By Henry Umoru
AFTER two days of screening, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed 18 of the first batch of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees thus paving the way for the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government to form a cabinet, almost five months after its inauguration on May 29, 2015.
Nigerians had waited with apprehension for Buhari to nominate his ministers and expectedly, when he eventually forwarded the first list to the National Assembly on September 30, a cross section of Nigerians reacted in various ways regarding the calibre of the candidates.
However, whatever the applause or misgivings may be, controversy has continued to trail the failure of the Senate to screen one of the nominees, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers State. Also, Buhari withdrew the name of another nominee, Musa Ibeto, from Niger State while reports indicate that the delay in the screening of Adebayo Shittu from Oyo state may not be unconnected with an alleged opposition to his nomination from Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
For Amaechi, recent political developments in his state appear tilted against him especially his former Chief of Staff and former Minister of State (Education), Nyesom Wike, who is the incumbent governor is said to be opposed to Amaechi’s nomination as minister to represent the state.
Moreover, reports indicate that Amaechi’s issue may have actually led to a division within the membership of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. It was gathered that some senators elected on the platform of the PDP and members of the Committee are said to be moving against the screening of Amaechi.
Amaechi appeared before the Senator Samuel Anyanwu-led committee on Monday where he was told a number of issues were working against his screening especially with alleged court case and petitions before the committee.
According to Anyanwu, it is not feasible for the Committee to look at the petition or probe Amaechi as the issues raised in the petition before the committee were already in court, adding that in line with the Senate Standing Orders, senators will not attend to it.
It was also gathered that soon after Amaechi appeared before the committee, some PDP members of the Committee hosted the petitioner, the Integrity Group, to a meeting. According to a source, the Rivers State Governor is said to be working under ground through the Senators from the state to ensure that Amaechi is not screened.
Amaechi’s screening was later slated in the Order Paper for Wednesday but was dropped for the second time because of reported non submission of the report by the Committee. But with assurances from Senator Anyanwu that the report will be ready before next week, there are indications that Amaechi’s screening along with those of the others will take place on Tuesday.
A number of other issues had come up before the commencement of the screening process as the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said he was worried over the non inclusion of states to the names of the nominees with an attendant confusion about the state of origin of one of the nominees, Amina Ibrahim Mohammed.
There were petitions to the Senate from Kaduna where she was mistaken to have come from until she appeared before the Senator Samuel Anyanwu Committee with a clarification that she hails from Gombe State and not Kaduna.
It was also learned that following complaints from Niger State, Buhari wrote Saraki and withdrew the nomination of the former Deputy Governor, Musa Ibeto.
There were equally complaints of some nominees coming from the same zone as their governors like the nominee from Kaduna who hails from the same area with Governor Ahmed Nasir El- Rufai, as well a complaint from Osun with the nominee from there believed to come from the same Ijesha land as the governor.
Another intrigue that played out is the issue surrounding the nomination from Yobe, Khadijat Bukar Abba. She has been in the House of Representatives while the husband, Ibrahim Bukar Abba, a former governor has been in the Senate, thereby sharing the same National Assembly complex with his wife.
Speaking on the need for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to have a minister, Senate Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda, PDP, FCT complained about the omission of the FCT from the ministerial list against the backdrop that the FCT which has the status of a state, ought to so treated arguing that the FCT be considered for a ministerial slot.
With Buhari, it is a departure from the past where the Special Adviser to President submits the list to the Senate President through the Registry, then the Senate President would open it, call the Principal Officers and show them the list. But this time, it was a ceremonial presentation where the Senior Special Assistant (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, did it, accompanied by the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.
As the Senate prepared for the screening, President Buhari held a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly and stressed the need for working in unison for the interest of the country and the party.
Before the commencement of the screening, Chairman, Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Media, Senator Dino Melaye, warned that the tradition of a nominee taking a bow and asked to walk away will not apply. But in the case of Lai Mohammed, he got that recognition because of his position as National Publicity Secretary of the ruling APC.
The Senate is expected to continue the screening on Tuesday to feature Amaechi and Shittu, along with Buhari’s second list of nominees.
The nominees are Khadijah Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, Claudius Omoleye Daramola (Ondo State) Professor Anthony Anwuka (Imo State), Geoffrey Onyema, Brig. Gen. Mansur M. Dan Ali (rtd), Zamfara State and Barrister James E. Ocholi, Kogi State.
The others are Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Okechukwu Enelemah, Muhammadu Bello, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, Miss Aisha Abubakar, Heneiken Lokpobiri, Adamu Adamu, Professor Isaac Adewole (Osun State), Pastor Usani Usani Uguru and Abubakar Bwari Bawa.
The Senators on Tuesday and Wednesday went into a closed door session where they were said to have sealed it that they would give the nominees soft landing in order not to overheat the polity.
Those already confirmed and awaiting to be assigned portfolios are Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Akwa Ibom, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Benue, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Ebonyi, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Edo, Lt.Gen. Abduulrahman Dambazau, Kano, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Kwara, Amina Ibrahim Mohammed, Gombe, Engr. Suleiman Hussaini Adamu, Jigawa, and Ibrahim Usman Jibril, Nasarawa state.
Also cleared and confirmed by the Senate are former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Group Managing Director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, Delta State, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Kebbi State, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, Anambra state, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, Taraba, Barrister Solomon Lalong, Plateau State, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, Ogun State and Senator Hadi Sirika, Katsina State.