ANALYSIS: House Speaker Abbas rewards friends, rivals with ‘juicy committees’

“I will be voting Tajudeen Abbas, PhD” was the commonest refrain during the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in early June. Even before the counting of votes, the thought of an upset by either Idris Wase or Aminu Jaji had been buried. The choice was clear, the speakership has moved from Lagos to Zaria.

Now the clock is ticking on the honeymoon period for Mr Abbas. His unprecedented margin of victory in the speakership race also underbellies the vulnerability of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House….CONTINUE READING

Despite the lack of a majority in the House – the APC has 177 out of the 359 members in the House – Mr Abbas emerged as Speaker with 353 out of the 359 votes of the members present at the inauguration.

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Alhassan Doguwa
Alhassan Doguwa

Mr Abbas’s emergence could be attributed to several factors, like the influence of President Bola Tinubu who endorsed him early and the changes to the standing rule that made the open balloting system mandatory. However, he is presiding over a House where his party lacks the majority.

The ruling party has since lost three of its seats to the Executive Arm through appointments. Former Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila quit to become the chief of staff to the president, while Tunji Olubunmi-Ojo and Tanko Sununu were appointed ministers by the president.

The ruling APC has a plurality, which is a situation when a party has more members than any of the other parties, but it has less than half of the members. This can happen when there are more than two parties in Parliament.

This is the first time since 1979 that the ruling party does not have a majority in the House. Lacking a majority and national spread in the two chambers of the National Assembly, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that won that year’s general elections went into an “accord” with third-placed Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and conceded the positions of speaker of the House and deputy senate president to the NPP, while the NPN produced the senate president and deputy speaker.

In the 1983 election, the NPN won 306 seats in the House with its closest rival, the UPN, far behind with 51 seats. In 1993, under the two-party system, the Social Democratic Party got 314 seats while the opposition National Republican Convention (NRC) got 275 seats.

With the return of democracy in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) consistently had a majority of seats in the House after every election, until the APC took over in 2015. The APC too had the majority of seats in 2015 and 2019.

Mr Abbas overcame his party’s lack of majority by building a multiparty coalition to beat his opponents who are also of the APC. Several aspirants, including Muktar Betara, Alhassan Doguwa, Yusuf Gagdi and Abubakar Yelleman, stepped down for him on the eve of the election. But their support of each is an IOU that must be redeemed.

Yusuf Gagdi
Yusuf Gagdi

The Speaker had also warned his rivals, after his adoption as the APC candidate, that rebellion against the ruling party could be costly, narrating how he once participated in rebellion in the House and and regretted it. During the campaign, he promised to protect the interests of his backers.

The main currency the lawmakers expect to the repaid in is in committee appointment to “juicy committees.”

The most “lucrative” of all is the budget committee, officially known as the Appropriation Committee. Other highly sought after committees include petroleum, gas, finance, communication, customs, public accounts and defence.

Sharing of committees to opponents and friends

Unlike his predecessor, Femi Gbajabimila, only a handful of members opposed Mr Abbas’ election – only six voted against him. They are the former deputy speaker Idris Wase, Aminu Jaji, Tijjani Ismail, Muhammed Abdulmummin, Ahmed Doro and Usman Bindawa.

Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase on Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase on Nigerians in the Diaspora. Picture credit: Ibrahim Tijjani Ibrahim/Wikipedia

After his election in 2019, Mr Gbajabimaila, who had lost a bid for the same positiion four years ealier, used appointments into leadership of committees to settle political scores. For instance, his opponent for the speakership, Umar Bago, was appointed as the chairman of the House Committee on Co-operation and Integration in Africa, a committee that members consider to be irrelevant. In addition, several other ranking lawmakers were left without chairing committees, with first-timers taking some instead.

But with his broad coalition and popular acceptance, Mr Abbas had little reasons to exclude anyone. This may be a reason that he increased the number of the standing committees to 134. However, despite the increase, the chairperson and deputy chairperson positions cannot go round. He publicly acknowledged facing this difficulty.

“I particularly carry a very heavy burden to appreciate members for their unanimous endorsement of my aspiration to lead this House. However, it is practically impossible to make every member a chairman or vice chairman. But, let me remind you that there are limitless opportunities within the House, and I assure you that we will provide these opportunities for every member desirous of service to do so,” Mr Abbas said before announcing the composition of the committees.

In 2019, 80 of the 105 committees under former Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila were chaired by members of the ruling APC, while the opposition parties shared the remaining 25. But despite more standing committees being created, the ruling party still chairs 80.

Mr Abbas appointed Mr Wase as Chairman of the Committee on Federal Character. Many could view the position as some sort of demotion for the Plateau lawmaker and former deputy speaker, who refused to step down in the speakership race despite the appeal by the party. On a closer look, however, the committee appears to be a perfect fit for the former deputy speaker.

Mr Wase is some sort of an institution when it comes to the Federal Character Commission. He served as the chairman of the same committee from 2011 until he was appointed deputy majority leader in 2018. Therefore, it could be argued that he has returned to a familiar turf. And with the ongoing job racketeering scandal rocking the commission requiring a serious legislative oversight there, Mr Wase has an assignment to elevate his profile.

Mr Abbas also appointed Mr Jaji, another lawmaker who refused to step down for him, as the Chairman of House Committee on Ecological Fund. But some of the lawmakers that voted Messrs Wase and Jaji were not so lucky with the committees, as only one of them, Doro Yusuf, was appointed deputy chairman of a committee.

