By Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR.
One of the dangers inherent in such a position of take-a-bow-and-go, as adopted by the Senate, is that they appear to have taken for granted and not reckoned with the fact that their former colleagues who have had the privilege to have been nominated as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are leaving a terrain known and familiar to them, for an entirely different and unfamiliar terrain. They might have been good senators no doubt, but considering the new terrain they are venturing into, it is considered pertinent that one or two questions should be asked of them to ascertain their suitability or otherwise for the enormous task that lies ahead of them as ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Transmitting from the background of a Senator, where they make laws to one of a minister where they execute laws, cannot be said to be a child’s play nor the same terrain. By the take-a-bow-and-go attitude, the Senators are telling Nigerians that once a good senator (if ever they were), makes a good minister.
It certainly is not in the best interest of Nigerians as it plays on their sensibility. The essence of the screening is to also allow Nigerians assess how fit and proper for the post of a minister, a particular nominee is for the task he is about to be saddled with. It also allows Nigerians through their Senators-elect, warrant an undertaking from the nominees that they will not under-perform and can be taken to task if after confirmation and appointment as ministers, they are not able to match their beautifully crafted words during screening, with action.
As expected and typical of Nigerian politicians, who never adapt easily to novel ideas and ideals, we have seen a repeat of the take-a-bow-and-go syndrome play out in the present Senate screening of ministerial nominees. Ordinarily, Nigerians would not have been perturbed, but for the change mantra of the ruling party and the impression given to Nigerians that it will not be business as usual.
More baffling of the Senate’s screening so far, is the screening of former governor of Rivers State, MR Rotimi Amaechi and other Senators, who have one or two petitions against them. I say this considering the magnitude of petition surrounding and concerning especially, the person of Amaechi and his role as former Governor.
For Amaechi, the road certainly has been rough, penultimate to his screening by the Senate. His name was contained in the first list sent to the Senate by the President, he was finally screened amidst lots of drama after several delays. His screening saw the Senators of the Ruling APC and the main opposition PDP at daggers drawn for the first time since the screening exercise commenced.
Amaechi’s screening had initially been deferred following the inability of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges and Public Petitions to submit its report on the petitions filed against the former governor.
The entire scenario of Rotimi’s nomination and eventual screening was aptly captured by the vanguard report of October 24, 2015. It did not come to many as a surprise he was eventually screened.
Suffice to say however that, the mere fact that Amaechi has a lorry load of petitions hanging on his neck is not enough to stop his being screened by the Senate, as that in itself does not amount to a conviction. This argument is tenable in law as our system of justice is accusatorial and not inquisitorial, but not when one looks at it from the moral perspective vis-a-vis the initial stance of this administration against corruption. The President had made it clear to Nigerians that he’ll not have any Nigerian who has a stint of corruption hanging on his head.
Going by this, it was wrong of the President to have forwarded the name of Rotimi Amaechi to the Senate for confirmation as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Senate in itself was wrong to have suspended consideration of the report of its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition and gone ahead to screen Amaechi. This is what is getting Nigerians worried if there is some sort of noose hanging round the head of the Senate. Why delay the screening in the first instance if you were not going to consider the report of the Committee? Why the sudden haste to screen the nominee when Nigerians could afford to wait on the President for months to come up with his list of ministerial nominees?
So many questions begging for answers.
After three weeks of ministerial screening, the Senate last week confirmed as ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, all ministerial nominees as sent to it by President Muhammadu Buhari, despite the stiff opposition by the PDP Senators against the confirmation of Amaechi.
Amaechi’s confirmation as minister, did not come on a platter of gold, as PDP Senators who had posed a very stiff opposition to his confirmation, stormed out of the red chambers, in protest against his confirmation, citing the case of alleged corruption against the ministerial nominee which is presently a matter before the Court.
Before Amaechi was eventually confirmed, the PDP Senators walked out, apparently not wanting to be judged by posterity as having condoned and legitimized his clearance. But the staging of a walk out is merely political as it is of no constitutional import, having regard to the fact that the Senate has formed a 1/3 quorum in accordance with Section 54 of the 1999 Constitution as altered, before the walk out. This is akin to the scenario that played when Saraki was elected as Senate President after a quorum had been formed even though majority of the APC Senators were holed up at the ICC, ostensibly waiting for the-never-to-be-meeting with PMB.
The full list of Ministers confirmed by the Nigerian Senate are:
Abdulrahman Dambazau, Abubakar Malami, Adamu Adamu, Aisha Abubakar, Aisha Jummai Alhassan, Amina J Mohammed, Audu Ogbeh, Babatunde Fashola, Barr. Adebayo Sittu, Brigadier General Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali, Chris Ngige, Cladius Omoleye Daramola, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, Geoffrey Onyeama, Hadi Sirika, Hon. Bawa Bwari, Honorable Baba Shehuri Mustapha, Ibrahim Jibril, Kayode Fayemi, Kemi Adeosun, Lai Mohammed, Mohammed Musa Bello, Ocholi James, Ogbonnaya Onu, Okechukwu Eyinna Enelamah, Osagie Ehanire, Pastor Usani Uguru, Prof Anwuka Anthony Gozie, Prof. Isaac Adewole, Rotimi Amaechi, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, Solomon Dalong, Suleiman Adamu, Udoma Udo Udoma and Zainab S. Ahmed.
With the confirmation of all ministerial nominees, the coast is now clear for the President to swear in the ministers and assign portfolios to them. As Nigerians await what portfolios PMB will assign to the nominees, we can only speculate on certain things.
It is clear that all the nominees cannot be full blown Ministers. Some of them will be ministers of state. PMB has reiterated the need to cut down on government expenditure since Nigeria is broke. But for Section 147 (3) of the Constitution which makes it mandatory for the President to appoint a minister from each state, the President would not have done this.
The Storming out from the Senate chambers by the PDP Senators during the confirmation process of Amaechi appears to interrogate, even if faintly, the romance that had hitherto existed between the PDP Senators and Saraki. This will appear to be a crack if not well handled by Saraki and may affect future relationship between the PDP and Saraki.
Saraki will need the navigational skills of Mungo Park, Lander Brother, and Prince Henry the Navigator to handle this delicate situation.
Saraki has the rare opportunity to enjoy both of two worlds: the existing cordial relationship with PDP Senators and the confidence that the APC will now have in him for the way he handled the entire screening excercise in APC’s favour without rocking the boat.
It is left to be seen the kind of relationship that will exist between the Ministers and PMB, having regards to the unflattering statement earlier credited to PMB, when he labeled Ministers as “Noise makers”.
Will he allow the Ministers full opportunity to operate without interference or manipulation? How far will PMB allow them a free rein? The next few months will determine these.
Are PMB, the Executive, the Senate, Senate President, Ministerial Nominees, APC, PDP, Nigerians, etal, reading and digesting this sermon on the mount of the Nigerian Project?