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REPS COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN JITTERY OVER PLANNED REMOVAL

By NBF NEWS
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Anxiety has gripped the chairmen of the various standing and special committees of the House of Representatives over a move by the leadership to reshuffle the membership of the committees.

Our correspondent learnt on Thursday that the development followed speculations that many committee chairmen may be dropped by the Speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, with less than 14 months to the end of the current tenure of the House.

The leadership had hinted before the House proceeded on Easter break last week that certain committees which had been without chairmen would be reconstituted.

However, some committee chairmen were said to have expressed worries that the speaker's real plan was to overhaul all the 84 committees of the House.

Investigations by our correspondent showed that at least five standing committees of the House had no substantive chairmen at the moment.

They are Committee on Works; Committee on Power; Committee on Cooperation/Integration in Africa; Committee on Information/Orientation; and Committee on Commercialisation/Privatisation.

The chairmanship position of the Committee on Works became vacant towards the end of 2009 when the former chairman of the committee, Mr. Chuma Nzeribe, lost his seat at the House through a judicial pronouncement.

Bankole had also removed the former chairman of the Committee on Power, Mr. Ndudi Elumelu, and dissolved the committee.

The power committee was dissolved after the House rejected its report on the power probe it conducted in 2008.

Rather than reconstitute the committee, the leadership set up a seven-man interim committee headed by the Deputy Whip of the House, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, to oversee its affairs.

The chairmanship seat in the Committee on Commercialisation/Privatisation became vacant following the death of Mr. Njidda Gella in 2009, who was the chairman.

The former Chairman of the Committee on Informaion/Orientation, Mr. Dino Melaye, was forced to resign his position last July after he failed to substantiate an allegation that the Chief Whip, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, squandered over N150m allegedly budgeted by the House to mark 10 years of democracy in Nigeria last June.

Mr. Independence Ogunewe used to be the chairman of the Committee on Cooperation/Integration in Africa but he was removed at the height of his opposition to the Bankole leadership last year.

A member of the House of Representatives told our correspondent that the House leadership was not only tinkering with the idea of reconstituting the five committees but all the House panels.

He said, 'That is the official position; what they have told us is that they merely want to appoint chairmen for committees that currently have no chairmen.

'But, it is far more than that; there is a plan to restructure most of the committees in the House.

'This issue has generated anxiety among members, especially committee chairmen whose fate is hanging in the balance; the end result may not be palatable for the stability of the House.'

Findings indicated that members of the Selection Committee, a special committee of the House, which reviews the performance of committees, had been placed on notice to meet and decide the fate of the chairmen.

The meeting is to hold before the House will reconvene on April 20.

The membership of the Selection Committee comprises Bankole, who is the chairman; the Deputy Speaker, Alhaji Usman Nafada; the House Majority Leader, Mr. Tunde Akogun; Ihedioha; as well as leaders of opposition parties and zonal caucus leaders.

One committee chairman however, described the plan to overhaul the committees as 'a huge joke.'

The lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, alleged that the planned restructuring of the committees was targeted at some legislators seen as opposing Bankole.

He said, 'This is his (Bankole) way of fighting those who have been giving him headache in the House; these people have been asking questions on a lot of issues without getting satisfactory answers.

'But, the way they want to handle it won't work; they are joking.'

When contacted, the Special Adviser to the Speaker on Media, Mr. Ebomhiana Musa, denied that his boss was about punishing some chairmen for consistently opposing him.

Musa said, 'Bankole is not vindictive; he has no reason to want to use what is a routine tradition of the House to get at anybody.

'He is not planning to get back anybody; he is not that type of person.'

He explained that Bankole's reason for contemplating a restructuring of the committees was to give other lawmakers the opportunity to have 'a feel of the work' since the House has 360 members.

However, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Ita Enang, disagreed that Bankole was about to restructure all the committees.

Enang said, to the best of his knowledge, only the 'four or five' committees with vacant chairmanship seats would be filled.

But, when pressed further, he admitted that Bankole, as the speaker, reserved the right to restructure all the committees at will.

He said, 'I am not aware yet that there will be anything further than filling the existing vacancies; but it is the Speaker who will decide.'

The majority of the current chairmen were inherited by Bankole from his predecessor, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, meaning that they have served for over three years in those positions.

An attempt by Bankole in July 2008 to restructure the committees met stiff opposition from forces within and outside the House.

Following the tension generated in the House by the development, the Speaker merely swapped some committee chairmen while retaining all those earlier penciled down for sacking.