The Hurdle Before Ministerial Nominees

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Amaechi
Amaechi

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The names of the 21 ministerial nominees formally announced by the Senate last week, has sparked off controversy as to whether they would help to bring about the change that many Nigerians crave for in governance or still do business as usual

By Olu Ojewale  |  Oct 19, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

SEVERAL weeks before their names were officially announced, the media were already awash with them. Hence, when Bukola Saraki, Senate president, unveiled the names of ministerial nominees on Tuesday, October 6, there were only a handful of new ones among them.

But this has not stopped the tongues wagging about those President Muhammadu Buhari considers as his ministerial nominees. Public scrutiny and criticisms of the 21 appointees are not likely to abate until probably after their swearing-in.

The appointees include Abubakar Malami, SAN, former legal adviser to the defunct Congress of Progressive Change; Abdurahman Bello Dambazzau, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of Army staff; Aisha Jumai Al Hassan, a former gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Taraba State; Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the APC;  Chibuike Amaechi, Babatunde Fashola, Chris Ngige, Ogbonaya Onu, Kayode Fayemi, former governor of Rivers, Lagos, Anambra, old Abia and Ekiti states, respectively. Others are Adebayo Shittu, lawyer and former attorney general of Oyo State; Solomon Dalong, a lawyer; and  Audu Ogbeh, former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party.

The rest are Amina Mohammed, a special adviser to Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations; Osagie Ehaneri, a consultant surgeon; Emmanuel Kachikwu, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC; Suleiman Adamu, a civil engineer and current vice-president of the Association of Consulting Engineers in Nigeria; Kemi Adeosun, a former finance commissioner in Ogun State;  Ahmed Musa Ibeto, former governor of Niger State; Ibrahim Usman Jubrin; Hadi Sirika, a former pilot and Udo Udoma, a lawyer and former senator.

In what some observers regarded as a way to soften the ground for the appointees when they appear before the Senate, President Buhari held a closed door meeting with leaders of the National Assembly on Wednesday, October 7. The meeting had in attendance Bukola Sarki, Senate president and Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives, who led the leadership of the two chambers to the State House.

Saraki speaking on the outcome of the meeting with the State House correspondents, said they resolved that the two arms of government should work together for the growth of the country. He said they talked about how to fulfill the promises they made to Nigerians during their election campaign.

The meeting, initiated by Buhari, was the first official meeting Buhari would be holding with the leadership of the National Assembly since Saraki was elected as the Senate president on June 9.

Other Senate leaders at the meeting included Ali Ndume, Senate majority leader; Bala Ibn Na’Allah, deputy majority leader; Godswill Akpabio, minority leader and Philip Aduda, minority whip. Members from the House of Representatives included Yusuf Lasun, deputy speaker and Femi Gbajabiamila, majority leader.

Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president and Binta Bello-Maigeri, deputy minority whip in the House were absent at the meeting. Saraki said they were both attending a conference outside the country.

How the meeting is going to help the appointees is yet to be seen. But for now, the major hurdle before all of them is how the Senate screening exercise slated for Tuesday, October 13 goes.

Ahead of the screening exercise, the Senate, on Thursday, October 8, raised hurdles that ministerial nominees must scale to be cleared for appointment.

The Senate, which said that the screening would be guided by the 1999 Constitution and the Senate Standing Orders 2015, as amended, directed all nominees to submit 115 copies of their resume each to the Senate, on or before Monday, October 12.

It said the Senate resolved that the old practice of allowing former members to bow and go had been modified and that all appointees would be thoroughly scrutinised.

Fashola
Fashola

However, the upper legislative chamber said it would retain its convention which made it mandatory for a nominee to secure the support of two senators from his home state to get the approval of the Senate. This has been interpreted as a means of denying the confirmation of Amaechi and other nominees who are being opposed by their senators. The three senators from Rivers State are believed to oppose the appointment of their former governor.

The decision to uphold the convention of the Senate was made at the executive session and was made public by Dino Melaiye, chairman, Senate ad-hoc committee on information, after the two-hour executive session.

That notwithstanding,  one of the senators who participated in the session claimed that some APC senators rejected the decision, citing precedents in the Seventh Senate when the David Mark-led Senate confirmed Musiliu Obanikoro, a former senator, despite the opposition to his nomination by three senators from Lagos, his home state.

In any case, emotions are still very high as those against the appointment of certain individuals continue to express their reservations. In fact, the Senate is said to have been inundated with a plethora of petitions against the appointments of some nominees.

The latest among the deluge of petitions was submitted by Danuma Laah, a senator for Kaduna South, on Thursday, October 8, against the nomination of Amina Mohammed.

