Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, on Monday, shed lights on how the chairmanship of standing committees in the National Assembly should be formed.
Dogara who was presiding over the morning session of the ongoing induction program organized in Abuja for Senators-elect and Members-elect, said, contrary to the belief that the presiding officer appoints committee chairmen, it’s actually the selection committee that has such powers.
The Speaker, while answering questions raised by Senator Aliyu Ndume (Borno Central), said, the caucus of each zone in the House is also given opportunity by the selection committee, to nominate capable hands from each zone, to serve as chairmen or vice chairmen of committees.
Ndume, former Leader of the Senate and an aspirant for the position of Senate President, had raised some pertinent questions on the need to have stable and universal rules which could be beneficial to all members of the Assembly.
Senator Ndume argued that, the lawmakers “don’t have something to stand for as our definite rules. And the standing order, in all of it, it concludes by saying, the presiding officer interprets.
“So, as if it is written in Yoruba or Igbo language. It is written in English, but when you stand up and raise a point of order and cite the order, the presiding officer will say I rule you out of order.
“I think there is need for us to look at it critically”.
The lawmaker also believes that the presiding officers wield so much powers and authority, which could undermine the inalienable rights of members to contribute meaningfully on the floor.
“The institution, National Assembly itself is drifting to a point where, the National Assembly is now privatised and to some extent, we can say personalised.
“I think it is very important at functions like this, besides giving us overview of the functions and structures of the National Assembly, there is need to also x-ray the standing procedures of the House.
“Now, on the inauguration day, whence we go down there and we elect one of us as a presiding officer, then he takes over the National Assembly.
“Example of this, is what you heard him say now, that the Speaker, at his discretion, will elect or nominate his colleague, not minding whether the individual is qualified or even interested in being in that committee.
We have a selection committee. The selection committee for instance should be strengthened, so that, when there is a decision to zone positions to the 6 geopolitical zones, the zones should be responsible for appointing based on individual capability and interest into the various positions”, Ndume posited.
But Speaker Dogara in his response, said, though presiding officers are chairmen of selection committee at various chambers, they do not solely decide who becomes chairman or member of any committee.
He said, presiding officers also, have the prerogatives to decide which point of order to approve on the floor of the House, taking into cognizance, the importance of the point of order and its effect on the legislative business of the day.
“When it comes to placement of committee chairmen, what we do is to throw it to the leadership of the zones.
“We have leaders at zonal levels, which also make up the 10 members of the principal officers. They are solely responsible for determining who takes what in their zones.
“This is usually done after appointing selection committee which shall be dissolved after the committee chairmen are announced.
“The Senate President and the Speaker are chairmen of the selection committee and I think whatever happens there, is still under the chairmanship of the presiding officers.
“In their wisdom, the presiding officers also take into cognizance, some members or zones that are disadvantaged in terms of committee placement, then you look at the skills too before taking those decisions”, the Speaker explained.
On why the presiding officer should not allow all points of order to scale through, Dogara said, such decision is at the discretion of the presiding officers, to maintain peace and order.
“You have also raised an important issue about you being ruled out of order by the presiding officer, I think discretion is supposed to be maintained in violation of the law.
“There are different rules for different situations, and sometimes, the presiding officer who has the responsibility of ensuring that there is order in the House, and since we are all politicians, a point of order may tend to throw the entire House into a mood that will not be conducive to carry out the legislative business of the day, and also bring about untold consequences.
“So, when a presiding officer knows that the point of order raised will defeat the essence of the business on the floor, and that the point of order may not be engaging but may be divisive; he has the responsibility to look at it politically and assess what he wants to achieve in that sitting.
“Sometimes, jokingly, when a member raises point of order that is controversial, the presiding officer will say, ‘approach the chair’, and the chair will say ‘calm down, calm down, don’t bring this matter today’.
“So all these are done based on the unwritten rules, which guarantee the peace of the institution”, Dogara added.
The session was, however, thrown into amusement when the Speaker said Senator Ndume would understand it better when if he succeeds in his ambition to become the next Senate President.
He said, “Distinguished Senator Aliyu Ndume, I’m happy you’re running for the position of Senate President, when you get there and you start wearing the shoes, I’m sure you would know where it pinches.
“So, if you become Senate President, I believe, you will love to exercise such powers, because I know you very well, you will even do more”.