Emerging divisions in senate among committee members

Within the last two weeks, issues of divisions amongst members of some Senate’s standing committees cropped up on the floor of the senate to the amazement of other senators and leadership of the red chamber. Taiye Odewale reports.
Division in senate
The first of such divisions amongst committee members was exposed by  the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Abdullahi  Ibrahim Danbaba, ( PDP Sokoto South), who penultimate Thursday ( November 22, 2018, passed a vote of no confidence on the chairman of the committee, Senator George Akume (APC Benue North West) arising from alleged bad leadership and incompetence of the latter.
Senator Danbaba, who rose through orders 14 and 15 of the Senate standing rules to complain about poor leadership of the committee under Akume as chairman, said the committee has not carried out any oversight exercise on Army formations within the last two years.
According to him, even a draft bill forwarded to the committee about two years ago is still gathering dusts at the secretariat of the committee.
He said, “We were all elected by our constituents to come and represent them here and also by extension represent the entire Nigeria. We as senators are supposed to have our roles that we need to play in the national assembly. 
“Fundamentally, we are supposed to legislate and we are to support our constituents and also undertake oversight with respect to projects that are being executed by the executive arm of government. 
“I want to say that a committee that I am as a vice which has been constituted over three years ago, has not been actually performing as a result of leadership. The committee Mr. President since its inception and constitution we have not over sighted any army projects. In fact the only oversight that has been said to be oversight was our visit to the army headquarters in Abuja here in 2016. 
2 years without oversight
“Beyond that, we have never done or undertaken any proper oversight with respect to the activities of the Nigerian army. In fact Mr. President, the senate is completely detached from the Nigerian army. 
“We in the senate do not know what the Nigerian army is actually doing. I want to say this again, there was a draft bill that was referred to about two years ago.
“That draft bill is still lying down on the table of the clerk of the secretariat of the committee because the leadership of the committee has not been able to give direction on what to do with the bill. 
“So Mr President, in view of all these anomalies, I hereby call for the committee on ethics and privileges to ask to investigate as to the conduct of the committee and why the committee leadership is allowed to stand as it is because the name of the senate is going to be brought to disrepute.
“The situation at hand as far as the committee is concerned under the leadership of Akume is worrisome and embarrassing to the Senate and as a senator elected to serve my people and Nigerians, my conscience is no longer allowing me to keep quiet “.
Consequently, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki directed  the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, (APC, Yobe North)  to carry out a holistic investigation into the matter by inviting Akume, the Vice Chairman and other members of the Committee, with a view to getting the authenticity of the issues raised by Danbaba and report back to the Senate at Plenary within two weeks.
“I know that for you to have brought this matter up, it must be something that is of great concern to you. What I will consider is let the leader of the senate meet with the chairman, the vice chairman and members and report to us on some of these points that have been raised. The committee is a very strategic committee as such we must be seeing to play a role”, he stressed.
A long come anti-corruption
While still expecting report on the obviously divided Senate Committee on Army, five  days after precisely on Tuesday last week, another of such divisions amongst committee members cropped up again on the floor of the Senate when report of the  Senate Committee on Anti – Corruption and other Financial Matters, was to be considered for confirmation of Olanipekun Olukoyede as Secretary of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) as nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari, screened and recommended by the committee .
Precisely problem of divisions amongst the committee members arose, when the Chairman, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North), moved for consideration of the recommendation of the committee by the Senate.
Bickering at screen
Utazi in moving the motion said: “the nominee appeared before the Committee on Wednesday October 24, 2018. The members subjected to scrutiny the curriculum vitae of the nominee and other relevant documents relating to his background and educational qualification, and the work experience of the nominee.
“The Committee found that Olanipekun Olukoyede is a trained lawyer. He gave indepth responses to the questions asked by the members which we believe will add value to policy formulation and implementation in the EFCC. 
“The Committee is satisfied that the nominee has the requisite experience, integrity, professional competence and industry to discharge the functions of the position in which he is nominated.
“The Committee also noted that there was no adverse security report against the nominee and the scrutiny carried out on the nominee shows that the nominee possesses the necessary academic and administrative experience for the position.
Though while contributing to the debate on the report, Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South), observed that only few members of the committee signed the report of the screening but noted that since the nominee satisfied the requisite experience and professional requirement, he should be confirmed. 
His words: “I observe that only few signatures appeared on the signature column. However, going through what the chairman of the committee has presented, and knowing full well that this is not very normal time for the Senate, it will not be easy for a chairman of a Committee to have all the members to attend but however, from the number that appeared am sure that they formed quorum.
“From the report of the Committee, since the nominee has the requisite experience and professional competence, that is what we are looking for in a nominee for the kind of office that we screen him for, I therefore, suggest that any other thing can be ignored so that we confirm the nominee”.