Presenting the petition, Laah said he had read in the newspapers that Mohammed was nominated to represent Kaduna State despite common knowledge that she hails from Gombe State and married to a Kaduna indigene. The senator said that such an appointment would Section 147 of the 1999 Constitution that a nominee must be an indigene of the state he/she will represent.

On Wednesday, October 7, George Sekibo, a lawmaker representing Rivers East Senatorial District, had submitted a petition against the nomination of Amaechi, as a minister on the floor of the Senate.

The submission of the 88-page petition did not go without a drama. No sooner than Sekibo, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, raised a point of order to submit the petition than the APC senators kicked against the submission, and raised their voice, shouting No! No! Notwithstanding the reaction of the APC senators, Sekibo went ahead with his point of order and got the permission of Saraki, to submit the document on behalf of his other colleagues from Rivers State.

Saraki, who ignored the protests of his party members, referred the petition to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate the allegations against Amaechi and report back to the Senate.

Speaking with journalists shortly after the plenary, Sekibo said the petition was based on an investigation carried out by the Integrity Group, a Port Harcourt-based organisation. The senator said the same petition had been sent to Buhari and the various anti-graft agencies in the country.

According to Sekibo, the group “went into a research and discovered that over N70bn were transferred from hard currency account to places outside the country. A petition on this note was written to Mr. President. I believe the president has not read it.

“If he has read it, he may not have hurriedly nominated Rotimi Amaechi to be a minister. Amaechi is qualified to be a minister, but when issues of corruption and fraud are openly X-rayed by people, it is necessary for Mr. President to take a critical look and examine the allegations whether they are true or not.”

As if that was not serious enough, also on Wednesday, The Justice George Omeriji-led Commission of Inquiry recommended that Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, should go after Amaechi and those who served under him. While submitting the report and recommendations to Wike at Government House, Port Harcourt, Omeriji said: “I plead with Your Excellency to read the report and act fast, so that you can help recover the stolen billions that are still stashed where the thieves kept them. The money belongs to the people of Rivers State and should be used by them.”

But in a swift response, Amaechi said on Wednesday, that no N53billion cash was missing during his tenure.

He said the funds in question were from the Rivers State Reserve Fund which were duly approved by the Rivers State House of Assembly. He, therefore, accused Governor Wike of resorting to last-ditch effort to scuttle his nomination as a minister by President Buhari.

Amaechi said: “The statement credited to the panel’s chairman Justice Omeriji of a “missing” N53 billion is unfortunate and leaves much to be desired. The mischief is all the more evident as the funds referred to are funds from the Rivers State reserve fund which was duly approved by the Rivers State House of Assembly and whose expenditure were duly captured and accounted for.”

Facing a similar opposition is Fashola, former governor of Lagos State.

The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, in a petition to the Senate against the nomination of Fashola said the former governor should not be confirmed. The petition signed by Debo Adeniran, executive director of the CACOL and dated Saturday, October 3, asked the Senate not to confirm Fashola “should his name pop-up as a ministerial nominee.”

The group urged the senators to visit Lagos, as governed by Fashola, before screening and confirming him for any appointment as a minister.

Shittu
Shittu

The petition said in part: “Howbeit, if the rumour making the rounds in some quarters, which has also been confirmed by some sections of the media, is anything to go by, we would say Nigerians’ hope for a true change has been dashed with the inclusion of some names that in a saner environment should not appear on the list, if integrity and honesty are the basis of the selection criteria.”

The group, therefore, catalogued a number of fraud and corruption allegations, most of which it had before now levelled against Fashola.

It recalled that Fashola had also been accused of constructing his personal website with government fund of N78.3 million, whereas every IT person CACOL contacted claimed that an estimate of the cost of the website at about N6 million.

“We make bold to say that the N78.3 million website contract is a trademark of Mr. Fashola’s administration. The website contract is an eye opener and lending credence to the allegations of the ‘True Face of Lagos’ where most of the contracts awarded before 2010 were said to have been immorally inflated by the regime of Babatunde Raji Fashola.”

In his defence, the former governor said only N12 million was actually awarded for the upgrade of the site while other services such as the handover countdown clock, mobile apps for Google, for iOS ipad, for Microsoft, and Blackberry and the annual maintenance cost for managing the site make up the total of N78 million.

He said due process was followed before the contract was awarded and that the procurement agency, PPA, did not raise any objection as at the time the contract was awarded.

The former governor also said he was transparent and followed due process in all transactions done by his administration.

The opposition against Shittu, a former attorney general and human rights activist, in Oyo State, is not on corruption. The APC in the state rejected his nomination saying he is unacceptable to the “vast majority of our people.”

