Ministers-Designate Set Agenda for Buhari

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Bukola Saraki
Saraki

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For two days, the Senate captures the attention of the whole nation as ministerial nominees, in their presentations, set an agenda for the President Muhammadu Buhari government

By Olu Ojewale  |  Oct 26, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

THE Nigerian Senate captured the attention of Nigerians on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 13 and 14. A good number of Nigerians practically abandoned their vocations and other activities to watch the live proceedings of the Senate as they questioned ministerial nominees of President Muhammadu Buhari.

As the event turned out, 18 of the 21 nominees, batch A, that were supposed to be screened for confirmation were actually screened during the two-day exercise. The screening of former Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State and Adebayo Shittu, SAN, from Oyo State, could not hold on Thursday as scheduled.

Amaechi’s appearance was delayed because of the inability of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to submit its report on a petition filed against him.

Nevertheless, Dino Melaye, spokesman of the Senate, on Friday, October 16, expressed optimism that Amaechi would be confirmed as a minister without any hassle.

Melaye said: “The committee has a one line report that the matter is in court and that in compliance with our laid down rules and regulations that any case that is undergoing judicial remedy cannot be discussed and that we have distanced ourselves from it and the report will be presented on Tuesday by the grace of God and I assure Nigerians that Amaechi, by the grace of God, will be screened on Tuesday.”

He added: “And that is our resolution, because the matter is still undergoing judicial remedy, we cannot look into it. Rotimi Amaechi has no problem.”

Amaechi’s nomination as minister was challenged by three senators from his state, who cited corruption allegations against him. The three lawmakers from Rivers state George Sekibo, Olaka Nwogu and Osinachukwu Ideozu had last two weeks opposed the clearance and confirmation of Amaechi with a petition laid before the Senate by Sekibo.

The Senate, however, held that it couldn’t stop the former governor’s confirmation because the case against him was still being deliberated upon in court.

In what appeared as temporarily hanging Amaechi’s fate, the Senate ruled that a nominee must be supported by at least two senators from his/her home state, among other modalities.

But Melaye and a few others said the rule was not sacrosanct and as such could not stop any nominee from being cleared.

This development has caused discomfort for the Rivers senators, a source close to one of them disclosed.

It was also learnt that Bukola Saraki, Senate president and other influential senators such as Godswill Akpabio, Senate minority leader, were helping Amaechi to assuage the Rivers senators.

The latter, however, demanded that Amaechi should ensure withdrawal of the APC petition at the election tribunal against the election of Governor Nyesom Wike. But the former governor said this was beyond him and, therefore, intensified lobbying of pliable senators to get support.

In any case, Amaechi and Shittu would have their turn before the Senate on Tuesday, October 20.

Fashola
Fashola

The Senate on Wednesday, October 14, confirmed the nomination of all the 18 nominees it screened. Those confirmed as ministers are Udo Udoma, a former senator and chairman of Union Bank Plc; Kayode Fayemi, a former governor of Ekiti State; Audu Ogbeh, a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party; Ogbonnaya Onu, former governor of old Abia State; Osage Ehanire, a surgeon from Edop State; Abdulrahman Dambazzau, a retired lieutenant general and fromer chief of Army Staff; Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress; Amina Mohammed, a special adviser to Ban Ki Moon, secretary general of the United Nations and Suleiman Adamu, a civil engineer.

Also confirmed as ministers are Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, and a former governor of Lagos State; Ibe Kachikwu, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; Chris Ngige, a former senator and former governor of Anambra State; Abubakar Malami SAN, and legal adviser to the defunct Senator Aisha Alhassan, Solomon Dalong, SAN and a former chairman of local government in Plateau State; Kemi Adeosun, an accountant and former commissioner in Ogun State;  Hadi Sirika, a former senator and pilot as well as Ibrahim Jibril.

All the nominees, especially those who were allowed to make presentation, used their appearance as a sort of agenda setting for the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

At the Wednesday’s screening, Fashola, Kachikwu and Adeosun gave impressive performances, as they showed a mastery of the subjects they spoke on and were lucid in their delivery.

Fashola, who held the Senate spellbound for an hour, addressed questions on several issues including clearing the air on allegations that he spent N78 million on his website and almost N200 million on the construction of boreholes at the Lagos State Government House when he was the governor of the state.

