Crisis looms in Senate over ‘juicy’ committees
• Aggrieved lawmakers demand better deals
• CSOs flay desperation for plum panels
Senate President Ahmad Lawan might not have entirely escaped the aftershocks of the red chamber’s appointment of chairmen of committees.
The phenomenon, fused with a potent ability to rock the tenures of Senate presidents, has bothered occupants of the legislative position from 1999 till date.
Unless the Yobe-born lawmaker manages the aftermath with deftness, he could have a hard time coming. Indeed, the survival of any Senate president hangs on his ability to manipulate the headship of committees.
Usually, the process is handled by a special body known as the Selection Committee, which consists of the Senate president, his deputy, the majority leader, minority leader and all other principal officers. If down the road anything goes wrong however, aggrieved lawmakers naturally go for the jugular of the Senate president.
Beyond the façade of legislative service to fatherland, the appointment of chairmen is ruled by two phrases: juicy committees and non-juicy committees.
A juicy committee is a legislative organ with supervisory powers over government agencies that control huge finances. Just as ministries are tagged Grade A, B, and C, committees likewise are labeled juicy, dry land or Siberia.
Juicy ministries have big budgets and agencies that generate a lot of revenue. Ministers in charge are often prefixed as ‘super’ and are the envy of their peers. Similarly, legislative committees overseeing such are regarded as highly favoured for obvious reasons.
For instance, the Senate committee on petroleum (upstream or downstream) might not be compared with its counterpart on culture and tourism. Again, the Senate committee on appropriation is considered more inviting than women affairs.
Saraki, the immediate past Senate president, passed the acid test when, within the first legislative year, he reconciled with all aggrieved lawmakers by reshuffling the leadership of the committees.
Senator Kabiru Marafa for instance was taken to the juicy petroleum resources (downstream) committee, while Senator Oluremi Tinubu was lifted from dry women affairs committee to environment.
The number of committees began with as little as 30 in 1999. Currently, it is 69! Thanks to the unending pressure to pacify unending chairmanship agitations.
The Senate in the United States, a world superpower, has 21 standing committees.
But aware that he must contain the simmering tension, Lawan has already begun promising upset senators that a review is in the horizon. How well he succeeds at this will be seen in the days to come.
There was an attempt to carry ranking senators along in the current placements announced by Lawan. Many in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), however, were left unhappy.
Forty-nine positions were allocated to APC senators. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) got the remainder. Also, the northwest geopolitical zone had 16; southwest, 13; northeast, 11; north central, 10; south-south, 10; and southeast, 9.
The chairmanship of 16 out of the 23 standing committees considered juicy went to APC senators while their PDP counterparts got the remaining seven.
Already, some faceless senators under the aegis of ‘Ninth Senate Group For Good Governance’ have accused the leadership of the chamber of reneging on its campaign promises.
They regretted that despite their moral and financial support to ensure Lawan emerged as Senate president, the committees assigned to them fell short of their expectations.
A statement they issued reads in part: “We are some of the senators who contributed our quota in the build-up to your emergence as president of the Ninth Senate.
“You know very well that those who know you closely did everything possible to dissuade many of us. Many of your opponents raised a lot of questions, trying to convince us. We kept away all doubts and vigorously stood by you through thick and thin.
“You promised many of us good committees, knowing how hard we tried. Many of us tried to pin you down to specifics but you kept shifting the date of the announcement until the date of our departure for recess. When we come back from recess, this issue shall be raised and must be addressed.”
Some lawmakers actually confirmed that the development was tearing apart the camp of Lawan’s loyalists. According to one, “The issue is generating a serious crisis as some loyalists of the Senate president are accusing the leadership of favouring people from the north at the detriment of their southern counterparts.”
But Senate spokesman, Adedayo Adeyeye, dismissed insinuations about juicy committees. He told reporters : “You journalists talk about juicy and non-juicy committees. In any case, juicy or non-juicy, I believe that it is a call to duty for senators to serve their fatherland and serve the nation meritoriously. So, in whatever capacity anybody has been placed, he has been called upon to merely render service.”
“If you have 69 committees, there is no way about seven people who want to be chairman of a particular committee could get it. Only one person would be appointed. The Senate president has done everything possible to keep the Senate together and as such, there should not be any form of rancour on the issue either now or when we resume.”
The representatives of some civil society organisations meanwhile have criticised the lawmakers’ alleged desperation to head committees.
“The cause is essentially the greed with which they go to the National Assembly. Most of them are not there to serve the country. They are essentially there for their personal interest,” said Jude Ohanele, Programme Director of Development Dynamics.
Similarly, National Coordinator, Think Tank on Parliamentary Procedures and Enhancement, Baale Angus, noted: “The problem is multi-dimensional. It is unfortunate that most of the time, when the National Assembly tries to elect its leaders, there has been serious interference by the executive arm of government.
“This is one thing that has been causing trouble. It is why whoever eventually emerges tries to do everything to patronise his colleagues with committees, to prevent the executive from hijacking and using them against him. And that is why the list of committees keeps growing too. The executive should stop interfering in senators’ affairs.”
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