SENATORS Wednesday deferred the screening of the former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and seven other ministerial nominees till next Tuesday.
The nominees and their families and friends, who were at the National Assembly, left disappointed.
Although the names of all the nominees, including Senator Musiliu Obanikoro (Lagos), Senator Patricia Akawashiki (Nasarawa), Prof. Nicholas Akis Ada (Benue), Col. Augustine Okwudiri Akobundu (Abia), Mr. Fidelis Nwankwo (Ebonyi), Mrs. Hauwa’u Lawan (Jigawa), Mr. Kenneth Kobani (Rivers) and Senator Joel Danlami Ikenya (Taraba) were listed in the order paper for the day, the paper was withdrawn and replaced with another, which did not contain the names.
A motion in the first order containing the list of the nominees, titled: “Confirmation of Nominations” billed to be moved by Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, reads: “That the Senate do consider the request of Mr. President, Commander-In-Chief, for the confirmation of the following nominees as Ministers of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in accordance with Section 147 (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”
The Senate did not explain why the scheduled screening and possible confirmation of the appointments of all the ministerial nominees had to be put on hold.
But, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Senate decided to shelve the screening of the nominees to enable it debate the 2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), which is crucial to the passage of the 2015 Appropriation Bill.
Another source, however, said Obanikoro’s fate stalled the screening of others.
Those opposed to Obanikoro’s nomination insisted that since there was a case against him pending in court, it would be against the standing orders of the Senate to screen the former minister of state for Defence.
They said the Senate’s rule forbids it from acting on any issue that is pending before a court.
The spokesman of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) Senate’s Caucus, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, said two petitions on February 12 and 17 were before Senate President David Mark against Obanikoro’s nomination by President Goodluck Jonathan to represent Lagos State as minister.
It was learnt that the February 12 petition was submitted to Mark through Senators Ojudu and Gbenga Ashafa.
The petitioners were said to have expressed disgust at Obanikoro’s alleged role in the August 2014 Ekiti governorship poll and the use of soldiers to stop the Ilubirin Housing Project in Lagos, among others.
According to Ojudu, since there’s a suit against Obanikoro in a Lagos court, it would be prejudicial for the Senate to screen and confirm him with other ministerial nominees.
Ojudu said: “There’s a court case against Obanikoro and that case is coming up for hearing on March 6.
“Should the Senate go ahead to screen Obanikoro next Tuesday, it will mean that the Senate has prejudiced the case. That would be illegal because the tradition and the rule is that if there’s a case before the court, the matter should not be entertained.
“This case is already before the Judiciary and it has to determine whether he’s a fit and proper person, whether he’s qualified to hold public office. Even the case of whether he has dual citizenship is not for the Senate to determine.
“Besides, this case is not even about that. Whatever the matter is, there’s a subsisting case against Obanikoro before the court.
“There’s a case before the law courts; until that case is dispensed with, nothing can be done in the Senate.”
When asked about the likely implications if the Senate insisted on screening and confirming Obanikoro, Ojudu said: “That would be contempt of court, but what I like about the Senate President is that over time, he has been just and fair and we believe that when this comes to his notice too, he would be just and fair. I believe the Senate President would not want to do anything against the Judiciary.