However another member of the committee, Senator Haman Isa Misau (PDP Bauchi Central)  got up and vehemently opposed the confirmation of Olukoyede, alleging that most members of the Committee were not carried along in the screening exercise.
He also posited that he observed during the screening that some of the nominees were not competent to hold the offices for which they were nominated, querying why only three senators signed the signature page of the Committee report. 
He therefore, asked the Senate to suspend the confirmation of the nominee and allow the members of the Committee to meet and further deliberate on the report before the Senate could adopt it. 
“I observed that only three members out of eight members signed the signature page. What I want is that this report should be stepped down so that we the members of the Committee can go through it because I participated actively in the screening of the nominees. 
” There are some of them that are not competent to hold the offices for which they were nominated. I did not sign the report because I am just seeing this report now. It has not been sent to my office. Nobody invited me to come and deliberate on this report and I was part of the screening. 
“And during the screening, I made objection on certain people who are not supposed to hold the office. So, the members of the Committee should study it and not just the Clerk of the Committee to write report and come and submit to the Senate in plenary”, he argued.
Though Utazi quickly stood up to counter Misau by alleging that he did not attend the screening session like some other members but the Senate President, Bukola Saraki in his ruling urged the committee to meet again over the report before tabling it for confirmation at another legislative day .
” What is expected of this committee is for all members to join the chairman for the required meeting on this report before re- presenting it for confirmation or approval by the Senate “, he said
Even the following day, Wednesday, 28, November , 2018 , when the report was finally considered by the Senate , committee members such as Isa  Misau and Dino Melaye still kicked against the consideration and confirmation of Olukoyede’s appointment.
Coincidentally on that same day,  a similar division within the membership of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport was thrown up by one of its members, Senator Mohammed Hassan ( PDP Yobe South ) by alleging that the N177bn operational surplus discovered in the accounts of the Nigerian Port Authority ( NPA) has not been remitted into the Consolidated Federation Account , seven months after the discovery by the committee.
Senator Hassan while moving the motion, submitted that against the spirits and provisions of the 1999 constitution and extant laws of the Nigerian Port Authority ( NPA), the agency kept to itself N177bn operational surplus it made from accruing revenues in the 2017 fiscal years , without remitting it into the federation account.
According to him, the committee discovered that the  agency  in its budget defence of the performance of the 2017 budget  in April this year , got N303bn as total operational revenue out of which N125bn was taken by it as operational cost as allowed by extant laws but refused to remit the balance of N177bn realised as surplus into the federation account .
” This, to me, and by extension, the Senate , should not be condoned because the Committee  discovered this seven months ago and ordered the agency to do the needful which it has not done up till now.
” Attention of the Senate is being drawn to this impunity because six months down the line , the agency has not complied with the directive of the committee or communicated to it on the matter in anyway “, he said .
Dangerous trend
But the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah ( APC Kebbi south), cautioned the senate from relying on the allegation made by Senator Mohammed Hassan as according to him there are three categories of income derivable into accounts of any public agencies .
He specifically advised the Senate that it would be premature for it to attach legislative seriousness to Senator Hassan’s allegation since the figures he quoted are not clear to be in the category of perceived income, derived income or accrued income.
“Mr President, as a lawyer, I studied taxation law, we should not be in haste to conclude on the submission Senator Hassan has just made “, he said .
Real division over the matter within committee level was exposed by submissions made by the Committee Chairman, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima (APC Zamfara West) who disassociated himself and other committee members from the allegation.
According to him, Senator Hassan as a member of the committee did not raise such an issue at any of the committee’s sittings before raising the alarm on the floor of the Senate.
“As chairman of the committee, am not aware of this allegation raised against NPA by Senator Hassan and I don’t think any other member of the committee is aware as well “, he said.
Apparently to avoid further disagreement among the committee members on the alleged N177bn scam, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP Abia North), in his contributions, urged the senate leadership to compel the committee members to meet over it before bringing it up for general debate on the floor of the Senate in line with procedures and process of law making .
Consequently, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki directed the committee chairman to meet with the entire members on the allegation and report back within two weeks.
While the two weeks deadline given to members of the Senate committee on Marine Transport to sort out issues on the alleged N177bn unremitted operational surplus of the NPA in the 2017 fiscal year will lapsed next week, the one given to the Army committee for in- house cohesion penultimate week is expected to be revisited by the Senate this week.
Whatever report the Senate Leader will give in this respect is obviously being awaited by concerned Nigerians, particularly parliamentary reporters’ watchers of events in the polity. The 8th Senate has a total of 69 standing committees.

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