10th Assembly: Senators, Reps scramble for juicy committees

One week after the 10th National Assembly was inaugurated, lawmakers have begun jostling for the chairmanship and membership of key standing committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Lawmakers consider committees that oversee ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government with enormous influence and huge budgets as ‘juicy’.

The juicy committees are often reserved for key members of the dormant party, in this case, the All Progressives Congress, and those loyal to the presiding officers.

They include committees on Appropriations, Finance, Public Accounts, Defence (Army, Navy and Air Force), Police Affairs, National Security and Intelligence, Customs and Excise, and Ports and Harbours, among others.

The Committee on Public Accounts is the only recognised by the 1999 Constitution, with its chairmanship reserved for the opposition.

The committee derives its powers from the fact that it oversees the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, which audits the accounts of all ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government. The committee has the power to uphold audit queries or recommend their nullification after grilling heads of the MDAs.

The committee, which exists in the Senate and the House, is a line item in the annual budget of the National Assembly, meaning that it draws its funds from source, separate from the Senate and the House.

The Committee on Appropriations sits over the annual budget of the Federal Government, putting the government and all its MDAs under its control.

Sources revealed to Sunday PUNCH that some lawmakers had been lobbying the new leaders of both chambers for committee positions.

On Tuesday, the presiding officers of the Senate and the House were elected. They were President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio; Deputy President of the Senate, Jibrin Barau; Speaker of the House, Tajudeen Abbas; and Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu.

Next is the selection or election of the principal officers who are leaders of the majority and minority caucuses in the chambers.

They are the Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, Majority Chief Whip, Deputy Majority Chief Whip, Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip.

The 9th Senate had a total of 69 committees performing oversight functions over various government agencies and parastatals.

The Appropriations Committee is the most coveted, followed by the Oil and Gas Committee.

A source disclosed that Senator Adeola Solomon (APC, Ogun West) was being positioned for the chairman of Appropriations Committee in the camp of the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, while Senator Sani Musa (Niger East) emerged in the camp of Senator Abdulaziz Yari (APC, Zamfara West), who lost to Akpabio.

Senator Jarighe Jarigbe (PDP, Cross River North), who is a protégé of Akpabio, is said to be eying one of the oil and gas committees, either upstream or downstream.

Kayode Odunaro, the Chief Press Secretary to Senator Solomon, said those were just speculations as people did with the presiding officers.

He noted that the presiding officers were still trying to settle down and attend to other matters, especially the welfare of senators, as many of them were still without offices.

Odunaro said, “Many of these things are speculations; the principal officers were just elected and they are trying to settle down in office.

“If you recall, that was how a lot of information was flying around about the Senate President and Deputy Senate President seats; so these things aren’t new.”

He, however, noted that if his principal was pencilled down for such the exalted appropriations committee, it must be because he merited it both in lawmaking and professionalism.

Odunaro added, “In case his name is pencilled down for the committee, it won’t be strange because he is eminently qualified for the position.

“In terms of the legislative capacity, he is qualified, ditto for professional experience and intellectual acumen required for such a tactical and demanding committee.”

Several members of both chambers, who lost their bids to become principal officers, have joined those seeking committee appointments.

In the House, Abbas has the dilemma of compensating several members and groups in the 360-member chamber, where got about 98 per cent of the votes across party lines.

All speakership aspirants stepped down for him except the outgoing Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, and Sani Jaji.

All the members of the seven opposition parties that form the minority caucus in the 10th House voted for the APC candidate.

The seven minority parties are the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party, New Nigeria Peoples Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, Social Democratic Party, African Democratic Congress and the Youth Progressive Party.

The PDP has 117 members; LP, 35; NNPP, 19; APGA, five; SDP, two; ADC, two; and the YPP, one, totalling 181 opposition members. Those in the APC are 178.

