Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
How would the Ninth House of Representatives tackle the disregard for House summons and resolutions by the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)?
Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution( as amended) empower the legislature to exercise oversight functions over any matter it has power to legislate on, especially as it concerns Ministries Department and Agencies ( MDAs).
Specifically, Section 89 (c) empowers the parliament to “ summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or any other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or any other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all the exceptions;..”
While Section 89 (d) empowers the legislature to “ issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person, who after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses, or neglects…” to honour the summons of the parliament.
Armed with this provision of the law, the parliament from time to time, passes resolutions summoning heads of MDAs to appear before it. Most times, the legislature institutes full scale probe into several issues as part of its oversight duties.
However, attempts by the National Assembly have often times brought it on collision course with the executive arm of government, as heads of MDAs most times ignore the summons of the parliament and treat its resolution with levity, while the lawmakers watch helplessly.
Two weeks ago, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and the deputy Speaker, Idris Wase were livid with anger over the absence of service chiefs at a security parley convened by the House leadership over the deplorable security situation in the country.
Gbajabiamila, who threatened to report the service chiefs to President Muhammadu Buhari, said it was embarrassing that the leadership of the House will convene a meeting to discuss the security challenges in the country and all the service chiefs will be absent.
According to him, “Here we are, we call the Armed Forces coordinated by the CDS, who is not here, with service chiefs being represented. I am actually at a loss.
“For me, I believe my colleagues are in tandem with this. In the absence of the service chiefs, the CDS, the COAS, the CNS and the CAS are not represented as far as we are concerned.
“I am sorry, when I said not represented, as far as I am concerned, the heads are not here, the service chiefs are not here. I know one or two of these service chiefs were somewhere yesterday night. I am aware of that.
“I can almost say it shows a disdain for this institution. The budget is on its way. Yes, we need to talk about that. What do you need? What is required? I’m almost embarrassed. To tell you the truth. I am almost embarrassed… I don’t think this is happening anywhere in any Parliament that I know of in the world, where the head of parliament will call the service chiefs for a nagging problem, how to resolve it and you have what we have here as representations.”
Wase added “I am insulted and feel insulted that this institution will make a proclamation, ‘come let us discuss our problems’ and the people in charge are not here.”
Wase added that “if the presiding officer will make a call and those responsible do not come, what will now become of the standing committees.”
Incidentally, a few days earlier, the speaker had expressed misgiving over the alleged refusal of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, to honour invitations by both the House leadership and the Committee on Foreign Affairs to interface with the lawmakers over the recent xenophobic attacks against Nigerians residing in South Africa.
Like the case of the service chiefs, who later attended the rescheduled security meeting, Gbajabiamila threatened to report Onyeama to President Buhari.
Recently, the House adopted a motion urging the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to halt the implementation of the cashless policy as it relates to surcharge on deposits exceeding certain threshold for individuals and corporate organizations, until adequate consultation with stakeholders on the matter is done.
Regardless, in a swift response, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefelie, said there is no going back on the implementation of the policy; an indication that the apex bank will likely not comply with the resolution of the House.
It is yet to be seen how the House will handle the issue; as the House Committee on Banking and Currency that is saddled with the task of investigating the matter is expected to report back to the House in about two weeks time.
Currently, all the ad-hoc committees saddled with one investigation or the other have continued to lament over the absence of duly invited heads of MDAs at their respective public hearings.
A perennial challenge
Gbajabiamila, during a visit by the management of the Bureau for Public Service Reforms to his office last month, admitted that the disregard for House summons was a perennial problem confronting the legislature. However, he assured that the Ninth assembly will confront the challenge head on.
According to him, “There is a perennial problem the 9th House is going to confront and deal with very seriously, and it is something that I’m going to discuss with the President as well. For me, there is a problem where the National Assembly summons members of the executive as the constitution provides for oversight and they don’t show up, it doesn’t benefit the system.
“But this National Assembly in its reform agenda is going to use every power to make it a thing of the past. If the 9th National Assembly summons anybody, the person must honour it or the consequences will not be pleasant.”
However, beyond the Speaker’s warning and indignation over disrespect for the parliament, the question is how far can Gbajabiamila go to ensure that heads of MDAs comply with the resolution of the House?
In the recent past, the parliament had to contend with the flagrant disregard for its summons and resolutions by the executive arm of government, while the leadership watched helplessly.
In the eight assembly, the Green chamber, passed several resolutions that were never obeyed by the executive, just as several invitations to top ranking government officials were ignored.
For instance in the eight assembly, the House on more than one occasion, resolved to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to appear before it over the security challenges in the country.
Apart from passing a vote of no confidence on the service chiefs and calling for their replacement, the 8th House had called on President Buhari to sack the immediate past Inspector General of Police (IGP) , Ibrahim Idris, for allegedly failing to contain rising insecurity. The resolution not withstanding, Idris stayed in office until he reached the mandatory retirement age.
The Green chamber had equally passed votes of no confidence on the former Minister Of Solid Minerals Development, Kayode Fayemi and his Minister of State, Inuwa Bawa, and resolved not to have any dealings with them, after the duo shunned a sectoral briefing on the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Company.
The immediate past IGP, the former chairman of the Special Presidential Investigative Panel, Obono Okoi-Obla and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Custom Service, Hammed Ali, among other top government officials, were repeatedly summoned to appear before the House in eight assembly and they never honoured the summon for once.
Exasperated by the disregard for their summons, the House through the respective committees they summoned severally threatened to issue arrest warrants against them to compel them to appear before the parliament. In all, nothing happened.
Ironically, there are even instances, where the House in recent past, failed to comply with its own resolutions.
The former chairman, House committee on Public Accounts, Kingsley Chinda said it was time for the lawmakers to rise to their responsibilities, especially in the exercise of their oversight functions.
Chinda, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member from Rivers State, while contributing to a debate on motion on the country’s independence last week, had urged the lawmakers to rise up to their responsibilities and utilise the power of oversight given to the legislature by the constitution.
According to him, “one instance act, Mr Speaker, is the fact that agencies have been invited to this parliament and they refused to come. The power has been given to us. We cannot continue to fold our hands. We must all stand up and begin to exercise our powers according to the constitution.”
The lawmaker added: “ Everyday we talk about maladministration. The powers are on this parliament. How well have we used this power to better the lots of Nigerians. They have given 360 persons in this country, the opportunity to sit here and discuss their affairs. I think that we have the opportunity every other day, to take a decision that this parliament will begin to work towards the real independence of this country.
“We have the power. We have the capability to do so. Let us rise up. The progress of the nation is on our shoulders, much more than on the executive. When the executive fails and we keep quiet, we would have failed in our oversight functions. “
Analysts say if the ninth House must be taken serious by both the public and executive arm of government, it must insist on compliance with its resolutions, especially in the area of summons. And Gbajabiamila has vowed to do that. The question, however, is can he walk the talk?