Opinion: PARLIAMENT WITHIN PARLIAMENT: THE COMMITTEE SYSTEM OF THE LEGISLATURE. By Olalekan Alabi
As it is worldwide, the major aim of the legislature is to make laws and scrutinize bills; oversee the executive arm of government and advocacy via representation. The 8th Nigerian National Assembly which came into power on the 9th of June, 2015 with Dr. Bukola Saraki elected first amongst his equals as the President of the Senate and Rt. Honourable Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives will soon clock 2Years in the saddle. The need for overall proficiency in the dispensation of the enormous and myriad legislative duties and responsibilities respectively makes the importance of the committee system within the legislature both important and indispensable.
The work of these individual committees within both the Senate and the House of Representatives can not be over – emphasized. In the 8th Senate, there are currently not less than 65 Standing Committees as well as 5 AdHoc Committees while the House of Representatives has at least 95 Standing Committees depending on core areas of need including Agriculture; Rules and Business; Public Accounts; Finance; HIV, Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria Control; Human Rights; Legislative Compliance; Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions; Air Force; Health; Works; Navy; Commerce; Aviation; Power; Women Affairs; Defence; Environment; Housing; Land Transport; Telecommunications, Aids, Loans and Debt Management; Solid Minerals; Tertiary Education and Tetfund amongst others. These Committees cater for specific issues of governance and do the necessary work of oversight over different MDAs and statutory corporations of government.
One major essence of the committee system includes the examination of proposed legislations critically in order to enhance its functionality and desired impact on the society. This is done via public hearings and interaction with professionals, experts and stakeholders in the particular field which they have a purview over. Simply put, these committees fine-tune bills, motions and resolutions before they are presented on the floor for general debate and subsequent passage into law
In the speech of Senate President Bukola Saraki on the 23rd of November, 2015 when the first batch of standing committees were inaugurated, he specifically referred to the committee system as the veritable tool that a democratic legislature must rely on for some of its most important works. He added that the effectiveness of the ability to carry out oversight functions and expose corruption squarely rests on the effectiveness of the legislature’s committee system. And with the appointments and selection of members into these committees made based on their prior antecedents, backgrounds, passion, knowledge, expertise, and the highest standard legislative competence, nothing less than the very best is and was expected from the chairmen, vice chairmen and members of the respective committees.
Furthermore, the various senate committees perform oversight functions on the operations and performances of the executive arm as enunciated in Section 88 (1)(a)(b) and 2(a)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. This they do through periodic, investigative visits to the government parastatals and ministries they oversee to ensure that policies are implemented in accordance to the extant laws and budgetary provisions as passed. In the 8th Senate For Instance, the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu of Imo East Senatorial District has been one that has continued to perform beyond expectations as a lot of newspapers recently recorded that it has received over 340 Petitions and already worked on almost 100 of this in contrast with the 7th Senate with received 87 Petitions and the 6th Senate which received only 6 Petitions in 4Years.
In all, the importance of the committee system which works even during breaks and recess cannot be overemphasized as it has become the integral part of the Legislature and in fact, in the 8th Senate with Senator Saraki in the saddle, it can be described as the engine room through which the smooth and efficient running of the legislature is ensured both by legislators and the National Assembly Staff.
*Olalekan Alabi, a Public Affairs Analyst wrote from Ikeja, Lagos.