By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP senators were yesterday pitched in a war of intrigues over the ministerial screening of Mr. Rotimi Amaechi even as the constitutional deadline for his clearance narrowed down to four days.
Unless the Senate confirms or formally rejects him by Thursday, October 29, Amaechi would automatically be sworn in as a minister upon the expiration of the 21-day constitutional deadline allowed the Senate to confirm or reject a ministerial nominee.
The five-day window opened to the Senate to play its hand in the confirmation of Amaechi narrowed to four days last night with the last minute decision of the Senate not to sit today. Senators, it was gathered, decided to stand down today’s plenary to enable them accompany Senate President Bukola Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal today.
All Progressives Congress, APC, senators were said to have axed today’s plenary to avert the fear of Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy President of the Senate presiding and giving the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, an advantage in the confirmation process.
PDP senators, nonetheless, were said to have at the end of a caucus meeting, yesterday afternoon, reiterated their determination to thwart Amaechi’s confirmation.
Two nominees screened
The Senate nevertheless screened two of the three nominees listed on the order paper. The two screened were Adebayo Shittu from Oyo State and Hajia Khadija Abba Ibrahim from Yobe State.
The third nominee, Claudius Daramola from Ondo State was not taken. Shittu was grilled for over one hour while Abba-Ibrahim, a serving member of the House of Representatives, a former commissioner in Yobe State and wife of Senator Bukar Abba-Ibrahim was only allowed to take one question posed by her husband.
The intrigues over the former Rivers State governor deepened following failure of the Senate to receive the report of its Committee on Ethics and Privileges on its investigations into petitions filed against Amaechi. The Senate had said that it would first consider the report before screening Amaechi. Even more, Senate spokesman, Senator Dino Melaye, yesterday, said the Senate leadership in its opposition to the kid glove treatment of the nominees had decided to stretch out the screening process to allow more intensive drilling of the nominees.
It was based on that decision that it scheduled only three nominees for screening.
The decision was apparently taken without consideration of the statutory deadline for screening, and came as Vanguard gathered that the Senate President may have decided to wear out the antagonism against Amaechi by his opponents by delaying his screening exercise.
Amaechi, alongside 20 other nominees, was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 30. While all others have been screened and confirmed, Amaechi’s fate has hung in the balance upon alleged political intrigues fuelled by allegations of corruption levelled against him, and by the angst of PDP chieftains over the former governor’s role in the last general elections.
With the Senate not sitting today, it has only four days to receive the report of its Committee on Ethics, consider the report, screen the former Rivers governor and notify the President of its decision, whether yes or no.
What the constitution says
Section 147 (6) of the constitution setting the deadline on confirmation of ministerial nominees states thus: “An appointment to any of the offices aforesaid shall be deemed to have been made where no return has been received from the Senate within 21 working days of the receipt of nomination by the Senate.”
The hanging constitutional shadows nonetheless, the two dominant parties in the Senate at separate caucuses, yesterday, took different positions on the issue.
While the APC senators resolved to screen and confirm Amaechi tomorrow, the PDP senators were said to have resolved to lay every imaginable impediment to his screening and confirmation of the claim that he has been indicted by an investigative panel of inquiry.
The resolution of the PDP senators was despite the pleas of two APC principal officers, Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume and the Deputy Majority Whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena, who came into the meeting of the PDP senators to plead with them to soften their stance.
Earlier, yesterday, the intrigues over the confirmation hearing took a twist when the Senate withdrew the order paper it had earlier circulated which had listed Amaechi and seven others for screening.
Amaechi was listed as the third for screening in the first order paper that also had Adebayo Shittu; Heineken Lokpobiri; Khadija Abba-Ibrahim; Bawa Bwari; Ocholi Enojo James; Mansur Muhammed and Zainab S. Ahmed.
However, that Order Paper was shortly after, withdrawn and a new one circulated with only three names — Shittu, Abba Ibrahim and Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Ondo.
Also dropped from the Order Paper was the presentation of the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics on its investigation of the petitions against Amaechi.
Shittu, a long-time political associate of President Buhari, who was the Oyo State 2011 governorship candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change, CPC, was the first to be screened yesterday.
He drew questions on his alleged political differences with the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, tendency within the APC, and also rebuffed assertions of his indictment on allegations of religious intolerance.
“I say with all sense of responsibility that I have never been indicted by any panel of enquiry.
“In that Gazette, I was not even accused of anything, at the end of it, perhaps for political reasons somebody smuggled something into the Gazette to say that the governor should advise me.”
Mrs Khadija Abba Ibrahim from Yobe State, a sitting member of the House of Representatives, who was screened later, was asked to take a bow and go after taking a question from her husband, Senator Bukar Abba-Ibrahim.
Senator Ibrahim had asked his wife what would be her response if asked by the Senate to bow and go, a question that drew much laughter from other senators.
She, however, did not answer her husband’s question and was allowed to go.
Also yesterday, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions received 10 petitions against the ministerial nominee from Imo State, Professor Anwuka Gozie.
Senator Nneji Achonu (PDP, Imo North) submitted the 10 petitions on behalf of concerned stakeholders.