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How Akunyili, Daggash, Usman scaled through high hurdles

*Yar’ Adua’ promises  to bring energy to uncle’s government

By Emmanuel Aziken
The belief by many Nigerians that politics is an art of deception where foes are caught unawares was temporarily set aside last Monday in the Senate.

As the Senate screened the ministerial nominees sent to it by Acting President  Goodluck Jonathan, Senator Kanti Bello wasted no time for niceties as the third of the nominees stepped on to the podium.

In going for the jugular of Prof. Dora Akunyili, Senator Bello betrayed the well suppressed emotion among many Senators against the erstwhile Minister of Information and Communication.

Sixteen months ago when she first appeared before the Senate after her first ministerial nomination by President Umaru Yar‘Adua, Mrs. Akunyili was the darling of many Senators. Asked to say one thing that was not in her curriculum vitae that was circulated among Senators, she said: “You would not find in there the fact that throughout my secondary education, I never took second position.”

Many Senators, however, believe that Mrs. Akunyili’s first class brain was not put to good use in her later day conduct as Minister of Information and Communication. Her February memo to the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) arguing for action against her “brother” and President, Umaru Yar`Adua, and subsequently media interviews against a cabal around Yar`Adua were believed to have been done in bad faith. She was seen especially among northern Senators as a betrayer notably against the background of the fact that she was one of the closest to the Yar`Adua family while the going was good.

Noting her chummy relationship with the Yar‘Adua family which he argued was exemplified by the fact that she often cooked for Mrs. Turai Yar‘Adua, Senator Bello last Tuesday challenged her for being a turncoat.

Bello’s failure to show tact in his remonstration of Mrs. Akunyili did not help his case as he blurted out angry words and pointed fingers at the woman.

Replying, Akunyili said:

“The distinguished Senator said that I was supposed to be part of the cabal. I was not in any way part of the cabal. I want to state here very clearly that President Umaru Yar`Adua my boss, my big brother, and he remains my brother and everybody knows that he is a fine gentleman and with beautiful spirit.”

Her response immediately raised commotion on the floor with many Senators rising on their feet and some walking away a situation that forced the President of the Senate, Senator Mark to stand up.

Akunyili in the midst of the umbrage from Bello showed some level headedness, but beneath that according to some Senators who came close to her was an emotional drain as she wiped away some tears.

Besides her alleged indiscretions on the health of the President, Mrs. Akunyili also came under fire over the lopsidedness of federal appointments under her Anambra Central Senatorial constituency.

Mrs. Akunyili and fellow female nominee from Anambra State, Mrs. Josephine Anenih are both from Anambra Central senatorial district, the district that some concerned stakeholders from the State alleged produced most of the political office holders from the State at the federal level and at the State level.

The senatorial district has the State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Anayo Nnebe, the Special Adviser to the President on Petroleum, Dr. Emmanuel Egboga, the State’s Commissioner at INEC, Mr. Philip Umeadi and the Commissioner at the National Population Commission, Chief C. Umeh. The Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Corps Mr. Osita Chidoka and the State’s Commissioner at the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Chief Sam Agumadu are also said to be from Anambra Central which it is claimed has received more than a fair share of appointments compared to the two other senatorial districts.

That fact was, however, buried in the overflow of emotion that shadowed the encounter between Senator Bello and Akunyili.

The emotional sympathy that Akunyili won as a result of Bello’s outburst may have helped her case. Not only did it win sympathy for the woman, the timing of the outburst just before Senate suspended deliberations that Monday helped to excuse her from further questions on other serious issues.

Akunyili

Before she appeared before the Senate last Monday, Akunyili had made several visitations to many Senators including the Senate President where she sought to bury the allegations against her. She was according to some accounts taken round some of the Senators by a chieftain of the PDP whose estranged wife was also on the ministerial list.

The chieftain according to one Senator bolstered Akunyili’s campaign while at the same time degrading the nomination of his spouse in the course of their house to house campaign!

Senator Sanusi Daggash was another nominee whose alleged indiscretion almost overturned his nomination. A first class brain like Akunyili, Daggash’s problem with the Senate was traced back to his seemingly dutiful effort as Minister of National Planning to cut down pork in the federal budget.

In the preparation of the 2008 budget Daggash, was alleged to have reported to President Yar‘Adua how Senators padded the budget to their gain. It was, perhaps not a difficult task for Senator Daggash to have uncovered the alleged deed, having been a member of the immediate past Senate

His alleged action was, however, viewed as a grave betrayal by the Senate which through its spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze demanded Daggash’s dismissal from the federal cabinet. Regardless of his efforts, President Yar‘Adua axed Daggash from the cabinet in the reshuffle that followed at the end of 2008.

Hence when his name was listed among the nominees this time there was reasonable anxiety among the several associates of Daggash that he could well be axed.

The supposition of the Senate axing cerebral minded but haughty persons can be traced back to 2007 when the Senate overwhelmingly rejected the ministerial nomination of Mr. Bode Augusto.