Former House Leader, Mr Doguwa, who was in the speakership race before stepping down to endorse Mr Abbas, got the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream). While Mr Gagdi retains his committee on Navy. Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) also retains his Committee on Water Resources.

However, the same latitude was not afforded Muktar Betara. He was not allowed to retain his Committee on Appropriation. In the 9th Assembly, Mr Betara used the committee to command friendship among members of the House. He has instead being appointed the Chairman of the Committee on FCT.

Muktar Betara
Muktar Betara

Idu Igariwe (PDP, Ebonyi), who served as deputy to Mr Betara in the 9th House, retained the position but this time around is deputy to Abubakar Bichi (APC, Kano) who is the new Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Although Mr Betara stepped down some days before the inauguration of the 10th House, many believe that the relationship between him and former Speaker Gbajabimaila had broken down beyond repair. The former speaker had during the campaign for the speakership hinted about his relationship with Mr Betara in a speech at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja.

“In 2015, I ran for the speakership. A few of our party members worked against me and combined with the PDP at a time. Four years later, I ran again, and I won. What I did was, I gave the most powerful committee in perhaps any legislature in the world, to one of the prime movers who fought against me and worked against the party at a time. Not only did I give him the committee, I turned my face away from the running of the committee,” Mr Gbajabimaila said.

Other aspirants like Abubakar Yalleman got the Committee on Police Affairs, Miriam Onuoha got the Committee on TETFUND and Tunji Olawuyi was appointed Chairman Committee on Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees.

Every lawmaker who played a prominent role in the Joint Task, the multiparty coalition that championed Mr Abbas’s speakership election, also got prominent committees. The spokesperson of the joint task, Akin Alabi, is the Chairman Committee on Works, and Alhassan Rumrum (NNPP, Kano) is the Chairman Committee on Airforce.

In addition, the joint chairpersons of the group, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) and Bello Kumo (APC Gombe) are the minority leader and chief whip respectively.

The Public Account Committee, which is a constitutionally created committee that must be chaired by an opposition lawmaker, was taken from Wole Oke (PDP, Osun), and given to Bamidele Salami (PDP, Osun). Mr Oke’s failure to back Mr Abbas earlier in the race is believed to have cost him the position.

Wole Oke, rep member Osun.
Wole Oke, rep member Osun.

During the 2019 speakership race, Mr Oke, alongside Jerry Alagbaso, backed Mr Gbajabiamila very early in the race and was rewarded with the committee. He has now been moved to the Committee on Justice.

The longest-serving lawmaker in the House, Nicholas Mutu, who has been in the House since 1999, was allowed to retain the committee on Gas Resources. The creation of the Ministry of Gas Resources has raised the profile of the committee.

First-timers with strong committees

Several first-timers also got important committees. For instance, Bello El-Rufai, the son of former Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, is the Chairman of the new committee on banking regulations while Ojutu Ejeme got the Committee on Inland Water Way.

Ikenga Ugochinyere, a first-timer from Imo State, is the Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum Downstream. During the campaign, Mr Ugochinyere ran a secretariat at the Wells Charlton Hotels for the Abbas/Kalu campaign, which could explain his allocation of the committee despite being a first-timer.

Regina Akume, the wife of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume, got the Committee on Food, Drugs Administration and Control. Mrs Akume got the committee despite being a first-timer.

Balkanization of committees

The creation of more committees poses a challenge for some of them unless the Standing Rule is amended with a clear delineation of duties and functions for all the committees. The standing rules of the House contain the details of the oversight powers of the different committees on ministries, departments and parastatals.

For instance, in the 9th House, there was only a Committee on Banking and Currency. But the committee has been split into the Committee on Banking Regulation, the Committee on Banking Institutions and the Committee on Digital and Electronic Banking.

The old banking and currency committee oversighted the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Federal Monetary Policy, Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, the Central Bank, banks and banking generally. So with this split, the new committees will need clearly defined mandates.

In a similar move, the committee on pilgrims has been divided into Islamic and Christian pilgrims. Also, the House now has aviation and aviation technology committees.

Furthermore, the Committee on Science and Technology has been split into three – the Science Engineering Committee, Science and Technology Committee, and Science Research Institutions Committee.

In the healthcare sector, there are a speciality healthcare committee, health institutions committee, food, drug, administration and control committee and healthcare services committee. The Specialty Healthcare Committee and the Food Drug Administration and Control Committee are new, thus, the old standing rule did not provide the functions of these committees.

Even the committee on police affairs has now been divided into the Committee on Police and the Committee on Police Institution

The education sector in the past was under the basic education committee, tertiary education committee, and agricultural institutions committee. But the sector has now been further broken down into university education committee, agriculture colleges and institutions committee, federal polytechnics committee, federal colleges of education committee, basic education examination boards committee and basic education committee.

Most of these committees may not be able to function until the standing order of the House is amended to mark their borders.

Also, with the creation of new ministries by President Tinubu, the House will have to decide whether to create even more committees. For instance, the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy has been separated from the Ministry of Transportation, and there is also the Ministry of Tourism among others.

More Committees

Mr Abbas continued the tradition of increasing the number of House Committees. In the fourth House (1999-2003), the standing committees were 40. They increased to 78 under Speaker Aminu Masari in the fifth House but the 6th House under Patricia Etteh/ Dimeji Bankole reduced them to 68.

The 7th Assembly under Aminu Tambuwal increased the number again to 93 and the 8th Assembly under Yakubu Dogara increased it to 96….CONTINUE READING