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The Senate and the House of Representatives have multiplied their committees reportedly for the purpose of political exigency. But how it benefits the country is another thing.

A day after the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki constituted the Senate’s committees, making all but one senator, chairman or vice-chairman of the bloated 65 committees, the senators again closed down the Senate to show solidarity with Saraki in his case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The only senator that turned down a committee position was the immediate past Senate President, Senator David Mark, whose stance was understandable, and was in line with the tradition of former Senate Presidents not taking committee positions.

Up to 80 senators, normally more than the average number of attendees at Senate proceedings allegedly showed solidarity with the Senate President when he appeared at the tribunal last Thursday.

The solidarity with the Senate President was reflective of the conviviality that had been buried by the recent political bickering that characterised the screening of Rotimi Amaechi as a minister. Senator Isa Misau from Bauchi State who was appointed chairman of the Committee on Navy was effusive in his praises of the Senate President a day after the announcement saying:

“He has shown that he is a detribalised Nigerian. He has shown us also that his leadership in the Senate is for everybody irrespective of political, ethnic and religious affiliations and I think we should commend him for that.” In reconstituting the committee system of the Senate, the new Senate leadership increased the number of committees in the 109 Senate from 56 to 65 inevitably, making it that every senator with the notable exception of Senator Mark is either a committee chairman or a vice-chairman.

A similar development also occurred in the House of Representatives where committees were increased to 95. Though given the number of members in the House, the system of patronage in the House was not enough to ensure that all members got the opportunity of being a chairman or deputy chairman.

A senior official in the House in defending the increase of the committees to 95 explained that it was made to ensure a complete coverage of every part of the executive especially given the claim that the substantive committees suffocated sub-committees of the House.

However, tangible defence for the multiplication of the committees was hard to come by and especially not from the crowd of critical stakeholders of the legislature. In the Senate, the superfluity of positions was manifest in the fact that some committee chairmen were also appointed vice-chairmen and some who did not get from the abundance of committee chairmanship positions were appointed vice-chairmen of two committees.

Senator Saraki’s deft deployment of committee positions was seen in the seeming satisfaction of his antagonists with Senator Ahmad Lawan being appointed the chairman of the Committee on Defence, Senator George Akume the chairman of Committee on Army, and Barnabas Gemade, chairman of the Committee on Housing.

Remarkably, Senator Saraki also almost fully compensated his staunch loyalists with Dino Melaye getting the Committee on FCT, Danjuma Goje, Appropriation and Peter Nwaoboshi getting the Committee on Niger Delta.

However, the use of committees as a sop for political exigency is not anything new. Senator Anyim Pius Anyim as Senate President used it effectively, and at that time all senators were appointed chairmen and vice-chairmen with the committee chairmen and vice-chairmen. In the Anyim Senate, senators were supposedly funded through the committee system.

In ensuring that 64 of his colleagues are chairmen, the Senate President has inevitably won to himself the loyalty of a sizeable number of committee chairmen to defend him in the event of an uprising. The situation in the Nigeria’s National Assembly is quite different from that in the United States where committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are limited to 20 in each House.

Both the US Senate and the House have, however, made their work easier by appointing sub-committees with the House having a maximum of five sub-committees while the Senate has an unlimited number of sub-committees it could create.

Instead of creating the sub-committee system in Nigeria to allow for efficiency and coordination in their dealings with the executive arm of government, the National Assembly has opted to multiply standing committees a situation that creates confusion and duplicates the job of ministers and senior administration officials.

In the Senate, for example, the minister of defence would have to defend the ministry’s budget separately before the committees on Defence, Army, Air Force, and Navy. The minister of petroleum on his part would be expected to appear before the committees on Gas, Upstream Petroleum and Downstream Petroleum for the defence of the budget of the ministry.

Indeed, there were instances in the when it was alleged that separate committees of the Senate took turns to repeatedly summoning a beautiful female minister and it did not take long before Senate correspondents started muttering that the female minister was being summoned because of her beauty.

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