of empowering another committee to carry out the work. But, the speaker has indicated that relieving the committee of the assignment should not stop them from submitting their report.
The committees that were relieved of their assignment include the Ad-hoc Committee to Interface with the Executive Arm of Government and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shi’ite), the one saddled with the responsibility of investigating the assault and rape of students by teachers at the FCT School of the Blind, Jabi, and the one tasked to investigate the growing incidences of crude oil theft. It also includes the ad-hoc committee on the alleged negligence by the Federal Ministries of Justice, and Petroleum Resources in the handling of the Federal Government and the process and Industrial Development (P&ID) Limited, the one given the responsibility to investigate oil-spill clean-ups and remediation in the oil-producing states and the one on recent global crash in the price of crude oil on the Appropriation Act, 2020. The others are the ad-hoc committee to investigate the non-inclusion of waste management and disposal in the NLNG Train-7 Project, the saddled with the responsibility to investigate the financial budgetary provisions, approvals and multilateral donations on skills and acquisition and related programmes of the Federal Government and its agencies. The list also includes the ad-hoc committee on power sector reforms. Some of the ad-hoc committees were set up in 2019 and 2020 and were supposed to turn in their reports within four or a maximum of eight weeks.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Hassan Fulata said the ad-hoc committees were constituted to carry out various assignments and were given stipulated time frame within which to present their reports. He said the committees were yet to present their reports, contrary to the provisions of Order 18, Rule 3 (1)(g) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives which states that “any matter referred to a committee shall be treated within 30 days otherwise the committee shall stand discharged after 60 days except upon a motion for extension of time which shall not exceed 15 days and the matter committed to the committee of the whole or any other committee as the speaker may decide from time to time.” Fulata also recalled the directive of the speaker had in early April given all ad-hoc committees an ultimatum to present their reports on or before April 30, 2021. The speaker had also directed all standing committees to submit their reports on or before May 25, 2021, or risk being relieved of the assignment.
The plea by Minority Leader that the committees be given more time because the account department often delay the release of money for public hearings failed to placate the speaker. He insisted that not all assignments referred to the committees require public hearing as the committees could do their work discreetly and submit their report in view of the fact that money available to the house was not enough to cover all public hearings.
The decision to relieve the committees of their assignments raised questions about the capacity of the house to fight corruption, even though it forms part of the house agenda. Several of the committees may have been unable to complete their assignments as a result of the deliberate effort of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to frustrate such investigations. Peter Akpatason, Deputy Leader of the house said MDAs often deliberately dump irrelevant documents on the committees. He said oversight functions by the legislature which forms part of the investigations by standing and ad-hoc committees has been grossly misunderstood by a lot of people. He said: “Actually what happens in most cases is that it is not the legislators that make oversight activities hard, but the resistance by agencies who actually have so much to hide. That is what is responsible for the dumping of volumes of documents both relevant and irrelevant on the committee, so as to create that challenge for distilling those documents and information to be able to make sense out of it. In most cases, the request for submission of documents is either deliberately delayed or the ones presented are not the requested ones. Finally, the power of appropriation of the parliament includes reviewing based on facts and realities on the ground. But that power is to be exercised in the interest of the people.”
But, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof Bolaji Owasanoye was not impressed that the house is unable to complete such investigations because the lawmakers often request tons of documents they cannot review in the course of their oversight and investigations. The ICPC chief who spoke at a capacity building workshop for members of the House Committee on Anti-Corruption, organised by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung said: “The oversight function and power of the legislature enables it to take an actual role in understanding the performance of other arms, especially the executive arms. There’s a perception out there that the legislature is either reactive or trying to put out fires and preventing the fires from going out and sometimes dramatic in its approach to oversight functions.
“But, nevertheless, this oversight functions is critical and very important much more as a preventive to ensure that we don’t get to where we’ve found ourselves today. The legislature is increasingly stepping up its oversight of MDAs in recent times. This is a good thing even though some people feel uncomfortable with it. Not like in the past when it was just for show. There should be concrete reforms where you get asked concrete questions that you must answer. With that, so many people will seat up and if they don’t like the capacity of the jobs they take, then they should resign and leave the place. The legislature is stepping up this oversight in recent times because they are to ensure the value of the money appropriated by the National Assembly.”
He added: “Another thing is the power of investigation, as enshrined in the constitution. Now, this again is very important. However, with all due respect, in recent times, we have seen committees asking for documents all the time. I always make out time to attend the hearings and I will see tons of materials that are presented to the lawmakers. I don’t know how much research supports the lawmakers have to unravel the documents so that information there can actually made sense and assist you to do what you’re set up to do. Some people bring these documents in Ghana must go bags, I just look at it and shook my head, I say to myself, nobody is reading these things.
“It is the same thing being requested over and over again from these institutions. These kinds of things diminish the importance of the process. It gives the impression that you just give it to them they won’t look at it. The legislature has the power to investigate, expose corruption at all levels of government. The fight against corruption is our collective responsibility. It is not the duty of the executive alone. We are happy that the National Assembly understands this and takes up this responsibility as well. Our immediate projection is to reduce corruption to the extent that it can no longer threaten our collective wellbeing and the peace and development of the country”
However, in spite of scepticism about the capacity of the lawmakers to fight corruption, Gbajabiamila said he is not unaware of the fact that Nigerians are desirous of good governance and are looking to the legislature to be the agents that will combat security, poverty, corruption and other problems. He said the house was considering strengthening the fight against corruption through increased funding for anti-graft agencies and separation of powers through a constitutional amendment to separate the office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney-General. He said “to the anti-graft agencies here present, I wish to also encourage you to organise similar capacity building workshops or to collaborate with the committee on sensitisation programmes to curb or reduce corruption in the country.”
Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics
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