There seems to be no respite for the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the crisis rocking the House over the appointment of chairpersons and deputy- chairpersons of standing committees is getting deeper by the day.
Dogara after weeks of speculations announced the names chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of 96 of the 97 standing committees on Thursday 22nd. He immediately left for the Christian pilgrimage in Jerusalem. Some said though the Speaker had written the House announcing the trip beforehand, his travel to Jerusalem afforded him space from a sizeable number of his colleagues, especially those in his All Progressives Congress (APC), who weren’t happy about the composition of the list. APC got 49 while the main opposition party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had a good showing with 45 chairpersons.
However, Dogara’s absence didn’t stop the rain from falling, last week, the three lawmakers resigned in anger. First was Hon. Garba Datti Muhammed representing Sabon Gari Federal Constituency who rejected his appointment as chairman of the committee on Solid Minerals Development. The House leadership promptly replaced Datti with another lawmaker from his state, Hon Suleiman Samaila. The second was Hon Hassan Saleh (Benue PDP) who resigned as deputy-chairman of Local Content committee. Muhammed who stressed his membership of the APC while announcing his resignation from the Solid Minerals Development committee to a round of applause from other members at the plenary, said he wasn’t consulted before he was appointed.
“I feel as a former principal officer I should have been consulted before my name was announced. I just heard of it on the floor. And I have my own principles. I have decided on my own to withdraw as the chairman of that committee,” he said.
On why he didn’t reject the appointment immediately after his name was announced, he told journalists, “I have to find out what happened first before I take my decision. And is only today that the approval has been given. For that reason I decided to withdraw.”
On Thursday, Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun tactically stopped another member, Sunday Adepoju (Oyo APC) from resigning his position as Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Special Duties on the floor. Adepoju who came under a point of order citing his privilege was stopped in his tracks by Lasun who presided over plenary, when he started by thanking the House leadership for his appointment as Deputy Chairman. The Deputy Speaker who knew Adepoju’s ultimate goal, ruled him out of order, insisting the issue he raised wasn’t an urgent one, adding that it had in fact been “over taken by events”.
But another lawmaker, Aliyu Madaki representing Dala Federal Constituency would have none of it as he tried to save Adepoju, reiterating his rights under privileges. Despite citing Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution which call for fair hearing, Madaki was again ruled out of order by Lasun and this resulted in his storming out of the chamber.
Madaki who later spoke with newsmen said the Deputy Speaker was only buying time. He disclosed that there still would be resignations even as he further said that five lawmakers had planned to reject their appointment as chairmen on the floor. He also said a member he chose not to name had already sent his letter of resignation to the Speaker.
He said, “Today, five people were supposed to resign. Two people have already done this. One was on the floor and another has written the Speaker signifying that he doesn’t want the committee assigned him but the letter has not been read.
“Today some people planned to stand up and say, ‘thank for this, but I don’t want it’. And I don’t see anything wrong with this”.
The lawmaker argued that it was unfair for the House leadership to resort to different means to stop people from resigning when it was their choice to do so. He said of his actions on the floor, that he wanted to draw the attention of the House, “to do that which is proper, to do that which is enshrined in the constitution and the House order”. He further said, “I quoted Section Section 36.1 of the constitution where it talks about giving all a fair hearing. My colleague stood up under privilege and if you read our (House) laws, whoever comes under privileges must be heard.
“The moment he started talking the presiding officer stopped him and asked him to sit down, that what he wants to talk about had been overtaken by events, that he can only come under privileges for something that is sudden. But that’s not what the rule says.
Going back to insinuations that the PDP had taken over the House Madaki averred that the APC lawmakers hadn’t been treated fairly. “We are a House of rules and order. It is we who make laws for the good governance of our country. If things are done out of these principles, I don’t think people should be happy about it. This is a House with over 200 plus APC members, with about 140 PDP members and look how the committees were distributed. You can make your personal analysis and tell me if fairness has been done the APC”.
Madaki also said, his Oyo colleague had to beat a tactical retreat because if he insisted on announcing his resignation on the floor, he would have been penalised based on the new House rules. The same rule is what prevented the other lawmakers who had hoped to emulate Adepoju from doing so on the day, newsmen learnt. “My colleague was in the process of explaining how his privilege was breeched but he was asked to sit down. And we have a new law in which if he refused to obey an order, I say it is an unlawful order (from the Deputy Speaker) because he (Adepoju) came under a right order, he could have been suspended from a period of time, even up to one session”, the Kano lawmaker explained.
Happenings on the floor in the past week were greatly influenced by events that took place far from the National Assembly as it was gathered that South-West lawmakers met in Abuja last Wednesday over the sharing of committees and it was agreed that the region was shortchanged. This is even as there was an agreement to allow those wishing to reject their committees to do so. Therefore Adepoju’s resignation of his appointment was a form of belling the proverbial cat on behalf of South West lawmakers who at the meeting agreed to fight the composition of the leadership of committees. Despite producing the Deputy Speaker and the Majority Leader, a source who was at the meeting told this paper that the South West lawmakers were of the opinion that they still needed to lead committees through which they would be able to attract developmental projects to their region, even as they decried being marginalised over their support for House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila. But Gbajabiamila has failed to make a formal statement on the matter with some insinuating that he might be speaking out by proxy. The South West got 11 chairmanship and 13 deputy chairmanship slots.
But speaking with newsmen, Adepoju who insisted that he would not rescind his decision to resign, though he was stopped from reading his resignation letter at plenary, as he submitted the same to the Speaker, dismissed suggestions Gbajabiamila’s supporters were still aggrieved over their failure to install their preferred candidate. He said, he had long accepted Dogara as Speaker along with his deputy. He stressed that as lawmakers from the ruling party, he and other members of the APC deserved to be appointed to committees that would drive the policies of government. He said, “The list of the committees leadership was read out last week and the key positions that can drive the change agenda was given to the opposition.
“Now, I was given a committee as Deputy-Chairman, it’s a privilege. But I got back to the people who gave me the mandate, I told them what I was given and they were furious. Looking at the committees and the composition of their leadership, I then said it is better for me, my constituency and party to reject the appointment, to let them know that we in the APC cannot be made the opposition when we are the majority”.
Reacting to the happenings in the House and speculations that more lawmakers would find other lawful means to resign this week, spokesman of the lower house, Hon . Abdulrazak Namdas, said Dogara followed due process. He called for understanding from members even as he said that those wishing to resign should do it the right way. He said: “The Speaker followed due process in appointing the Chairmen and the Deputy-Chairmen. He did not do this singularly. He did it in consultation with the selection committee and the selection committee was made up of representatives from state caucuses which they picked by themselves. So everybody was carried along.
“But if somebody thinks he wants to resign his chairmanship or membership of a committee, there is a proper way through which he can do so. It is not done at the plenary. More so, those who raised the issue of their privilege didn’t not raise it in line of the rules of the House. The rules says that if your privilege is breached, you should be able to raise the issue immediately. So Adepoju breached the rule. What the rule says is that he should have raised his alleged breach of his privilege immediately. But he did it a week after. So it was an afterthought.”