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The Menace and Beauty of Oversight Function

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House Call With Adebiyi Adedapo 

Beyond the expectations of jumbo pay and other fringe benefits accrued to federal lawmakers, the National Assembly is also very lucrative due to its discretion on oversight functions. This guarantees lawmakers enormous influence on government ministries and agencies as well as cooperate organisations operating in the country.

The mechanism for carrying out legislative oversight is usually the committee system which is usually formed for general and specific purposes. The oversight function of the National Assembly finds legislative importance in section 88, sub-sections 1(a)-(b) and 2(a)-(b) of the 1999 constitution.

Besides, section 89 of the 1999 constitution empowers the legislature to procure evidence, summon persons to give evidence and require such evidence to be given on oath through examination of witnesses.

Pardon the preceding ‘long opening’ as it is not intended to bore you. What it simply seeks to explain is that members of the National Assembly can question illegality or indiscretion of any ministry or agency of government and corporate organisations operating in Nigeria at their whims and caprices.

Truth be told, this is another organised crime going on among some legislators and top government functionaries. I am pretty sure that chief executives of government ministries and agencies are sick and tired of how these lawmakers hold them to ransom in the name of oversight, but lack the moral inclination to complain for the fear of having their illegality exposed. Therefore, it is a give-and-take situation between the executive and the legislature, but of course, at the expense of common Nigerians.

Let me explain what I meant by an ‘organised crime’. As soon as the two chambers of the National Assembly, Senate and the House of Representatives, constitute their standing committees, a new cartel is formed and as many times as issues are referred to the committees, it is often settled during an executive closed door session and eventually swept under the rug.

Bogus budget proposals, lopsided implementation of projects, irregular appointments and promotions and other issues under investigation are usually settled on a round table during ‘executive sessions’.

This situation orchestrated the strategy of setting-up an ad-hoc committee to investigate specific issues that should have been handled by substantive committees, thereby avoiding the standing committees that should ordinary carry-out the oversight function if there was no suspicion.

Lawmakers have at different times bicker over this development, with some standing committee members accusing members of ad-hoc committees of usurping their functions.

I have also witnessed meetings of several standing committees where government officials are strictly advised to respond more seriously to inquiries from standing committees as against that of ad-hoc committees when the duo clash or overlap.

I still imagine how overwhelmed government agencies are and what they suffer in the hands of committee members. Among other exploitative strategies, committees question the employment pattern of agencies and even demand nominal roles to determine whether or not their staffing comply with federal character.

All these are ploys to bargain for the number of candidates each committee members and sometimes each lawmaker will present for recruitment.

For instance, a lawmaker from Oyo State, Hon. Olasupo Adeola, in March, sponsored a motion to demand federal character in the recruitment of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Sequel to this, Speaker Dogara mandated the committees on Interior, Federal Character and Legislative Compliance to monitor compliance and report back to the House in four weeks.

Whether or not that resolution has been complied with seems not to be as important, since lawmakers have managed to get a comprehensive list of preferred candidates to the management of the Corps and these candidates are patiently awaiting their employment letters. This is just one example among many.

Nevertheless, in fairness to some uncompromising lawmakers and upright ministers and chief executives of government agencies and private companies, it is not always business as usual. In this rear situation, the real intent of oversight function is realised for the good of the people.

I recently stumbled on an oversight visit by the House of Representatives committee on Telecommunications to the Abuja headquarters of Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), an institute under the direct supervision of the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission (NCC).

The committee members led by the Chairman, Hon. Saheed Akinade-Fijabi,  during the visit, were shocked to discover that the  Institute had not complied with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the federal government and immediately initiated plans to probe the management.

Administrator of the Institute (DBI), Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, while responding to questions from the lawmakers revealed that the Institute had not complied with the TSA policy, adding that DBI only operates an account with a commercial bank.

This is a classical case of the ‘beauty’ of oversight function. I strongly suspect that there are other government establishments whose revenue are  still being remitted to commercial banks, as against the TSA, but are unnoticed or settled during one of the executive oversight meetings.

Views From Constituencies

This segment features open questions to members of the House of Representatives.

 

 

 



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