• Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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BusinessDay

Senators eye fat perks, scramble for juicy committees

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Despite the 12-week recess of the Senate, scramble for juicy committees by senators has gathered momentum, BusinessDay has learnt.
With the upper chamber billed to resume from its annual recess on September 29, findings show that senators are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to get juicy committees, as intense lobbying of Bukola Saraki, Senate president, and Ali Ndume, Senate leader, has commenced. Also, the Senate leadership is under intense pressure from forces outside the National Assembly, including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Presidency, captains of industry and influential politicians.
Also known as Grade ‘A’ Committees, the scramble for juicy committees comes as the nation may have spent about N13billion in two months to maintain the 469-member National Assembly who sat for 15 legislative days since their June 9 inauguration, without passing a bill.
The 109 senators got N36.4 million each, while the 360 members of the House of Representatives got N25 million each. The federal lawmakers were first paid N10milion each in June to ‘cushion’ the difficulty of settling down in Abuja.
The amount, which was to cover their expenses on housing, transport and furniture, amounted to N4.6billion of taxpayers’ money.
Under a pro-rata arrangement for quarterly allowance covering June, Senators got N13.4million each and representatives, N7million, each.
Prior to the recess, it was gathered that senators habitually besieged offices of the two principal officers immediately after each plenary to pledge their loyalty.
Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah told our correspondent that copies of questionnaire had been sent to lawmakers with a view to identifying their areas of specialisation and competence.
“Those things (questionnaires) are being compiled now for the purpose of starting the work of constitution of the committees of the Senate,” he disclosed.
Order 97 of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 (as amended) mandates the Selection Committee to appoint chairmen and members of Standing Committees.
Specifically, Order 97 (b) lists members of the Selection Committee to include: Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, Chief Whip, Deputy Majority Leader, Deputy Chief Whip, Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip.
Although there are 57 Standing Committees in the Red Chamber, findings revealed that there are 19 most sought-after committees namely: Committees on Appropriation; Finance; Judiciary; Public Accounts; Petroleum Resources (Upstream); Petroleum Resources (Downstream); Works; Environment; Niger Delta Development Commission; Power, Steel
Development and Metallurgy; Health and Education.
Others are Committees on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions; Gas; Agriculture; Defence (Army); Communications; Aviation as well as Independent National Electoral Commission.
It was also learnt that the committees are termed ‘juicy’ because of the obvious “largesse” and other privileges that come with them.
For instance, the more the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) under a committee’s oversight functions, the bigger the benefits for the committee chairman and members, as they are in charge of the annual budgets of such MDAs. This, it was gathered, is a conduit for siphoning public funds, as cost of projects are usually inflated with the connivance of committee members and officials of MDAs under their jurisdiction.
Findings also revealed that Education Committee has the highest number of parastatals, as the committee appropriates budgets for all federal universities, Colleges of Education, Federal Polytechnics, unity schools as well as the National Universities Commission (NUC), implementation of Universal Basic Education (UBE), external aid for education, federal scholarships amongst others.
By the same token, the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) oversees oil refineries, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), oil subsidy, petroleum products price regulation, just as Committee on Environment deals with oil multinational companies on industrial waste, supervises oil spillage and Ecological Fund.
Explaining the rationale behind senators’ jostling for certain committees, a source at the National Assembly said the rush of such committees breed corruption in the system.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that top officials in MDAs also lobby for lawmakers who will do their bidding in the most sought-after committees.
For him, what makes a committee juicy is not about the functions they perform but “corruption embraced by the upper chamber”.
He cited instances of Special Committees like Senate Services and Rules and Business which are not sought after unlike that of Appropriation or Finance.
His words: “Juicy committees are uncomplimentary to somebody who is not corrupt. Otherwise, if you take away corruption, all committees are the same”.
Inside sources disclosed that this was why the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Christopher Omoworare, complained about his recent appointment.
He was said to have preferred the Committee on Judiciary, which is ‘more relevant’ to his profession as a legal practitioner.
Speaking in a recent television interview, APC lawmakers, Dino Melaye (Kogi West) and member representing Kosofe Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Rotimi Agunsoye, argued that sharing of ‘juicy’ committees will stabilise the National Assembly.
But a former Nigerian High Commissioner to Belgium and professor of Political Science, Alaba Ogunsanwo, maintained that the term ‘juicy’ connotes corruption, declaring that the National Assembly was filled with looters who have been “conspiring to loot since 1999”.
According to him, the “do-or-die” mentality in which the legislators were elected was because of “what was at stake. They were not talking about how to bake the cake but how to distribute it”.
For him, the legislators are more interested in what they get from the system rather than their positive impact on it.
He said: “It reflects what politics in the National Assembly is all about. It is not about serving the people, it is the juicy positions which will be distributed among the politicians (lawmakers) within the National Assembly. That is why there had been so many problems in the National Assembly in the past two months.
“The whole system is corrupt. When something is built on corruption, corruption cannot kill corruption,” he said.
 OWEDE AGBAJILEKE