Senate committees: Dashed hopes, fulfilled expectations
The list of 69 Senate Committees read on the floor of the Red Chamber by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, before the lawmakers proceeded on their annual recess may pitch him against some of his colleagues. Deputy Group Politics Editor, TAIWO AMODU examines the losers, the winners and the undercurrents of what informed the composition of the committees.
THE President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Tuesday last week, unveiled the list of committees of the upper legislative chamber, a few hours after the conclusion of the rigorous screening of 42 ministerial nominees which took the lawmakers two weeks to screen and confirm.
The list of the Senate committees has, however, elicited varied reactions from the lawmakers themselves and the leadership of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its main rival, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
For some of the lawmakers, who were well placed in committees perceived to be juicy, the list was a well-packaged recess gift.
Harold Lasswell, in his empirical definition of politics, explains it as the process of distribution of party patronage: the game of “who gets what, when and how.” David Easton, a Canadian- American political scientist later corroborated Lasswell as he defined politics as “the authoritative allocation of values.”
To the discerning members of the ruling party, the list was quite revealing as those perceived as the loyalists of the President of the Senate, across the party divides were adequately rewarded.
A breakdown of the list showed the APC taking 49 chairmanship positions of the committees while the PDP senators had 20 of chairmen of the committees.
Among the lawmakers perceived as die-hard supporters of Senator Lawan in the uncertain days of campaigns leading to the election of the principal officers of the ninth National Assembly who got juicy committees were Senators Ibrahim BarauJibrin, elected on the platform of the APC from Kano State, who became Chairman, Appropriation Committee); MagatakardaWamakko, Sokoto APC- (Chairman, Defence); Peter Nwaboshi, Delta APC (Chairman, Niger Delta); OluremiTinubu – Lagos APC (Chairman, Communications) and James Manager, Delta APC (Chairman Gas Resources), among others.
List compounds ethnic distrust
The choice of “who gets what” may have been informed by the competence of individual lawmakers and fraternity with the President of the Senate, but certain observers are of the conviction that it exposed the naivety of the leadership of the Senate or its pretence over the ethnic mutual distrust in the polity.
Before the last general election, eminent Nigerians had squealed against the composition of the security architecture of the country by the President MuhammaduBuhari administration which they noted was skewed against the southern part of the country.
Among President Buhari’s Service Chiefs, only the Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin and the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete -EkweIbas are from the southern part of the country. Others are Major General T.Y Buratai, Chief of Army Staff; General BabaganaMonguno, (retd), National Security Adviser; Air- Vice Marshall Sadique Abubakar, Chief of Air Staff; and Mohammed Adamu, Inspector General of Police— all from the North. The immediate past Minister of Defence, Brigadier General (retd) Mansur Dan Ali is from Zamfara State.
Senator Lawan’s list for Defence and Security Committees reinforced Lasswell’s definition of politics as a game of who gets, what, when and how. The entire southern part of the country has only the Senate Committee on Navy with Senator Abiye Sekibo as chairman, leaving the North with six of the committees. It includes: Senator Ali Ndume, (Navy), Senator BalaIbnN’Allah ( Air Force); Senator MagatakardaWamakko (Defence); Senator KashimShettima (Interior); Senator Ibrahim Gobir (National Security and Intelligence) and Senator DaudaHakuri (Police Affairs)!
Lawan unsettles Oshiomhole
Findings, however, revealed that Senator Lawan’s resolve to walk his talk on a bipartisan Senate, aimed at inspiring confidence and sense of belonging between lawmakers may have set him on a collision course with the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee which claimed that Lawan’s distribution of juicy committees was a breach of an unwritten pact to isolate members of the main opposition party in the running of the National Assembly.
The APC national chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole, had last March while addressing the federal lawmakers before the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly, vowed that only public accounts committees of both chambers would be conceded to lawmakers on the platform of the opposition parties.
He said:” The leadership must ensure that critical committees that drive government are chaired only by APC members. If Nigerians want the opposition to chair committees they would have voted for them. All chairmen of committees, except one that I understand that is statutorily reserved for opposition and that is public accounts, they can have that.
“We will not do the kind of thing that happened the last time in which some APC members, as members of the ruling party, became distant spectators in the management of committees.”