On both issues, Fashola said when he was governor, he didn’t sign any cheque and his commissioners did not sign cheques as well. Besides, he declared nobody could accuse him of corruptly enriching himself. “I did not fix contract prices. It is an institutional process. The only training I have is that of a lawyer. Nobody could award a contract over a benchmark price. Throughout my tenure, I have been confronted with the price of things and the reality is that when you design a road, what you meet in reality when construction starts is usually not what you end up with.

“In all of these, nobody has alleged that I have corruptly enriched myself. I could not have been a master in computer and technology. I need something to do my work,” he said.

The former governor was philosophical in his response to a question of loyalty when Enyinnaya Abaribe, a senator from Abia State, asked him on his perceived disloyalty to Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and his benefactor. He said: “As for loyalty, the concept of loyalty is a strange one. The real answer to that question is, may your loyalty not be tested. I always pray that my loyalty will not be tested because you might have to take a bullet for somebody.

“We discuss it loosely but in public service, I have remained loyal to courses that I have signed unto and in all my life, nobody can fairly accuse me of giving my word and going back on my word.”

Fashola spoke passionately on the need to decentralise the police force and allow state police. This, he said, was the only the antidote to a number of crimes at the local level such as rape, which he said the centralised police might not be able to handle because of other responsibilities.

He said: “The number (of police) available to me is that we have probably a standing police force of about 500,000, less than a million, relative to a population that is heading to 180 million. So, we are under-policed and if the federal government decides to take up these responsibilities on its own, can it do so at the micro-level what is necessary at the state and local government levels? My recommendation is a compelling urgency for decentralisation.”

After Fashola, Kachikwu told the Senate that Nigeria had lost about $15 billion annually because of the failure of the National Assembly to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.

Kachikwu, who said he had not been restrained by the non-passage of the bill since his appointment as head of the NNPC, said the non-passage of the PIB had created uncertainty for foreign investors seeking to invest in Nigeria’s oil sector.

“So, I will urge this revered Senate to fairly quickly come to terms, find a way of working with us and go ahead and pass those elements of the PIB where there’s no much contention.

“One of the key things that killed the previous bill was that there wasn’t sufficient engagement. Our duties as individuals in the line of progress will be to go out there and have those engagements and hopefully submit to the National Assembly suggestions that have come with people; things that people can live with. There are amendments that need to be made,” Kachikwu said.

The NNPC boss said the issue of subsidy was very sensitive to the nation and President Muhammadu Buhari was insisting on putting necessary palliatives in place before considering oil subsidy removal.

He said Buhari was particularly concerned about the provision of necessary palliatives especially in the areas of transport, health and education, when the issue came up before him.

Kachikwu said he agreed with the president that unless necessary palliatives were in place “you cannot just remove subsidy.”

To encourage the use of domestic gas in the country, he disclosed that the federal government would begin the distribution of free gas cylinder next year.

Adeosun, a chartered accountant, was another professional who showed that her appointment was not a fluke. In her submission, Adeosun urged the federal government to review its current mono-economy by engaging in an aggressive diversification of the economy. “The economy is slowed down but not in recession. We can avoid recession by creating more jobs, particularly in the private sector.”

She emphasised the need to encourage more youths to get involved in entrepreneurial skills which she said could create wealth and turn them into employers of labour instead of waiting for salaried jobs.

She added: “Investing in infrastructure will also help in stimulating the economy for job creation and expanding the frontiers of entrepreneurship.

“The Treasury Single Account, TSA, will reduce borrowing by government and if government is not borrowing, private businesses will be able to access loans for investment. The policy may appear harsh in the short run, but it will be beneficial in the long run.”

On infrastructure, she said there was an urgent need to develop infrastructure in order to attract foreign investment and interest rate must be brought down to enable legal businesses to access loans.

“Governments at all levels must cut down on recurrent expenditure and increase capital spending in annual budgets. The present situation where government runs budget on 78 percent recurrent cannot grow the economy,” she warned.

Alhassan, a first woman gubernatorial candidate of the APC in Taraba State in the last election, was asked for her view on the corruption in the judiciary. But before answering the question, she told the Senate that contrary to insinuations, she was still pursuing her governorship election petition at a tribunal in Taraba State and that her nomination as a minister was not to stop the process.

