IN the past few weeks, the House of Representatives has been in the news for the wrong reasons. The US ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle in a letter dated June 9, 2016, addressed to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, alleged that, Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi), Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) had during a recent visit to the US been involved in sexual misconduct.
The envoy in his letter said Gbillah and Ikon asked a staff of the hotel to engage prostitutes on their behalf and Gololo attempted to rape a housekeeper.
The allegations led to a deluge of criticism for the House and many would say that the two-week break lawmakers commenced on by June 23rd presented an opportunity for respite which the House grabbed without apologies.
Sex Scandal investigation placed on hold
Though the House adjourned for the Sallah break, it’s body language suggests that it is comfortable with playing, the ostrich with regard to investigating allegations of sexual misconduct involving it’s members. Just before it went on break, bowing to pressure from the public, the House set up a joint committee consisting of it’s Foreign Relations and Ethics and Privileges Committees to investigate the lawmakers.
The mandate given the joint committee was subsequent to the adoption of a motion raised under matters of privileges by Gbillah who again strongly denied asking anyone to procure the services of a prostitute on his behalf.
But in a move that suggests the House may not be in a hurry to unravel what really happened in far away Cleveland, Ohio when ten of its members lodged at the N92,000 per-night Renaissance hotel for a leadership conference, the joint committee set up on June 21 hasn’t met before or even during the break. A member of the joint committee, who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, disclosed that the investigation may have to wait until the House resumes from break.
He also confessed that the committee will have to first meet to outline the modalities by which the investigations will be conducted. Nonetheless, he explained that the basic expectations are that the Ethics and Privileges Committee will investigate the conduct of the lawmakers. This is as the Foreign Relations Committee will handle the diplomatic angle to matter. “As you might have noticed, the attendance at plenary was scanty and this is because many people had traveled for umrah and for other reasons. We have to wait for all members of the committee to be available before we start anything,” the source explained.
Senate vs Executive: Dogara’s underground moves
Another controversy that dominated the polity just before the National Assembly commenced recess is the seemingly unending chasm between the Senate Leadership and the presidency. Unlike Dogara, who has bent over backwards in order to maintain a cordial relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, despite being voted as Speaker against his wishes and that of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Senate leadership consisting of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu has been locked in a battle of wits with the Executive and by extension, the ruling APC. The latest being charges of forgery of the Senate rules brought against the Senate-President and the Deputy Senate President by the Attorney-General and the minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
Even as the battle raged across the aisle, Dogara tried his best to remain neutral publicly. Nevertheless, he has also been bold and smart enough to allow the passage of two motions coming from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers demanding that he intervene in crisis rocking the Senate.
The PDP lawmakers who ensured Dogara’s emergence as Speaker, still remain his strong allies. First time Dogara was asked to mediate was in October 2015 when following the mandate of the House to step into Saraki’s trial by the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Speaker held a closed door meeting with President Buhari. It could be said that not much came out of the meeting with the president as Saraki’s trial at the Conduct of Conduct Tribunal is still on.
Regardless, Sunday Sun learnt that the Speaker is working in the background to see if he can play the role of mediator in the current crisis without becoming a victim of it. A senior aide of the Speaker said though Dogara hasn’t just been siting on the mandates he was twice handed by the House to seek a political solution to the bad relationship between the Senate leadership and the Executive, he has chosen to go about his intervention with much caution. “Trying to reconcile the Senate Leadership with the president is a process, that I can tell you the Speaker will be involved in. But he has to be careful on how he goes about it, because different forces are involved in this fight.”
This time around the Speaker is intervening based on the adoption of a motion passed at June 21 plenary on the need for the Executive arm to respect the independence of the National Assembly and not to interfere in any of its business.
Reps take on Osibajo, Babachir, Fashola
Probably due to the fact that lawmakers are on a short recess, Committees have done little or nothing during this period. But one Committee that has been on its guard is the Abdulrazak Namdas led Committee on Media and Publicity. The Committee has risen to reply to scathing criticisms against the House. The Committee waded into controversy over the legality and usefulness of constituency projects, describing as non-negotiable, the implementation of the N100 billion constituency projects as contained in the 2016 budget.
Namdas, in reaction to an editorial of a national daily (not Sunday Sun) on constituency projects, also condemned comments by Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir David Lawal that government will not be able to execute constituency projects in the 2016. According to him, the 2016 Appropriations Act is a law and as with other laws, must be upheld . The statement he issued on June 30, also took a swipe at Vice-President Yemi Osibajo and minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola for what the House said was a case of double standards, stressing that Osibajo and Fashola as Attorney-General and governor of Lagos respectively, upheld the law of the state by executing constituency projects. But are now opposed to doing same as Vice-President and minister.
Before the statement, the Speaker and Fashola, had at a one-day national summit on Political Representation and Constituency and Zonal Intervention Services organised by National Institute of Legislative Studies in Abuja, differed on the relevance of constituency projects of which about one trillion naira has been budgeted for from 2004 till date.
The statement read in part: “As Dogara noted, Lagos state stands out as the first state to enact legislation legitimising constituency project just one year into the fourth republic in 2000. In fact, other states soon emulated Lagos and to some extent even the federal legislature.
“His Excellency, Babatunde Fashola, implemented constituency projects for members of the Lagos State House of Assembly for the eight years he was the governor. The VP was AG of Lagos State also and at no point in time did any of them contended that the Lagos law is unconstitutional.
“ As Senior Advocates why didn’t any of them challenge the Lagos law in court? Are they saying Constituency project is only good and constitutional for Lagos state only? What else might have informed their sudden change of perception? Nigerians from other regions must see through this facade.”
The House while accusing the Executive of intentionally overlooking constituency projects out of malice over the years, advised the Executive against creating the reputation of a government that doesn’t recognise the doctrine of separation of powers by insisting on not executing constituency projects.
The House further argued that but for constituency projects, many rural communities in Nigeria wouldn’t have known about the existence of the Federal Government let alone benefiting from budgets.
On the SGF, the statement read: “In fact, it is on record that over the years, the Executive deliberately frustrates the implementation of constituency projects to the point that not up to 40 percent has ever been implemented in any given budget year.
“Already unfortunately, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal, has stated that the government may not be able to implement constituency projects in the 2016 budget. May be he doesn’t know that the Appropriation Act is a law that must be implemented unless of course if it is amended which can only be done if the government fails to meet its revenue targets.”
Another issue Namdas reacted strongly to is media reports that the performance of the 8th House in its first year isn’t worthy of commendation. To this Namdas replied: “It is an indisputable fact that within one year, the House of Representatives has focused its attention on legislating for the good governance of the country. Immediately the crisis associated with the selection of the Principal Leaders of the House was resolved the House settled into its legislative business. That explains the unprecedented record of achievements that was made by the House within the first one year. For instance, in the 16 years of uninterrupted democracy in the country, no Assembly, whether in the states or at the national level has introduced a record number of such bills as was done by the current House.”