The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, and some of his allies were conspicuously missing on Monday as the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, inaugurated 96 special and standing committees of the House.
His absence was not lost on the chambers, as it passed the message that the dispute in the House over the sharing of chairmanship positions of the committees had not been resolved.
Those present were Dogara (APC); Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun (APC); Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa ( APC); Deputy House Leader, Mr. Buba Jibrin (APC); Deputy Whip, Mr. Pally Iriase (APC); Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor (PDP); Minority Whip, Mr. Yakubu Barde (PDP); and Deputy Whip, Binta Maigeri (PDP).
The Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Chukwuma Onyeama (PDP), was said to be indisposed.
Over 240 of the 360-member legislature also took part in the inauguration, which was held in the chambers of the House.
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, many former presiding and principal officers of the House as well as the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, attended the session.
Dogara addressed the House and the visitors as he inaugurated the committees amid intermittent applause from members.
His speech was interrupted at least thrice with shouts of “Dogara,” “Dogara,” “Dogara.”
But, the Speaker warned committee chairmen and members that acts of corruption or “misconduct” would not be condoned.
He said an errant chairman or member would be promptly removed in addition to facing appropriate legal penalties.
As an arm of government charged with the constitutional responsibility of checking the excesses of the executive arm, Dogara observed that it would be unacceptable for lawmakers to engage in the same acts of corruption they were elected to expose.
Dogara added, “The leadership of the House will, consequently, be very sensitive to any report of wrongdoing or corrupt practices by any member or leadership of a committee.
“By choice, we have declared in our legislative agenda that ours is a people-centered House. The implication of this is that in this season of change, our people must be at the centre of our oversight assignment.
“In this season of change, we have lost the liberty to engage in the pursuit of self. The unbridled pursuit of self may justly be pronounced the very definition of poverty.”
On the controversy surrounding the prime committees, otherwise called ‘juicy’ committees by members, the Speaker claimed not to know that such committees existed.
He added that all committees were seen to be “very important” and were created for the sole purpose of serving Nigerians.
“There is nothing like juicy or non-juicy committees. I don’t know what that means,” he said.
The PUNCH sought the comments of Gbajabiamila on why he shunned the inauguration and he replied that he had not been part of the composition of the committees from inception.
However, he stated that he would make himself available to the chairmen and the deputies in the course of carrying out their duties.
Gbajabiamila said, “I was not part of the composition of the committees and so my being present at the inauguration goes to nothing.
“I know the chairmen and their deputies. They are my colleagues and I will (be) available to each and everyone of them in any way that would assist them in the discharge of their responsibilities and functions.”
But, the Chief Whip, a member of the APC, Ado-Doguwa, said any principal officer who claimed that he was not consulted on the composition of the committees was being economical with the truth.
“I stand here on behalf of nine other principal officers of the House to say that we were duly consulted on the appointment of these committees. Nobody was left out,” he announced on the floor of the House shortly before the session ended on Monday.
As the session ended, the House called on those it called “few members,” to support the committees to work for Nigerians.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Jonathan Gaza, who spoke for the House, noted that “Nigeria is greater than a few.”
There has been a cold war between Dogara and Gbajabiamila since October 22 when the Speaker named the 96 committees on account of grumbling by the APC members that the party was not fairly treated in the distribution of the committees.
The Speaker had allocated 48 of the committees to the APC, while the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party got 45 slots.
Some aggrieved APC members complained that the PDP members were given more prime committees than the majority party.
Included in the PDP’s share were committees including the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream); Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream); Committee on Gas Resources; Committee on Aviation; Committee on Power; Committee on Works; Committee on NDDC; Committee on Niger Delta; and Committee on Air Force.
Among the APC’s committees were Committee on Appropriation; Committee on Finance; Committee on Customs/Excise; Committee Defence; Committee on Communications; and Committee on Agricultural Services.
But, some APC members felt that Dogara should have given the committees on petroleum resources, gas resources, power, works and aviation among others, to the majority party as well.
In addition, they had observed that the difference between 48 and 45 was three, meaning that the ruling party and the opposition almost tied on the number of committees they got from the Speaker.
To demonstrate their grievances, two APC lawmakers officially resigned their committee headship two weeks ago. One was a former Deputy Minority Whip, Mr. Garba Dhatti-Muhammad, who resigned as the Chairman, Committee on Solid Minerals Development.
His official reason was that Dogara did not “consult” him before appointing him as a chairman.
Another member, Mr. Sunday Adepoju, rejected an offer to serve as the Deputy Chairman, Committee on Special Duties. Adepoju had claimed that he resigned because the APC was not fairly treated.
The Speaker simply replaced the two officials with other lawmakers and went ahead to hold an interactive session with the chairmen ahead of Monday’s (yesterday) inau guration.
An attempt by the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, to resolve the matter by holding separate meetings with Dogara and Gbajabiamila last week did not alter the composition of the committees on Monday.
As of the time of the inauguration on Monday, no other chairmen had resigned, an indication that 95 chairmen and 94 deputies still held on to their seats.
The President of the Senate, Saraki; a former speaker, Chief Agunwa Anaekwe; a former deputy speaker, Mr. Chibudom Nwuche and representatives of organised labour also addressed the House on Monday.