A ranking member of the House, Oluwole Oke (PDP, Osun), who is the immediate past Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts and stepped down from minority caucus leadership race, pointed out that Abbas had the discretion of appointing chairmen of committees.

“You don’t look at any position. Appointment of committee members and chair is at the pleasure of Mr Speaker,” Oke stated.

Responding to a question on the jostle for committees’ chairmanship, the fifth-timer said, “It is expected.”

Gbajabiamila’s men

The immediate past Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, had collapsed his structure in the chamber for Abbas to emerge as his successor.

Under the umbrella of the Joint Task -10th Assembly, Gbajabiamila’s men had mobilised support for Abbas, who was nominated by the outgoing Speaker and anointed by the APC and President Bola Tinubu.

Strong indications have emerged that several leaders of the APC-opposition alliance might retain the positions they held in the 9th House.

The Co-Chairman of the Joint Task, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), has reportedly been picked as the Minority Leader of the House.

Chinda had lost his bid for the position in the 9th House to Ndudi Elumelu, who aligned with the Gbajabiamila-led APC camp.

Sources in the Joint Task disclosed that the outgoing chairmen of the Committee on House Services, Olawale Raji; Defence, Babajimi Benson; Police Affairs, Bella Kumo; and Niger Delta Development Commission, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, among others, might retain their positions.

“People say we have done well,” one of them told Sunday PUNCH on condition of anonymity.

Another leader of the Joint Task said, “He (Abbas) knows my contributions. I am a founding member of his campaign.”

When asked about the possibility of the speakership aspirants, who stepped down for Abbas, retaining the chairmanship of their respective committees, the member said, “Well, I don’t know. There is a possibility.”

Committees may reduce

A ranking member of the APC, who is close to Gbajabiamila, noted that Abbas might be forced to reduce the number of committees of the House.

Gbajabiamila had in an attempt to compensate stakeholders for his victory in 2019 created more committees and allowed first-timers and opposition members to become chairmen.

The lawmaker said this time, “there is no need to increase the number of committees, rather, in my opinion, the committees should be consolidated for effectiveness. A situation where you have two to three committees carrying out oversight on a ministry does not allow for effectiveness.”

When asked if the Speaker was considering harmonisation instead of expansion of the committees, the lawmaker stated, “I have not said so, but I think it is better, so that when there is a joint sitting of the committees between the Senate and the House, we should not have a situation where you will have one senator with about two or three chairmen from the House. It is something that will be looked into.”

Sources in the House also noted that Abbas had to “settle” the aspirants who stepped down for him, especially those in the G-7.

It was gathered that the aggrieved aspirants presented their demands to Tinubu during the President’s negotiations with them at the Presidential Villa. It was also learnt that some of them might be given appointments outside the National Assembly.

“For those who stepped down, discussions were held outside the National Assembly. They are good party men and women,” a source in the APC caucus said.

When asked if the ministerial appointment allegedly offered to Wase was still available after contesting against Abbas, the lawmaker said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The sources, however, claimed that the G-7 members, especially the immediate past Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; and his counterpart on the Navy, Yusuf Gagdi, might retain their former positions.

Sources said the outgoing Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, James Faleke, a known ally of the President and Gbajabiamila, was allegedly eyeing the appropriations committee.

A source, who noted that Abbas would be mindful of the chairmanship of the committee, said, “For appropriations, you will mention Faleke, Betara and some other people, especially Abubakar Bichi.”

The source noted that Bichi was one of the major financiers of Abbas’ speakership campaign.

The Deputy Chairman (South) of the Joint Task, Olawale Raji (APC, Lagos), said Abbas would “do it by the grace of God,” adding, “It is an all-inclusive administration that will run as reflected in the outcome of the election. It is a reflection of his (Abbas) general acceptability and that puts a lot of responsibility on him. He will find a way of accommodating everybody.”

Another key leader of the Joint Task, Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos), stated that appointments were at the direction of the Speaker, adding, “I am ready to serve in any capacity.”