By Yakubu Dogara
An efficient and effective legislature depends on the quality of its Committees. The importance of the Legislature and legislative committees towards strengthening democratic governance in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. The success of the legislature depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of its Committees which in turn depends on the ability of Committee Chairs and Deputy Chairs to successfully direct the business of Committees. It should be noted that parliamentary committees are the major loci of innovation in the process and structures of parliaments.
A strong Committee system is the hallmark of presidential as opposed to parliamentary system of government. This is because in a presidential democracy separation-of-powers is a central tenet. That is why US Congress has remained by far the strongest case of the use of parliamentary Committees. Committees have played a central part in its deliberation and executive oversight. The Committee system is an efficient way of dividing up the growing legislative workload, which strengthens the ability of the Legislature to oversee and scrutinize the government (Ministries, Departments and Agencies).
This retreat is also expected to expose Committee leaders to the rudiments of processing bills and Resolutions of the House through the Committees, the intricacies of Committee work such as policy and project oversight, and how to conduct Public Hearings, etc. The most critical aspect has to do with the way and manner both Chairmen and Committee members comport and conduct themselves as they are expected to project a good image of the House, always. This is why the following topics have been crafted for this Retreat: ‘Committees and Legislative Effectiveness in the Nigerian National Assembly; Planning and Implementing Legislative Investigation and Public Hearings; Challenges of Legislative Oversight from the perspective of the Executive Arm of Government; Reforming the Legal Framework and Practice of Legislative Oversight of MDAs; The role of the Committee Chair in the Bill process;” Finally there will be a Closed Door interactive Session on Ethics and Privileges of Members.
You must see your appointment as Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen as a call to duty and service. You must resolve to use your appointment as a vehicle towards contributing your quota to the rapid development of our country, Nigeria. While your appointment, is certainly not patronage, since you are all eminently qualified, it is undeniably however, a privilege since not every House member is a Chairman or Deputy Chairman.
Permit me to use this opportunity to emphasis that leaders of various Committees, are the Generals entrusted by the House to marshal our various Committees to victory in the various fields assigned to them. Your tools of war are the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999; The Standing Orders of the House; the Practices, Customs, and Precedents of the House; the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act; The Legislative Agenda of the House and other relevant laws and rules.
Parliaments are indispensable institutions of representative democracy and our role remains the same: to represent the people and ensure that public policy is informed by citizens’ views and voices; to legislate for the common good that responds to the needs of our citizens, and oversight the Executive Branch to ensure good governance. It is necessary to point out that Committees are not meant to weaken the Executive, but are constitutionally empowered as agents of the House, to prevent misuse and abuse of executive power. The objective of activities of committees is not to obstruct but to scrutinize and identify gaps and errors and correct same through legislative activities and legislation. Members of the National Assembly are specifically elected and swore to an Oath of office to check and balance improper exercise of executive action on behalf of the Nigerian people.
I have always maintained that the Change promised Nigerians can only endure if it is anchored on legislation and not mere policy. “Change itself must be regulated, so that our people would not face the dangers of unregulated change.” In this respect, legislative Committees, as the engine room of our legislative activities, can compliment the Change efforts of the Executive. The Committees of the House, of which you are Chairs and Deputy Chairs, must become drivers of the Change process espoused and expounded by the current administration geared towards providing physical and economic infrastructure as well as social policies that would provide opportunities for all Nigerians, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
For emphasis, our Chairmen and their deputies should lead their various Committees in the war against corruption and graft. Our investigative activities must be based only on the need to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of Laws within our legislative competence and in the administration of funds appropriated by the National Assembly. It must also be against the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry, or government department charged with responsibility for executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly. These are the provisions of Section 88(1)(2) of the Constitution. The Constitution in Section 89 further empowers the National Assembly to summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence, procure documents, and issue warrants to compel the attendance of a reluctant witness. The Committee on Rules and Business must ensure that henceforth all Resolutions requiring investigative hearing must have a legislative purpose stated in the Resolution itself, in order to pass judicial scrutiny, where necessary.
In exercising these enormous powers, you should strive to live above board. You must not succumb to persons or institutions that will seek to influence your judgment through corrupt means. If you take bribe from any person, you will impugn and destroy the integrity of the House as an institution. You will also scandalize yourself. You will compromise the image and the mission of the 8th Assembly. I wish to warn that we should avoid being dragged into the murky waters of corruption because we cannot beat the swines that specialize in wresting there, to their own game. Once you are sucked in there, you are dead in the waters. Corrupt practices is and will never be part of the Legislative Agenda of the 8th Assembly!!.
