The reason ministers and other senior appointees of the government often do not give due respect to legislators after confirmation has partly been traced to the playful manner the Senate screens executive nominees. The screening of 11 ministerial nominee, which ended yesterday, was not a departure from the pattern of praise-singing. Where did our legislators learn this?
By JOSEPH ERUNKE
It was no surprise that the first three nominees that appeared before the Senate last Wednesday were asked to bow and go in accordance to the tradition of the Nigerian Senate.
Senate President David Mark who presided over the three day screening process that ended yesterday, had an appropriate response for critics of the lighthearted nature the Senate screens nominees sent to it by the executive.
“The Senate believes that anybody who was able to become a senator or member of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is more than qualified to be a minister,” the Senate president said as he passed on the duo of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and Alhaji Mohammed Wakil, the first majority leader of the House of Representatives at the onset of the Fourth Republic.
The assertion by Senator Mark was a reversal of his earlier claim in his first term as Senate President when he pledged that the Senate would robustly quiz all nominees for federal appointments irrespective of their stature in society.
The battle by some puritans in the Senate to reverse the bow and go syndrome reached a peak in March 2010 when the then acting president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan sent a list of ministerial nominees to the Senate that included some that had in the past derided the august body.
Besides the culture of bow and go, senators had also in the past admitted that the culture of praise singing during ministerial screening devalued the institution as they often pursued the shadow and left the substance by the way side.
The Senate went back to its real business when it was the turn of two female nominees, Mrs. Akon Etim Eyakenyi and Mrs Lawrencia Labaran
Mallam, representatives of Akwa Ibom and Kaduna states respectively.
Both women were grilled in a situation that fell short of misinterpretations. And those put on ‘hot seat’ did not disappoint their teeming supporters and admirers, given the answers they churned out to match the questions thrown at them by the senators. The session with the two women consumed over two hours.
Those who stayed glued to the Senate gallery after the session with the two women, in anticipation that that with the two-time National Security Adviser, NSA, General Aliyu Gusau (rtd), a nominee from Zamfara State, would not only be exciting but educating given the current security challenges in the country, were however disappointed, as senators deliberately reduced the session with the former Chief of Army Staff to what some watchers simply described as a ‘charade or child’s play’. As the Sergeant-At-Arms walked the former National Security Adviser into the chamber, Mark remarked that “Gusau is a retired General from NDA Course 1 while I am a retired General from NDA Course 3″.
The sudden introduction made by the Senate President created a prolonged laughter in the chamber with some senators, mostly from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, shouting, “just bow and go, bow and go.”
The ministerial nominee who was escorted to the stage to face the day’s business was, however, prevented from making a word from most ofthe senators who shouted ‘take a bow, take a bow’, while struggling for the nominee’s eyes to catch their attention, thus making the session rowdy. Confused at the scene created by the senators, Mark then asked “is this the true reflection of senators that General Aliyu Gusau should take a bow?”.
There was a thunderous shout of “yes”. He was subsequently asked to leave the stage which he did with over 25 senators standing up from their seats and escorting him outside the chamber, thustemporarily suspending the screening business for a while. Those who expressed bitter feeling over the legislative ‘waiver’ extended to General Aliyu Gusau believed there were so many questions for the security expert to answer in the face of the present security challenges Nigeria finds itself.
Those who were shocked with the manner the senators attended to Gusau, were in for more surprises the next day, when four additional ministerial nominees. Mr Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Dr Khaliru Alhassan (Sokoto), Alhaji Abduljelili Adesiyan (Osun) and Dr T.W. Danagogo (Rivers) were screened.
Here, the real essence of the day was thrown overboard with senators replacing screening with what could better be described as ‘praise-singing.”
All the contributors who spoke during Haruna’s screening, apart from the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, stood to eugolise the nominee.
The three senators from Haruna’s home state, led by his former deputy, Senator Bello Tukur, who represents Adamawa Central, indeed almost fell upon one another to answer questions on behalf of the nominee.
“The minister in waiting is my boss, and still my boss and will be my boss,” Senator Tukur said.
“When he was governor of Adamawa State, his number one priority was education, his number two priority was education, his number three priority was education. These are the things that he did not bring in his CV and I want to say it here that if he brings this to bear as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it will key into the
transformation agenda of the Federal Government.”
Also speaking, Senator Ahmed Barata, PDP, Adamawa South, said: “Mr chairman, I want to say that I have been together with Mr Boni Haruna for over 30 years. We have been together since 1958. We were both members of the Peoples Front and worked together up to the time, the former president, Gen. Babangida dissolved all the political parties.
We also worked together in the Peoples Democratic Party when I was an executive member in Adamawa State. I don’t want to say much because others who spoke before me have said it all.”
Peeved at the way the senators were taking the screening, Senator Mark, had to caution the lawmakers.
“I am sure you will remember that our call here is not for praise singing. If you have question, you ask and if you don’t have questions, then you sit down and wait till the when we start doing the consideration, then you can say the good things that you will want to say.”
His caution was, however, to no effect as yesterday, the third and last day of the screening, the only nominee presented for screening, Hajia Asabe Ahmed, from Niger State was just asked to bow and go.
As she was led into the chamber, two female senators, Zainab Kure and Jumail Alhassan, representing Niger South and Taraba North senatorial district respectively, stood up at the same time to request that the nominee be allowed to take a bow without any question.
The simplicity and playfulness with which the senators attach to the screening may not be unconnected to the scorn some of the ministers have some of the legislators after confirmation.
Time and time again, senators say that they would not praise sing, but they can never stop.