At the National Assembly, It’s Been a Dramatic July


July has been a drama-filled month at the National Assembly following the rate of ‘walkouts’ and ‘face-offs’ between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government, report Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu

A lot has happened in a span of three weeks this July at the National Assembly. From government appointees showing blatant disregard to federal lawmakers by walking out on them, to exchange of words between the legislators and the executive arm of government, it’s been a new dawn.

There have been concerns over the increased disagreements between the legislators and the executive as represented by ministers and heads of agencies of government.

First, it was Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment versus the Senators, who engaged in a fierce argument over the recruitment modalities for 774,000 jobs under the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) scheme, leading to the lawmakers walking him out of the public hearing held for the job recruitment.

A few days later, Ambassador of Lebanon to Nigeria, Houssam Diab, walked out on the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs. He had been summoned by the House Committee, chaired by Hon. Tolulope Akande-Sadipe to respond to questions on the maltreatment of Nigerians in Lebanon.

Again, the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) led by Kemerbrandikumo Pondei first staged a walk out on the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC investigating the alleged financial malfeasance and other activities of the Commission.

Pondei, at his second appearance before the Committee last week, however, fainted while being grilled by the lawmakers.

There was also the drama between the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige and the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Hon. James Faleke over comments made by the lawmaker regarding why Ngige suspended the top management officials of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

Senators Vs. Keyamo

Members of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Labour engaged in a shouting march with Mr. Keyamo, over the modalities for the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians under the NDE scheme.

The senators walked out the Minister following his refusal to apologise after the legislators accused him of raising his voice against them. The drama took place at an investigative hearing organised by the National Assembly Joint Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity.

Members of the committee had summoned the minister and the Director General of the NDE, Nasiru Argungu, to brief them on steps so far taken to recruit 774,000 persons across the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the engagement of 774,000 Nigerians for the Special Public Works programme under the NDE to cushion the effect of COVID-19 pandemic. The programme is expected to take off in October this year.

Trouble, however, started when the committee members asked the DG to give explanation on the composition of a 20-member committee per state, inaugurated by the ministry for the implementation of the planned recruitment.

Argungu gave his explanation and disclosed that he was aware of only eight out of the 20-member committee. He then asked the lawmakers to seek further clarification from the minister.

The lawmakers were not satisfied with Argungu’s explanation, which to them, showed that he was not in control of the programmme. The lawmakers therefore accused Keyamo of hijacking the programme from the NDE and alleging acute lopsidedness in the entire programme. The drama later intensified, when the lawmakers asked the journalists to excuse them in order to speak in closed session with the minister.

But Keyamo rejected the idea and insisted that having been openly accused and disgraced, the cameras should remain in the room. The minister’s outburst got the lawmakers angry and asked him to apologise for his misbehaviour.

Keyamo too felt he had done nothing against the procedures of the legislature hence had no reason to apologise. After minutes of arguments from both parties, Keyamo said he would only speak on camera or take his leave. With his refusal to apologise, the lawmakers reached a resolution and asked Keyamo to leave or risked being walked out by the sergeant at arms.

Ambassador Diab Vs. House Committee on Diaspora

The Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Houssam Diab on July 9 walked out on House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs. The envoy had arrived at the meeting venue around 11 am, but met journalists and some other government officials, including the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Zubairu Dada.

The meeting was meant to discuss issues around the maltreatment of Nigerians in Lebanon, especially, one Temitope Arowolo, who is in detention in the country for alleged attempted murder of her master and allegations of theft. It was gathered that the ambassador had expected the meeting to be held closed door, and as the meeting was about to start, he got up and walked out.

Reacting to the walk out, the committee Chairman, Hon. Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, expressed shock that the envoy would just get up and walk out on them. Some other members of the committee, however, went after the ambassador, and later, held a closed-door session. Sadipe said the meeting was cordial, and the walkout was a misunderstanding. She added that the Lebanese government had also agreed to release Temitope Ariwolo and other Nigerians held in the country.

Pondei Vs. House Committee on NDDC

On July 16, the Acting Managing Director of the IMC of the NDDC, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, and his team walked out on the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC. The House Committee on NDDC is probing the alleged mismanagement and illegal spending by the Commission.

Pondei had objected to Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, presiding over the investigative hearing, insisting he could not preside over a matter in which he is an accused. Members of the Committee, including Benjamin Kalu, Ben Ibakpa and Shehu Koko, told the Acting MD that since there was no document before them, he was constitutionally bound to answer their queries.

Members of the IMC stood up and walked out of the venue, while members were still making contributions on the issue. The Committee thereafter issued a warrant of arrest against the NDDC management, and also passed a vote of confidence on its Chairman.

The House, the next day, summoned Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and Pondei, to appear before it last Monday to answer questions on allegations levelled against them.

Appearing before the Committee again, Pondei before answering questions apologised for walking out on the lawmakers during the last sitting. He, however, slumped while the House interrogated him.

Some NDDC officials came to his rescue and revived him before he was taken out of the venue of the investigative hearing. The development forced the lawmakers to adjourn the probing session abruptly for an hour to enable them to determine whether to continue the probe.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who joined the committee after the hearing resumed, said Pondei, who slumped during the investigative hearing, would not appear before the committee again, but that the Committee would adopt the written response of the Managing Director.

Akpabio Vs. National Assembly

On July 20, in a self-indicting testimony, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, told the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC probing allegations of mismanagement and illegal spending by the commission that the agency under his watch parceled several contracts for members of the National Assembly, contrary to the provisions of Code of Conduct for Public Officers.