She contested the governorship election against Ishaku Darius, the PDP candidate who was declared winner of the poll.

Alhassan said: “My nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari has nothing to do with my ongoing election petition. President Buhari will not prevent me from going ahead with the case.”

Amaechi
Amaechi

On corruption in the judiciary, Alhassan, a lawyer, said the problem was not only about money. “When a judge exercises his discretional powers injudiciously, it is corruption. Corruption is perpetrated by judges and lawyers in many ways. Lawyers ingratiate themselves with judges and make friends with them. They then lobby to have their cases assigned to such judges. We all know that judges are also human beings capable of being influenced by their friendship with their lawyer-friends,” he said.

As a former member of the Senate she was eventually asked to take a bow and leave.

The confirmation of Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the APC, was as dramatic as his screening on Tuesday.

Mohammed’s screening on Tuesday was an exchange of banters between him and the senators.

But on Wednesday, the opposition PDP senators shouted ‘nay’ when Bukola Saraki, Senate president, called out his name for confirmation. But the APC senators rose stoutly in his defence with their ‘yes’ shout.

Malami spoke on the administration of justice, saying whatever responsibility he is given he would be true to his God, the country and President Buhari.

He noted that justice administration would be incomplete without financial independence of the judiciary.

No person should be detained in criminal matter beyond three months before being brought to court, Malami said, noting that under the Justice administration, criminal cases should be determined within 180 days.

For a proper justice administration, there must be collaboration among the three arms of government, he said, adding that prisoners should be made to acquire vocational skills while serving their terms.

Malami urged the National Assembly to hasten the passage of the bills that would assist the administration of justice.

Ngige called for peace in the country “because we are through with the elections”. He said there was the need to pay attention to the economy because of the dwindling oil revenue.

The former Anambra state governor said the country was in the era of change, adding that the change must be holistic.

Musa Ibeto’s nomination was withdrawn by the president. He replaced the Niger State nominee with Bawa Bwari, a former member of the House of Representatives.

Sirika spoke about the need to revive the national carrier. The country, he said, should work quickly to revive its national carrier for reasons of national interest.

Sirika said most of the bilateral agreements the country signed were lopsided because of lack of national carrier.

Those awaiting screening are Rotimi Amaechi, Adebayo Shittu, Bukar Ibrahim, Cladius Omoleye Daramola, Prof Anthony Onwuka, Geoffrey Onyema, Dan Ali, Barr James Ocholi, Zainab Ahmed, Okechukwu Enelamah, Muhammadu Bello, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, Aisha Abubakar, Heineken Lokpobiri, Adamu Adamu, Isaac Adewole, Abubakar Bawa and Usani Uguru.

Before the commencement of Wednesday screening exercise, Saraki announced that President Buhari in a letter to him had withdrawn Ahmed Musa Ibeto, immediate past deputy governor of Niger State, from the list. Ibeto’s name was one of the 21 ministerial nominees first sent to the Senate on September 30, 2015. No reasons were given for the withdrawal of Ibeto’s name. Saraki had on Tuesday, October 13, read the final list from the president containing 16 names and on the list was Abubakar Bwari Bawa from Niger State, obviously as replacement for Ibeto.

That notwithstanding, Nigerians have expressed mixed reactions to the ongoing screening exercise by the Senate. Oluremi Sonaiya, the only presidential aspirant who represented KOWA at the last general elections, said: “I feel that a fairly good job was being done, even though there is room for improvements. The disparity in the time spent by the nominees is understandable; the well known nominee like Lai Mohammed was not subjected to intense questioning,” she said.

Sonaiya said if the portfolio for each of the nominees was attached, it could have helped in posing the right questions. Nonetheless, she admonished both nominees and senators to be mindful of the seriousness attached to the exercise in the quest for better governance of the country.

Olatunji Shelle, chairman, PDPD, Lagos State, also believed that the exercise could be have been handled better if portfolios were attached to nominees. “The screening exercise was okay; I was not impressed at the unseriousness attached to the screening of one of the nominees, Lai Mohammed, who was virtually asked to take a bow. It almost took the shine off the exercise,’’ Shelle said.

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