In a petition to Buhari, the party alleged that Shittu was not a team player pointing out that he had refused to participate in all party activities. The petition signed by Akin Oke, state chairman and Mojeed Olaoya, secretary, accused the nominee of engaging in anti-party activities saying he had taken the party to court on three different occasions in respect of party primaries and congresses

“We like to place it on record that during the 2015 presidential election, Barrister Shittu was a lone ranger and that our party did not feel his impact for once, while we have it on good authority that he worked for the opposition during the last governorship election in Oyo State,” the party said.

It was learnt that Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State was also opposed to Shittu’s choice.

Responding to the opposition of his candidacy, Shittu said he contributed to the success of the party and that he had nothing against Governor Ajimobi.

Nevertheless, Saraki, on Thursday, October 8, mandated Samuel Anyanwu, chairman, Senate committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to ensure that all petitions submitted against any nominee were treated on or before Monday, October 12, and submit the report on Tuesday before the screening starts.

In the public domain, opposition political parties, socio-political groups and some individuals have also expressed their reservation about those Buhari has appointed ministers to his cabinet.

For instance, Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, national chairman of the Labour Party, LP, said most of the names in the list were recycled politicians who had nothing new to offer.

“For us in the Labour Party, we do not see anything that resembles change as far as the ministerial team is concerned. Imagine bringing someone who served in the government of the late Sarduana of Sokoto to serve as minister in 2015. All these people are analogue persons who cannot bring about any change under the current dispensation,” Abdulsalam said, adding: “This is to show Nigerians that the change mantra is fake; there is no sincerity of purpose there and no commitment to the Nigerian cause. They just deceived Nigerians with ‘change, change’ slogan and won the heart of Nigerians.”

Mohammed
Mohammed

The main opposition PDP, in a statement in Abuja by Olisa Metuh, its national publicity secretary, claimed that Buhari’s delay in constituting his cabinet could not be justified with the kind of persons he nominated into his cabinet.

It said: “Looking at the list, it is hard to put a finger on why it should take any serious-minded and focused government six months after its election to assemble such a regular team.”

He said the list and the length of time it took to present it had further confirmed that the APC-led administration was being driven by propaganda and deceit, a development he said raised doubts about the sincerity of the government’s anti-corruption crusade.

Expressing similar sentiments, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a human rights lawyer, said that nothing was inspiring about the list of the ministerial nominees because they were all familiar faces.

Adegoruwa who described the four-month of waiting the ministerial list as a colossal waste of time said further: “The impression that the president gave to everyone was that he was searching out for ‘saints’ to work with him. We could not have wasted the past three months waiting for Fayemi, Fashola, Amaechi, Ngige and Audu Ogbeh. These are people who had worked with the President, whose names he should have compiled even before he was sworn in.

“There was thus no need for all the hype and melodrama about the ministerial list, in the manner that the President has kept the whole nation in such frenetic suspense and deliberate guesswork.

Despite that he said Nigerians should not expect much from any of the ministers given the internal contradictions currently plaguing the ruling APC.

Although Balarabe Musa, former governor of Kaduna State, said he was disappointed with Buhari over the list, he noted that “there are about two or three who I can say are distinguished among them like, Audu Ogbeh who I have known for a very long time. We were together during the Second Republic.” Ogbeh was then a minister while Musa was governor. According to the former governor, Ogbeh has an outstanding public record that everybody knows.

Nevertheless, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, president, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, said the president picked those he could work with and trust. “The cabinet is a mix of old and young ones. The old ones will keep the young ones in line. The president has done well; I am happy with his choice since they are those he trusts,” Kaigama said

On his part, Richard Akinjide, SAN, a former attorney general of the federation, said he had no problem with the president’s choice of ministers. “The names of those in the list are familiar, but lets wait whether they can match their reputations with their performance as minister,” Akinjide said. The former minister would rather wait until another year to assess the ministerial appointees against their performance as agents of change.

What seems to excite Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and human rights campaigner, is the fact that at least five lawyers made the list. “We are very grateful for the fact that the bar is well represented. Those who made the list are those who have shown over the years that they can hold their own. I have no doubt they will perform.” He noted that there are only three women nominees in the list and therefore urged Buhari to appoint more women. The lawyer would also want the president to appoint technocrats into his cabinet to help with development and effect all the needed changes required by the country.

Ubani said despite the opposition from various quarters against some of the nominees, it would be difficult to disqualify any of them on the grounds of corrupt allegations. “They can only be disqualified if they are found guilty by a competent court of law.

Be that as it may, the screening exercise will determine whether the Buhari change agents would be approved by the Senate while the country awaits the remaining 15 nominees to make up the required by the constitution. The ball, for now, is in the Senate’s court.

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