As you take your various chairs, I wish to commend the virtues of specialization to you. The need to develop expertise in a particular legislative area cannot be overemphasized. You should use the opportunity presented by your Chairing or Deputizing a Chair of a Committee to become an expert on matters relating to the mandate and jurisdiction of your Committee. Of course, it goes without saying that to become an expert entails building up your capacity, acquiring the necessary practical experience, and studious legislative interest and focus on the area of your Committee’s functions.
We have adopted an ambitious Legislative Agenda that seeks to encompass most social, political and economic issues of the day in order for its impact to be felt across the length and breadth of our respective constituencies and could lead to true national growth and development. The Legislative Agenda as a critical template for good governance, if successfully implemented and prosecuted, will definitely position the 8th Assembly as ranking amongst one of the best legislatures not only in Africa but in the world in terms of best practices and international standards and models.
The implementation and success of this document that is, our Legislative Agenda, however, lies with Committees and therein lies the importance of this retreat. The Committee system is the most vital structure that permits us to divide up our labour and specialize in those particular areas outlined in the Legislative Agenda. Committees therefore are the most significant legislative mechanism for the actualization for the lofty goals we set for ourselves to reformat the overall socio-economic and political development in Nigeria. Without being internalized and fully adopted by Committees, the Legislative Agenda becomes nothing more than a pipe dream. The activities of the Committees that you Chair therefore have profound consequences not only in terms of realizing the Legislative Agenda of the House, but also in the larger polity.
It is crucial for Committees in the House to regularly write Reports and updates on progress made in implementing the Agenda on both corporate and Committee basis. This should be prepared and tabled in Parliament.
As Chairs of Committees, it is your task to strengthen your individual committees and develop institutional tools and resources that will aid not only in the oversight of the Executive but to ensure effective participation in policy development. We have often been told that Nigeria’s problem is not so much of want of good policies but effective implementation of policies. Nigerians rely on you to ensure effective policy implementation through oversight of the MDAs. If we accuse the Executive Arm of failure to implement policies and delivery of social services as expected, the legislative committees are there to correct this cancerous anomaly.
This brings us to the issue of poor implementation of Resolutions of the Legislature by the Executive. Short of making resolutions laws, which would be an aberration, we should find innovative ways of making our resolution taken seriously by the Executive. We would engage the office of the Presidential Liaison Office to the National Assembly in delivering and monitoring Resolutions and legislations. The House of Representatives will in due course consider the possibility of publishing major House Resolutions in the Media and introduce the matter in the court of public opinion. The House Committee on Legislative Compliance is also tasked to collate all resolutions of the House of Representatives and report to the House quarterly on the level of implementation by the Executive. I must advise that contrary to popular belief, Resolutions of the National Assembly has been held by the Courts to have legal force. In Mallam El- Rufai v. House of Representatives, FRN (No.2) (2003 – 2007) Vol.3 LLRN, Page1404, the Court said: “..There are 3 arms of the Federal structure, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. A decision by the 2nd arm of the Federal Government such as the (Legislature) cannot by any stretch of imagination be said to be a mere expression of opinion. I am of the view that it is one backed up by legal force. I agree with Plaintiff’s Counsel that the Defendant (legislature) acted in a quasi- judicial manner”.
In any case, parliaments all over the world have the Appropriation process as a strong and potent weapon in their armory to ensure that their major resolutions that seek to advance the public good are implemented.
One of the primary responsibilities of a Committee Chair is to create an effective leadership style that would endear Members to actively participate in Committee activities and become committed to realizing the objectives of the 8th House of Representatives. Perception management is another key role that you will have to play as Committees Chairs and Deputies. You must strive to ensure that members see Committee service and performance as a significant road to both legislative and political advancement. Delivering on the Legislative Agenda is a collective responsibility that requires constant effort at getting the buy-in of all members, particularly at the Committee level which is a microcosm of the House itself.
Committee effectiveness is essential to achieving the legislative agenda. It is your responsibility as committee chairs and deputies to build consensus, manage diversity and promote non-partisanship in Committee work. Your skills in managing activities and meetings of the committee can have a tremendous impact on committee output. Some of the qualities you should cultivate in this regard include: Competence; flexibility and adaptability; Firmness and Decisiveness; Honesty and Dependability; Openness; Fairness; Tolerance; Patience; Humility and Stamina (Ogle, 2004).
To effectively drive change, the quality of support staff and resources available to your Committees and Members must be substantially improved and strengthened. You must ensure that your personnel are skilled, well-resourced and have access to relevant and accurate analysis and information to perform effectively and deliver on the legislative agenda. By the very nature of the work of parliamentary Committees, access to up-to-date, relevant, factual and non-partisan information is essential. Development of the questioning and oversight skills of Members is also very necessary. In building the capacity of your staff and even Members, I encourage you to fully exploit the services offered by the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), the National Assembly Budget Research Office (NABRO) and other legislative think-tanks, both locally and internationally. In this regard, I must commend the founding fathers of NILS, which is the capacity building arm of Nigeria’s legislature, for the foresight in establishing this legislative Institute that has continued to play an important role in the capacity enhancement of Members of Parliament and other staff of the legislature.