Augusto had during his Senate screening cavalierly dismissed some of the questions posed to him in 2007 by the Senate as questions that his eight year old daughter could answer. Asked to introduce himself during that screening he had listed the lineage of graduates in his family describing himself as part of the fourth generation graduates in the Augusto family. When the Senate eventually considered the nominations, he was largely rejected despite his rich curriculum vitae.

Even though cerebral, Daggash was, however, not known to be arrogant. His seeming humility may have helped him as he before the screening went both night and day to the houses of at least 96 Senators seeking forgiveness for his perceived lapse of judgment during his first ministerial appointment.

His summation of himself during the screening was indeed revealing.

He said:

“Having found myself in the deep end of an arm of government which operates slightly differently from the legislative branch, I tried to learn the ropes, I found myself that I went into that arm of government as a senator with the respect and dignity of this office and I felt I had to maintain that. Certain misinformation, happenings and so on, but yes, I stood, I took it as a man and the bottom line is that anybody is in a position to err.”

”But the most important thing is that I must have learnt something. I may one way or the other have stood up for certain things probably I did not understand too clearly, but having been out for a while now I have had time to review and this citadel of power as I said Mr. President is the same citadel that has trained me, that has developed me, that has put me forth and today as I stand before you, giving me the due respect that I don’t even have to say anything, I know I am back home and to that effect, I am looking forward to being given a second opportunity to be able to prove myself.”

“This is history in the making. In one government, the same government, I was asked to bow out, in the same government I was asked to come in; clearly for anybody in a lifetime this is a record, from 1960 to date. I am very appreciative of this opportunity to speak directly to the senators collectively, not individually as I have done in the last few days to prove to you that I am one of you and I will be looking for that extra support this time to be able to prove myself. I thank you Mr. President.”

Following, his submission, he was asked to bow and go, it was indeed a moving demonstration of humility.

After Daggash’s appearance of last Tuesday which was generally regarded as an anti_climax because of the way he won over the Senators through his unassuming disposition, eyes were then etched on Murtala Yar‘Adua, the nephew of the ailing President.

Murtala, son of Gen. Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua, the number two man in the military regime of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was generally believed to have been selected for ministerial assignment as a political joker to break the alleged cabal around his uncle, President Yar‘Adua.

The decision on whether he would accept the assignment or reject was a reasonable guess that kept political pundits on their toes.

In the end, he accepted. The presence and ecstasy of a reasonable number of the Yar‘Adua family at his screening seemed to have confirmed insinuations of a rift between members of the Umaru Yar‘Adua family and some members of his senior brother’s family.

Besides the excited family members, there were also officials of the Katsina State government who came out in solidarity with Murtala.

The mostly youthful officials and family members were all about the forty year old Murtala after the screening hailing him from time to time as the Tafida, the traditional Katsina title he inherited from his father.

The presence of the Katsina State government officials around Murtala is understandable. The loss of the cabal is a gain for Governor Ibrahim Shema as he was alleged to have been penciled down for replacement by a member of the cabal in the forthcoming 2011 gubernatorial polls.

Murtala’s responses to the questions were largely swallowed up in the audio mix up at the time of his appearance.

Asked on what he would bring to the government, Yar‘Adua who said he was bringing hope to the administration seemed to have played on the lethargy that characterized the administration of his uncle, Umaru.

“The energy of youth is very important around the world a lot industrialists and senior people running conglomerates are actually our age mates. A lot of our friends and colleagues are in private industry and I believe that I can draw a lot of experience and advise new ways of doing old things,” he said to a bout of laughter from several Senators apparently in reference to his uncle’s cabinet.

Apparently responding to the laughter, he clarified:

“There is nothing wrong with the way things have been done, I think energy is what we need,” he said as if in admission that the Umaru Yar`Adua administration was lacking in vigour.

There were other nominees who were equally challenged. In some cases, their names were reportedly removed from consideration. Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, the former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, Finance Minister who was also the Minister of National Planning in the immediate past cabinet was a target of the political infighting in his local Kano State and elsewhere.

He was accused of not being a party man not known to the political organizers in Kano. Petitions real and imaginary were reportedly directed at him. On Tuesday when he was supposed to have been screened his name was skipped allegedly on the instruction of the presidency. Some national newspapers went to town the following day that he had been dropped from consideration.

Special Assistant to the President (Senate), Dr. Cairo Ojugboh, however, refuted such claims in a telephone interview with Saturday Vanguard asserting that Usman would be screened the following day.

True to his words, Usman was the first to be screened the following day.

Usman was to play up the media frenzy on his reported withdrawal as an example of the difficulties he has faced in his quest for public service.

Referring to the battles he has fought in public service, he said:

“If you are in public office and fortunately because in my work as a Minister of Finance I have taken on so many mafia, I have taken on Custom mafia, I have taken on the tax concession mafia who are drilling this country out of its revenue, everybody knows that the committee I set up under Senator Udoma Udoma saved this country billion of naira.”

“I took on the oil importation mafia, I took on the Port system mafia because I was trying to achieve 48 hours clearing, when we look at it we were clearing goods in this country in 15days and we wanted to bring it down to 48 hours, before I left finance I brought it down to six days from 15 days,” he said as he accused another mafia of seeking to create problems between him and the Senate.


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