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How COVID-19 scare, ministers’ complaints halted Reps probes

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By Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Northern Operation and Gbade Ogunwale, Abuja

The decision of the leadership of the House of Representatives to suspend over 30 ongoing probes by standing and ad hoc committees was largely caused by COVID-19 scare and five other factors, according to an investigation.

Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are also said to have inundated the House leadership with complaints of alleged high-handedness by committee chairmen.

Other untoward allegations against some committee chairmen and members similarly went to the House leadership.

Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and other leaders, sources told The Nation, were worried that the committee instrument was being abused by some members, prompting a stay of action on all the probes on August 19.

No official explanation was given at the time.

The Peoples Democratic party (PDP) yesterday deplored the suspension of the probes and claimed that the action was meant to stop further disclosures at the hearings.

Investigation however revealed that the House took the step for the following reasons:

“Covid-19 scare;

“constant complaints by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of high-handedness by committee chairmen;

“growing inter-committee rivalry;

“overlapping of functions;

“proliferation of committees without deriving powers from the floor; and

“arbitrary extension of committee timeline beyond six weeks

A top source said: “We received intelligence report that some of our members who had Covid-19 infections/ symptoms had been attending public hearings because of sitting allowance.

“A few others had been secretly keeping COVID-19 manifestations to themselves and they had participated in committee activities as if all was well. We decided to put the interest of all members and Nigerians coming to the National Assembly above any other thing.

“The safest thing was to suspend all committees’ activities so that all members would have time to rest and those with Covid-19 symptom could have time to treat themselves.”

The source also said the House leadership was “disturbed by constant complaints of high-handedness by some chairmen of the standing and ad hoc committees.

“In fact, the committee instrument is being abused in a manner that some MDAs have not been able to do anything other than to appear before committees. We opted to apply the brakes to avoid the House reputation being dragged in the mud.

“We believe the committee activities ought to be better managed than the case at present.”

A principal officer said: “We have uncovered inter-committee rivalry and overlapping of functions between Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Committees.

“This development is also creating division in the House to the discomfiture of our leaders. We cannot continue to operate in this uncoordinated manner.

“In the House alone, we have more than 30 ad hoc committees investigating some MDAs and companies outside the standing committees saddled with such responsibilities.

“For instance, there was an ad hoc committee investigating DSTV and others on high subscription rates in the House of Representatives with Standing Committees on Information and Communication. This is creating bad blood.”

“It has reached a ridiculous stage that some ad hoc committees just sprang up in the House without deriving powers from the floor. There was no House resolution that such ad hoc committees be set up.”

A ranking House member said the leadership acted on the complaints of some members who were worried that things were getting bad.

He said: “Some ad hoc committees had exceeded their timelines of either four weeks or six weeks, and they continued to operate without recourse to the floor for extension of their sitting period.”

Some members were allegedly getting more distracted by committee assignments which they have accorded priority.

At press time, findings confirmed that the House leadership was working on “strict regulations for the conduct of the committees.”

Another principal officer said: “We will fine-tune the committee system before we return from recess. I can assure you that things will change.”

Announcing the suspension of the probes on August 19, House Leader Alhassan Ado Doguwa, said: “The Leadership of the House of Representatives recently met and resolved that henceforth all activities of standing and ad-hoc committees be put on hold while the House is on its annual recess.

“Accordingly, all standing and ad hoc committee chairmen are hereby directed to suspend with immediate effect all committee meetings, public hearings and other engagements until the House resumes from its annual recess.

“The Clerk of the House should also ensure strict compliance with this circular by all committee clerks and other relevant staffs of the House of Representatives.”

He was silent on why the House decided to put committees’ activities on hold.

PDP chides Reps for halting probes

An unimpressed Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday kicked over the suspension of the various investigations.

The party, in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, asked Speaker Gbajabiamila to stop circumventing the statutory duties of the House and desist from obstructing the fight against corruption by the legislature.

The party described the shutdown order by the leadership of the House as a clear example of corruption fighting back from within the government circle, which it said must be condemned by all Nigerians.

It said: “It is clear that the shutdown directive is targeted at frustrating revelations from ongoing investigations on the $500 billion foreign loan from China, particularly as it relates to the mortgaging of our nation’s sovereignty to China.

“This is in addition to the investigations into the humongous corruption in government agencies including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), the N300 billion unremitted revenue to the federation account as well as allegations of corruption in government earnings and the expenditure in Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA’s) under the APC.

“It is therefore unfortunate that under the Gbajabiamila-led leadership, the basic responsibility of the House of Representatives, which is its oversight on the executive, has just been maimed through a forced holiday on the members of the respective committees and their Chairmen.

“It is equally distressing that the APC leadership of the House of Representatives is breaching parliamentary rules, practices and procedures to shield APC leaders and their cronies who have been fleecing our nation.

“Our party therefore holds that any parliament that deliberately frustrates its statutory responsibility to call the activities of the executive to question has lost the essence of its own existence. The leadership that led it into such constitutional suicide must be held culpable.

“Indeed, never in our parliamentary history has committee activities been suspended or shut down on the ground of holiday or suspension of plenary.

“For us in the PDP, it is shocking that the APC leadership of the House of Representatives could  by any consideration shut down, its legislative investigation, which is exclusively vested on it under sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), on the guise of being on break.

Such an action is calamitous to our democracy.”

The PDP however commended members of its caucus and other minorities in the National Assembly for standing against corruption and striving to ensure that the APC did not sell Nigerians into slavery with its reckless foreign borrowings.

It urged its lawmakers not to be “deterred but continue in their assignments as they are only answerable to the Nigerian people.

“The PDP therefore charges the Hon. Gbajabiamila-led APC leadership of the House of Representatives to immediately reverse itself as Nigerians expect nothing but seamless investigations without unnecessary interferences and incursions.

“If the Honorable Speaker is inclined towards allowing the covering of corruption, against the purpose for which he was elected to lead the House, then he should take a bow and step aside.”

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