Nigeria: Focus On the Green Chamber
About two months after the July 5 terrorist attack on the Medium Security Custodial Centre Kuje in Abuja, the House of Representatives eventually commenced an investigation into the incident. The House had on July 21 resolved to probe the circumstances surrounding the attack on the facility.
The House mandated its Joint Committees on National Security and Intelligence; Interior; Reformatory Services; Defence; Army; Air Force; Navy, and Police Affairs to “investigate the causes, dimensions and effects of the unfortunate Kuje Custodial Centre attack.”
The joint committee was asked to report back to the House within four weeks for further legislative action.
The joint committees during its hearing last week expressed dissatisfaction about the attitude of the security service chiefs, who were conspicuously absent at the investigative hearing. Some of the security chiefs invited were absent, while some were represented.
The security chiefs invited included the National Security Adviser, Inspector General of Police, Minister of Police Affairs, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, and Chief of Air Staff.
Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence, Sha’aban Sharada, said the lawmakers would invoke their constitutional powers if the security chiefs fail to honour their invitation.
While the committee was right to emphasise that the attack on the Kuje Prison was too important matter and that investigation into the unfortunate incident should not be ignored by the stakeholders concerned, past experiences about these stakeholders may suggest otherwise, as handling of similar probes in the past might have fallen short of expectations.
I honestly think there is no better time than now to be worried about the image of the legislature, particularly the House of Representatives. Although the conduct of the lawmakers which over the years dragged the image of the House into disrepute didn’t start with the 9th Assembly, it is regrettable that the image problem is far worse now than before.
I will not be too quick to blame individual lawmakers for this moral decline, rather, I will blame the leadership of the House that has not been able to successfully raise the bar of the parliament beyond the ‘anything goes’ paradox that many Nigerian politicians are used to.
Why should anyone be surprised that security chiefs refused to honour the invitation of the House despite the clear provision of section 89 of the Constitution? Also, what has been the outcome of several probes by the House?
I do not think that the service chiefs stayed away because they considered the joint committee less important, rather, I believe that these men are too serious-minded and too busy for the shenanigans of some of the legislative committees.
However, since it is not my intention to belittle the institution of the parliament, more so that the leadership of the House will change soon and the conduct of the 10th Assembly may be better, l will resist the temptation of divulging ugly details which I’m sure ministers and other head of agencies and government departments are all very familiar with.
Rather, I will urge the House to put its excesses in check and review how often the lawmakers compel the heads of MDAs and security chiefs to appear before them since they have sensitive functions which they can’t always abandon to frequent the parliament. The House should also bear in mind that the Senate has equal powers to seek audience from government functionaries. I once witnessed an investigative hearing where a former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, as then the Minister of Power, Works and Housing complained about the number of times he had to shuttle between the Senate and the House of Representatives to attend committee meetings and how the ‘distractions’ affected his functioning as a minister.
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Fashola’s complaint and similar reservations about these frequent summons are even less irritating compared to frivolous demands by the lawmakers who exploit the opportunity of their vintage positions to compel government officials to do their bidding.
While I admit the importance of necessary interactions between the lawmakers and members of the executive arm of government, the House should self-examine itself to avoid abuse of Section 89 of the Constitution by some committees, at the same time ensure that reports of panels are released to justify the time of resources expended into committee probes. This is the only way to ensure that legislative interventions are considered serious by the executive arm of government.