The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) has empowered the National Assembly in section 88 to by a resolution published in its journal or the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into:
1(a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and
(b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for:
executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly; and
disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
2 The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to:
make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and
expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
Therefore, it is mandatory for Standing Committees of the National Assembly to exercise oversight of Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs to assess policy objectives and implementation strategies; identify lapses and factors inhibiting successfully implementation of projects; advice on improvement; and identify misapplication and mismanagement of funds. Reports of oversight visits are expected to be presented in plenary of the two chambers and if need be, the provisions of Section 88 of the Constitution evoked for full investigation.
Regrettably, since the return to democratic rule in 1999, oversight of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs by Committees of the National Assembly have been ineffective in exposing corruption and waste in the public sector. Serious allegations of committees members demanding for example, MDAs to fund their local or foreign trips or to provide funds for public hearings, and solicit contracts among others, from the same MDAs they are expected to oversee has negative effect of diminishing the role of the National Assembly in promoting good governance. It also undermines the principle of checks and balances in the conduct of governmental affairs.
Furthermore, the budget approval process has been adjudged by members of the public to be less transparent. Allegations of committees conniving with MDAs by “burying” huge sums of money in the budget with a view to retrieving same after the budget has been passed and signed into law abound. Budget hearings have become mere rituals and do not guarantee judicious deployment of scarce resources to the most felt needs of citizens nor promote transparency and accountability.
Equally worrisome, is the incessant fight of members of the National Assembly over the so called “juicy committees”. Section 62 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as Amended) empowers the Senate or the House of Representatives to appoint a committee of its members for such special or general purpose… and delegate any functions exercisable by it to any such committee. Therefore, “juicy committee(s)” is strange to our constitution and in conflict with the expected role of committees as envisaged by the Constitution.
In other jurisdictions, committee assignments are perceived by a legislator as opportunity to offer meritorious service to one’s country. The Nigerian experience has shown that private gains as against national service is a major factor in the constant fight on the floor by legislators over the so called “juicy committees” There is clearly conflict of interest between self gains and national service. Flowing from the above, it can be asserted without fear of contradiction that failure of legislative oversight in Nigeria is responsible for the massive corruption and impunity in the public service.
Indeed, the numerous investigative hearings conducted by committees of the National Assembly whether in the power sector, aviation, petroleum subsidy, capital market, etc., are pointers of failure of legislative oversight. Committees as the engine house of their respective chambers should be proactive in exposing corruption, inefficiency or waste in the public sector and not wait for things to happen before commencing investigations.
The President of the Senate Bukola Saraki was quoted recently lamenting that “poor oversight by the National Assembly caused the financial scandal of the former National Security Adviser, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki.” Pointing out that “if the Senate committees on National Security and Intelligence as well as the one on defence had performed their Constitutional roles on monitoring and investigating how funds allocated to that sensitive area had been utilised, the nation will not be witnessing the mind boggling stories that are coming out.” Therefore, the President of the Senate advised committees “to take their duties more seriously to prevent the high rate of abandoned projects and fraudulent tendencies of government officials.” (Daily Trust, December 16, 2015)
It is only time that will tell whether the wise counsel of the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki has been heeded by committees of the National Assembly. Let us pray!!!