Dogara gets sweeping powers in new rules
The new rules adopted by the House of Representatives have given the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, sweeping powers to deal with individuals or groups seen as threats to his seat, Daily Trust can report.
This development comes as Dogara, who emerged speaker of the lower legislative chamber on June 9 against the wishes of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), continues to consolidate his grip on the House.
The new rules were adopted on October 8 based on the report of the Rep Aminu Shagari-led 15-member adhoc committee on Rules and Business which reviewed the standing orders of the House.
Henceforth, the committee recommended, any member that “approaches the mace with whatever intent” during
an uproar shall be meted with a suspension of a period not less than six months.
The new rules provide that: “The mace is the sacred authority of the House and the only authorized staff of the Sergeant-at-Arms may approach, handle or remove it in the ordinary course of their official duties.
“No member of the House or his agent may approach, handle or remove the mace under any circumstance. Any member who approaches or handles the mace with whatever intent, including to remove, or who removes the mace shall be liable to suspension from the service of the House for a period not less than six months or such longer period as the Speaker or Chairman may consider expedient having regard to the particular circumstances,” it said.
In addition, the new rules provide that the speaker can suspend outright, for 30 plenary days, any member that refuses to obey the direction of the speaker to leave the House chamber during a particular day’s sitting, after such a member has been directed to assume their seat but failed to do so.
It says a member who is asked to leave the House chamber by the speaker but fails, “...when summoned under the Speaker’s Order by the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Speaker shall call to the attention of the House that force is necessary in order to compel obedience and any member named by the Speaker as having refused to obey his direction shall thereupon, without any further question being put, be suspended from the service of the House for a period not exceeding 30 plenary days.”
Similarly, the report gives the speaker powers to suspend House sitting anytime he foresees an apparent disorder. The rules say: “In the case of a grave disorder arising in the House, the Speaker may, if he deems it necessary to do so, suspend the sitting for a time to be named by him.”
The report also bans members from entering the chamber or anywhere in the House with weapons, saying “No member shall enter the chamber or the precincts of the House of Representatives with guns, daggers, grenades, knives or any other weapons or instrument of violence.”
It also prohibits the use of gadgets, saying “No member shall operate cameras, tape recorders, telephones and other communications equipment in the chamber or during committee meetings except strictly for legislative purposes.”
Our correspondent observed that the report limits the function of the Majority Whip from organizing “members in debates and divisions and persuade them on voting one way or the other,” to organizing “members of his/her party in debates and divisions, and persuade them on voting one way or the other.”
According to New Rule 112 (2): “Committees of the House shall hold joint hearings and joint oversight activities, where necessary, to ensure efficiency and avoid overlap of responsibilities.”
Also New Rule 112 (8) says: “The House and its committees shall as far as practicable adhere to standardized templates, manuals and formats developed for its activities, such as legislative oversight manual, committee manual, reporting manual and public hearing manual.”
Some members of the House who spoke to Daily Trust said the new rules gave the speaker the power he needed to checkmate opponents who might still be nursing the ambition to oust him.
They said since the return of democratic governance in Nigeria in 1999, there had been attempts to take away the mace at the lower chamber during commotions, but that there was never a time the lawmakers came up with any rule sanctioning such an action.
Dogara had faced stiff opposition from majority of his All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers, which resulted in an attempt by some of them to snatch the mace on June 23, when the speaker failed to announce names of those nominated by the party to fill principal officers’ positions.
Dogara defeated current House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila to clinch the speaker’s seat, scoring 182 votes to the latter’s 174.
Attempts to get reaction of the chairman of the House adhoc committee on media Rep Sani Zorro were not successful yesterday.
However, deputy chairman of the committee Rep Abdulrazak Namdas said the reason for coming up with the new rule on mace was to ensure that all members would respect the House’s symbol of authority.
“We don’t want our symbol of authority to be abused by anybody. Of course out of 360 members, there may be people with different views, but that does not mean one should just rush and pick the mace. So, this new rule will make us to respect the symbol of authority. These amendments are not done with any ulterior motive. We should be commended for doing that,” he said.
Asked if the amendment was done to forestall any impeachment attempt against Dogara in future, Namdas said: “That is not true. The amendment has nothing to do with the issue of the impeachment. A speaker can be impeached without picking the mace.”
On the rule that provides for suspension for 30 plenary days, the lawmaker said: “We elected the speaker and we respect him. If he says you should sit down or he rules you out of order, you should respect him. We did everything in line with our legislative agenda to work for the Nigerian people, so we don’t want anybody to disrupt our proceedings.”
A suspected Boko Haram member arrested by the military after a bomb explosion at Ummudari Molai area of Maiduguri.