But despite Oshiomhole’s grandstanding, PDP lawmakers got 20 out of the 69 Committees seats. The PDP chieftains who took chairmen of juicy committees, announced by Senator Lawan included: Senators Dino Melaye, (PDP Kogi) Aviation; James Manager, ( PDP Delta) Gas Resources; Senator Peter Nwaboshi, (PDP Delta) Niger Delta; Senator BasseyAkpan, (PDP AkwaIbom) Petroleum Resources; Gabriel Suswam, (PDP Benue), Power and Senator Ike Ekweremadu, (PDP Enugu) Environment. Others were Senator Rose Okoh, Chairman, Trade and Investment; Senator Stella Oduah, vice- chairman, Appropriation and Senator Gershon Henry Bassey, Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, (FERMA).
Findings revealed that despite entreaties from Comrade Oshiomhole and a former Bayelsa State governor, Timipire Sylva that the Senate Committee chairman on Niger Delta with oversight functions on the Niger Delta Development Commission be given to their anointed choice and the only APC senator from Bayelsa, Degi- Eremienyo Biobarakuma, an ally of Senator Lawan and PDP lawmaker from Delta State, Senator Peter Nwaboshi got the juicy slot. Senator Wangagha was named vice-chairman, Senate Committee on Special Duties.
No juicy committees in Senate — Adeyeye
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, however, refuted claims of rumbling within the Senate over composition of the committees. Adeyeye insisted no senator lost out as he claimed ignorance of juicy committees.
He said: “First and foremost, I have not received any call from any senator complaining about the committees to which they had been placed. It hasn’t come to my notice as well, apart from you (journalists) now drawing my attention to it, that there has been any senator who had expressed dissatisfaction with the committee to which he had been appointed to head. To that extent, I believe that everything is in the realm of rumours and I don’t attach much importance to rumours.
“However, I will let the public know since you said that this matter is already circulating in the social media, to let the public know the facts. By the rules of the Senate and by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President of the Senate has been conferred with the powers and authority to appoint people into various committees of the Senate. He has exercised that power on Tuesday to the best of his knowledge and perhaps, in consideration of the different backgrounds of the senators.
“You journalists talk about juicy and non-juicy committees, I don’t know anything about juicy and non-juicy committees. What I know is that there are 69 Standing Committees of the Senate that have been constituted. In any case, juicy or non-juicy, I believe that it is a call to duty for senators to serve their fatherland and to serve the nation meritoriously. So, in whatever capacity anybody has been placed, he has been called upon to merely render service.
“If you believe that the committee you have been placed will not give you enough responsibility to exert a lot of your energy as chairman, you belong to other committees which you can still make your contributions.
“I would plead with those who may have one complaints or the other to sheath their swords. They should see their chairmanship or membership of the various committees as a call to service. They should let us continue to work in one accord, harmoniously.
“These committees, as I have learnt, are also subject to review before the end of the four year term. If you have 69 committees, there is no way, in which about seven people who want to be chairman of a particular committee could get it. Only one person would be appointed.
“Therefore, if you don’t have that opportunity, please, in whatever committee you have been placed as chairman, see it as a service to the nation so that the nation can benefit immensely from their experience and commitment. The Senate President has done everything possible to keep the Senate together. There won’t be any form of rancour either now or when we resume, on the issue.”
Senate blind to party affiliations —Senator Enang
Senator Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters, (Senate) spoke in a similar vein as he justified the composition of the committees. Speaking to newsmen last Wednesday, Senator Enang said the President of the Senate was not expected to favour one party or constituency above the other.
He said:”When somebody is elected to the House of Representatives or a House of Assembly, he becomes a member of that House of Assembly and he is entitled to all the rights and privileges. When somebody is campaigning to be elected as presiding officer: Speaker, deputy Speaker, President of the Senate or deputy President of the Senate, you campaign for the votes of the majority party, the minority party and even the party that are represented because each senator has one vote.
“When a senator is elected, he represents his constituency first and secondly, he represents his party by sitting on his party’s seat. Therefore, in the distribution of assignment and privileges, it is normally considered that you should not by any means make one constituency inferior to the other. That is the principle that causes presiding officer to embrace the minority parties.”
Whether the Senate will erupt after resumption, the answer lies in the belly of time.