Independent research services are essential to supporting the work of parliamentary Committees for two key reasons. First, while the executive branch often gets help from a large professional staff from the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the Legislature does not usually benefit from that kind of support. Thus, it is critical for all Committees to explore all possible avenues to help bridge this gap of expertise and ensure that members have access to accurate and up-to-date information to perform their work effectively. Secondly, it is important that Committees should not rely solely on information provided by the Executive but to complement it with independent sources in order to understand what the alternatives are, and to have a total picture of every issue before passing laws and making policy choices. This is why we should ensure the passage and assent of the NABRO bill as soon as possible. Additionally, I entreat you to fully explore the constitutional powers given the National Assembly and its Committees to call witnesses and access documents and information especially on very technical matters.
As mentioned earlier, the growing complexity and inter-connectedness of policy issues means that cooperation between Committees is necessary both for effectiveness and achieving success. Committees should not see themselves as rivals but rather as partners in the pursuit of the goals and interest of Nigerians. In the past, we have been criticized for having different Committees handle the same subject matter. We have already made significant progressing in changing this perception, by amending the House’s Standing Orders to prevent overlapping jurisdictions, and to encourage cooperation between and among Committees. The New Rule 112: (2) provides that: “Committees of the House shall hold joint hearings and joint oversight activities, where necessary, to ensure efficiency and avoid overlap of responsibilities” The Committees themselves must take advantage of this addition in the House Rules to work together and discuss horizontal issues and common problems of the Committees and actively contribute to the exchange of experience and practices, for example, through the adoption of common approaches or guidelines concerning Committee activities including Oversight.
Similarly, I encourage all Committees to widen their method of gathering evidence to encompass seminars, roundtable discussions and collaborative relationships with CSOs and other independent groups. The process should likewise encourage ordinary people to participate in the process. A significant challenge for Committees and indeed the National Assembly centre on the need for more innovative communication with the general population. As Chairmen/Deputies of Committees, it behoves on you to open Committees to external communication. This can be either through greater use of technology in Committee consultation, and increased usage of deliberative information communications technologies to aid the work of House Committees. Increasing media diversity is a means of reaching the target audience of Committees, that are becoming increasingly sophisticated. I wish to see an improved National Assembly Website, richer audio-visual and other electronic services, and Committees and Members making much more imaginative use of them.
A recent report of the House of Commons on “Select Committee effectiveness, resources and powers” recognizes the important role played by Committees in influencing government, providing a forum for debate and putting issues on the agenda. Notwithstanding the success of Committees in these areas, the Report nonetheless made some recommendations that could also benefit our own Committees. It noted that committees need to be clearer about their objectives. In scrutinizing departmental performance, committees should be forward-looking, holding post mortem of past events only if there are lessons for the future. Committees should give more attention to the cost of policies and how departments ensure they offer good value for money. Some other key recommendations in the Report include the call on Committees to experiment with different approaches, such as appointing rapporteurs to lead investigations, using specialist advisers to question witnesses on technical subjects, and commissioning external research. It also encouraged Committees to broaden their range of witnesses. Significantly too, Committees were encouraged to keep their reports reasonably short and focused. A change in the format of reports to distinguish more clearly between conclusions and recommendations. Another recommendation worthy of our noting is for Committees to follow up recommendations in their earlier reports, to ensure they have impact.
In this regard, I will soon impanel a Committee of Experts to update the various draft Manuals developed by NILS, which have been adopted by the House, by reference, as contained in the amended House Rules. The New Rule 112: (8) provides that: “The House and it’s Committees shall as far as is practicable adhere to standardized templates, Manuals and formats developed for its activities, such as Legislative Oversight Manual, Committee Manual, Reporting Manual and Public Hearing Manual”
In particular, I encourage all Committees to use the broad framework of the Legislative Agenda to develop realistic annual work-plans. Included in these annual Committee work-plans should be timetables for activities that also take into account the need to engage widely with groups, associations and individuals outside the National Assembly. The annual work-plans should include specific indicators of success for actual activities.
Finally, we recognise that in order to deliver this ambitious but realistic Legislative Agenda, the continuing support of our International Development Partners will be vital. We are confident that our development Partners will continue to recognize the important work the legislature is undertaking and support our specific efforts in implementing our legislative programme which we expect will lead to the development of a more effective, efficient and relevant legislature that will continue to serve the needs of Nigerians.
We on our part can assure that we shall continue to support you in the discharge of your duties as Committee Chairs and Deputy Chairs.
Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives presented this speech at a retreat organized for Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons of Committees, held at the National Assembly, recently