With the composition of 109 standing committees by the House of Representatives speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, the green chamber of the Nigerian parliament appears to have one of the highest in the world.
The first striking thing to note is that the number of the standing committees increased from 96 to 105. The decision to increase the number of committees was contained in a report submitted by an ad-hoc committee mandated to review the house standing order shortly before the announcement.
The increase may not be unconnected to a bid by the speaker to ‘find something for the boys’, as it has always been in the past when presiding officers reward their loyalists with at least, a committee to chair.
Former Speaker Yakubu Dogara also increased the committees from 89 to 96.
The previous House session led by Aminu Tambuwal had 91 committees up from 64 during the tenure of Dimeji Bankole.
The functions and oversight of some committees were cut short to accommodate new ones.
For instance, a new committee on Pilgrims Affairs was carved out of the committee on Foreign Affairs.
Taxpayers’ money down the drain
However, the increment in the number of committees would mean an increase in the running cost of the House of Representatives.
According to the 2007 reviewed allowances of lawmakers as released by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), house committee chairs and their deputies are entitled to a five per cent of their annual basic salary as allowance.
The commission tagged it responsibility allowance. What this means is that the higher the number of committees, the higher the amount of taxpayers’ money that goes to the parliament.
The legislators regard some committees as “juicy”, and set out to be made leaders or members of such committees.
The most “lucrative” among the committees is the budget committee, officially known as the Appropriation Committee. Others include committees on petroleum and gas, finance, communication, customs, public accounts and defence.
Members considered to be the speaker’s lieutenants were rewarded with the best of the best committees.A third term member, Mukhtar Betara (APC, Borno) who contested the seat of the speaker but eventually stepped down due to the zoning policy of the APC was given the Appropriations Committee.
It has been speculated that the choice of Mr Betara for the committee was influenced by a national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, whom many believe brought Mr Gbajabiamila into politics.
According to sources, Mr Tinubu also influenced the selection into many other committees.
Another ally of the speaker, Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), was appointed to chair House Committee on Army. He was also an aspirant for the speakership position but was prevailed upon to step down for Mr Gbajabiamila.
The other speaker’s men such as James Faleke (APC, Lagos) got Finance; Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos) got Defence while Wale Raji (APC, Lagos) landed the Committee on House Services. It is worthy to note that the trio also comes from Lagos, Mr Gbajabiamila’s state.
Others are; Magaji Da’u (Power), Tunji-Ojo Olubunmi (NDDC), Khadija Bukar (NEDC), Abdullahi Garba (FCT) and Bello Kumo (Police Affairs).
More surprising is the absence of the key members of the main opposition, the PDP who chaired powerful committees in the last assembly.
Speaking at a dinner hosted by President Muhammadu Buhari for elected APC lawmakers in April, APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole vowed that members of the opposition will not head special and standing committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The APC chairman said the House of Representatives has 96 committees and that all re-elected members will chair strategic committees, adding “even new members will chair committees this time around.”
About two months later, Mr. Gbajabiamila promised to carry opposition lawmakers along in committee membership and leadership in defiance to Mr. Oshiomole. However, the final composition seems like a renege on this.
Most of the PDP bigwigs were said to have backed Umar Bago, Mr Gbajabiamila’s opponent in the speakership race.
It was expected that the speaker, in the spirit of reconciliation and harmonising the house would consider some of the PDP lawmakers whom many believe are loyal to former speaker Yakubu Dogara.
In 2015, Mr Dogara also in a bid to reconcile the house appointed some of Mr Gbajabiamila’s key supporters as heads of the so-called ‘juicy committees’.
Mr Bago was, however, given the newly created committee on Co-operation and Integration in Africa. Many lawmakers are of the opinion that this committee is as good as no committee due to its irrelevance.
Some of the key ranking lawmakers of the PDP who were not given any committee to head include Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), the party’s choice for the minority leadership before the speaker eventually announced Ndudi Elumelu. Mr Chinda was the chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts in the last assembly.
Others left out are Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi), Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue), Nkem Abonta (PDP, Abia), Ajibola Muraina (PDP, Oyo), Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra) and Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna).
Some of these ranking members who are currently serving their third or fourth terms were left out. However, some first-term PDP members were made heads of important committees.
An example is Onofiok Luke, the immediate past speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, who will oversee Federal Judiciary. A first term APC member, Benjamin Kalu (Abia), takes charge of Media and Public Affairs Committee (House spokesman).
In terms of party affiliations, lawmakers of the ruling APC were appointed to 80 chairmanship positions. The main opposition PDP got 21 chairmanship positions. Others are APGA, 2; APM, 1; and AA, 1.
In the deputy chairmanship positions, the APC took 63 seats, leaving the PDP with only 26. Other minority parties shared 8.
This could be said to be in consonance to the promise Mr Gbajabiamila made to cede 60 positions of chairmen and deputy chairmen of committees to his party members if he was elected the Speaker of the Ninth House.
In the aspect of balance, the speaker could be said to have been fair to the six geo-political zones, each zone was adequately represented in terms of influential committees.
However, in Rivers State alone, there was no single lawmaker, out of 13 that was appointed to head any committee. This could be the speaker’s way of paying back lawmakers from the state for not supporting his emergence.
Apart from Rivers, every other state, including the FCT, got at least, a chairman of a committee.
The most surprising twist in the exercise was the exclusion of Abdulmumin Jibrin from the list. He was neither listed as a committee chairman nor deputy.
The Kano-born politician was the director-general of Mr Gbajabiamila’s campaign organisation.
In 2015, he also headed the campaign of former Speaker Dogara, after which he was rewarded with the most influential appropriations committee chairmanship.
He later fell out with Mr Dogara after which he was sacked as the committee head and eventually suspended for over a year.
The Speaker, however, explained that Mr Jibrin declined offers to head any committee, hinting that he may be quitting as a member of the ninth assembly.
Sources told Newsflash247 the lawmaker was scheming to be appointed by President Buhari to an executive position.