Akpabio, had while being grilled by the committee, accused members of the National Assembly of being the greatest beneficiaries of a majority of the contracts awarded by NDDC. The Minister, while responding to a question from the lawmakers said, the NDDC should not be closed down because of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari.

When asked to explain what he meant, he said, ‘’I have records to show that most of the NDDC contracts were given out to the National Assembly members. The two chairmen of both committees can explain to you. Who are even the greatest beneficiaries of the contracts? It’s you people at the National Assembly.’’

In a swift response, however, the Senate and the House challenged the minister to unveil the identities of the lawmakers who had been NDDC contractors.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said Akpabio’s allegation was general and urged the Minister to list the legislators that benefitted from the contracts.

The House of Representatives, on its part gave the Minister a 48-hour ultimatum to publish the names of members of the Ninth National Assembly, who got 60 per cent of contracts from the NDDC.

Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, gave this directive while ruling on a matter of privileges moved by the Minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, during plenary on July 21.

In his response to the ultimatum, the Minister on July 23rd wrote to the House of Representatives, denying his earlier accusation that some members of the National Assembly collected 60 per cent of the contracts at the NDDC.

Akpabio’s response, which was read by Gbajabiamila at the plenary, was submitted to him soon after he disclosed that the House would be taking legal action against the minister for perjury and civil defamation.

In the letter, the minister said the reference he made to 60 per cent during his presentation before the NDDC committee was in response to a question by a member of the committee.

He explained that a lawmaker had asked him whether a Medical Director can serve as an Executive Director Project, to which he responded by saying that since 50 to 60 per cent of NDDC contracts were medical related, then there’s nothing wrong in a Medical Doctor serving as an MD.

Akpabio also appealed to the Speaker to pass the message to the lawmakers, who probably misunderstood his assertions.

Ngige Vs Faleke

A mild drama also played out between Minister of labour and employment, Dr. Chris Ngige and Hon James Faleke, when the minister appeared before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on July 21.

Faleke, who is representing Ikeja federal constituency, is a member of the ad hoc committee investigating the suspension of the management of NSITF.

The House had at the plenary on July 7, faulted the suspension of the top management and executive committee members of the NSITF by Ngige, saying it is a breach of presidential directives.

The House thereby resolved that an ad hoc committee be constituted to investigate the procedural breaches of the presidential directives by both the Ministers of Labour and Employment and his counterpart in Power ministry.

Faleke, in his contribution at the plenary, said the suspension of the management was to allow the Mminister have access to the budget of the agency in which he inserted about N2 billion projects and single-handedly got his wife, who work in the office of the Head of Service, to sign a letter granting him permission to hire insurance brokers for the fund.

In a swift response to Faleke’s allegations, Ngige said the lawmaker’s comment is an abuse of parliamentary process, threatening to sue him.

Appearing before the Committee days later, Ngige, before answering questions, started by saying members of the committee were his younger brothers, except Faleke whom he said might be up to 60.

Faleke interrupted the Minister, saying he was well over 60, but Ngige insisted that the lawmaker was a “small boy” and that he was of the same age bracket with Bola Tinubu, a national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seen as Faleke’s political benefactor and mentor.

Ngige said: ‘’So, you are near my age, at least I am seven years older than you. I’m the same age with your mentor in Lagos, Asiwaju, and I was governor with him at the same time. He was a Senator; I was a Senator. I am a two-time Minister, he isn’t a two time minister”.

Again, Faleke interrupted saying, Tinubu ‘’won all his elections very well.’’ The remark appeared to be a mockery of Ngige whose election as governor of Anambra State was nullified in 2006.

Responding again, Nigige said; ‘’No problem about that, just like you won your own in Kogi State very well. And you are now the deputy governor and governor of Kogi State.’’

Faleke, who was running mate to Abubakar Audu, in the 2015 Kogi governorship election, was denied the governorship ticket, when Audu suddenly died as the election was almost completed.

When Faleke asked the Minister to respond to questions, he said, ‘’I’m responding my friend, if you yab me, I yab you ten times. I am a Lagos boy. You are just a small boy in Lagos. Look at this Mushin boy; he’s talking with a VI boy. I lived in Victoria Island. Look at this Mushin boy from Kogi o. You are a small boy. If you yab me, I yab you back. I am a Lagos boy o. you grew up in Mushin, I grew up in Victoria Island.’’

Adesina Vs. Senate

The Presidency on July 21 disagreed with the Senate over its call on the service chiefs to either step aside or be sacked over the worsening security situation in the country.

But a statement by presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, said going by the constitution, the appointment or removal of service chiefs, like other appointees is the prerogative of President Muhammadu Buhari and he would be guided by national interest on whether to fire or to continue to retain them.

The statement was a reaction to an earlier resolution by the Senate asking the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, and the three service chiefs to resign forthwith over their inability to address the insecurity in the country.

The service chiefs are Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; and Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok- Ete Ibas.

The statement said the Presidency had noted the resolution, but would only do what it’s considered to be in the interest of the country.

The call for the resignation of the service chiefs was sequel to the adoption of a motion entitled: “Rising Number of Casualties Among the Nigerian Army and Other Security Agencies,” moved by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume.

Ndume, who came via point of Order 43, had while explaining the dire situation in Borno and other states in the North, said in the last few days, scores of soldiers had been killed, while others had been declared missing by army authorities. The Senate, thereafter, constituted a joint committee to receive briefing on the state of affairs of the security services to determine the next line of action.

The joint committee, which has four weeks to report back to plenary, is made up of Defence, Army, Air Force, Navy, National Security, Nigeria Police and Interior with the Defence committee leading the interface.