By Charles Kumolu
Following a seeming rancorous relationship between the executive arm of government, All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Senate leadership, the screening of ministerial nominees commenced amid palpable anxiety.
It was in this atmosphere that what promised to be the climax of the series of mudslinging and cold warfare that had marked the interface among the major actors in the polity commenced on October 13.
On the driving seat of this exercise was Senator Bukola Saraki, whose assumption of office as Senate President remains symbolically triumphant and as well politically calamitous for the various political divides.
Notably, the controversies, triggered by the modalities for the screening and that of the series of petitions against some nominees, raised the stakes as the exercise began.
Reeling out the modalities, Chairman, Senate Adhoc Committee on Information, Sen Dino Melaye, said the modalities would revolve around three major areas which are relevant constitutional provisions and extant laws of the land as well as practice and convention of the Senate.
He explained that the constitutional provisions that will be used in screening the ministerial nominees are Sections 14(3), 65, 147(1), 147(2) and 147(3) of the 1999 (Constitution) as amended.
Acting in accordance with this, the legislators, under the leadership of Saraki, displayed what many analysts described as a commendable level of competence during the exercise in a manner never seen in the recent history of the National Assembly.
From the kicking off of the exercise with Sen Udo Udoma, who was asked to take a bow and go in line with legislative practices, to the last nominee, who was screened on the first day, there was a high degree of candor in the way the whole process played out.
Such a departure from the past, obviously threw up pleasant surprises and excitement, as the prediction of rowdiness failed.
An unbiased evaluation of the exercise so far, underscores how the outcome deflated the stereotypes and somewhat created records in the annals of legislative history.
Interestingly, the screening session, which commenced at 11am, saw the Senate gallery filled to the brim.
To prevent overcrowding in the Senate chambers, many people, who wanted to have a glimpse of the screening procedure, were locked out.
Days before the exercise, the senators had said that it would not be business as usual.
In that light, Saraki said: “It is not going to be business as usual. What I can assure you is that we will go with the Constitution, the rules, we will put Nigeria first.” He added that the screening will be done with a “high level of seriousness.”
Before the commencement, the Senate went into a closed-door session during which it considered the reports of its Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee on petitions against Rotimi Amaechi and Amina Mohammed.
At the resumed forum the next day, the generally held notion that the lawmakers and the Presidency were set for war on the possibility of certifying most of the nominees literally fizzled out, going by the mannerism employed to ensure that the task was done.
It was an outing that saw a former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, and Mrs Kemi Adeosun clearly becoming the star attractions.
Fashola’s suggestions on state police, review of the Abuja master plan and apology to the Igbo over the deportation of some Igbo residents of Lagos during his second term marked one of the major highlights of screening.
Their robust comments paved the way for the approval and confirmation of 18 of the 36 nominees after two days of screening.
Satisfied with the process in spite of grumblings over the tradition of not making the portfolios of the nominees known, Nigerians, who are waiting with bated breadth are united in the craving for the sustainance of the latest standards in subsequent screenings.
The senators allowed more participation from Nigerians by taking questions from the public via their social media handles and the official handle of the Senate, @NGRsenate
Different platforms tapped into the feed from the National Assembly TV station that was abandoned under different regimes.
Senate social media account gave real time update.
Nominees CVs were presented to the public before screening to enable those who knew them raise objections.
There was a balance of working to get the President’s nominees passed and at same time making sure the Senate is not a rubber stamp.
We had the sign language persons story on the screening by the Senate, laying emphasis on, 1) leadership, patriotism and maturity displayed by the Senate President 2) the fact that this is a lot better and an improvement over what used to be 3,) an indication that neither the Senate nor the Senate President had any problems with the President, 4) the fact that there should be cordial relationship between the executive and legislature, 5) there are instances that the Senate bent backwards to satisfy the Presidency, and 6) if the Presidency and Executive work together like this on other issues as constitutional amendment, budget, law reforms and initiating new policies and programmes, the Buhari administration would be on the path to improving the lot of the common man.