By Josef Omorotionwan
THE Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria requires that the President’s nominees for appointment into the top echelon of government – Ministers, Judges, Ambassadors, Chairmen and Members of Federal Executive Bodies – must be subjected to a screening process in what has become known as the Advice and Consent of the Senate.
The Senate confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees has come and gone. We must hasten to say that the Senate did a good job. They lived up to the bidding that it was not going to be business as usual.
In the beginning, it was threatening, particularly when the Senate spokesman, Senator Dino Maleye, spoke in a tone that seemed to suggest that screening was a new creation, unknown to him that screening is even older than parliament itself because the first parliamentarians were subjected to one form of screening or another.
We wondered how the Senate was going to implement the Senatorial Courtesy of having at least two Senators from each State to approve the nomination from that State before it could be confirmed. The concept of senatorial courtesy has been grossly misconstrued here. In the US, from where the original idea was imported, senatorial courtesy is the practice of accepting the veto of the Senators of the same political party with the President for an appointment in the Senators’ home State.
The Senate spokesman was most vehement that the Senate had resolved to insist on seeing the asset declaration of nominees as a condition for screening them. This is reminiscent of what Elizabeth Prize once described as “Unborn tomorrow, dead yesterday”.
The Constitution requires people who have been given a job to declare their assets at the entry and exit points – not at the stage of application.
How would Maleye’s prescription be different from that situation where a Primary Four pupil is required to show evidence of the procurement of all the materials for Primary Five as a condition for allowing him sit for the Primary Four promotion examination? Besides, which aspect of our laws permits a complete usurpation of the functions of the Code of Conduct Commission, CCC, by the Senate?
Luckily, by its dexterity, the Senate has saved Nigerians the agony of these fatal destructions. Like never before, the approach was business-like all through.
The President can withdraw a nomination even when a Senate Committee has reported on it, as happened when the President withdrew the nomination of Ahmed Isa Ibeto from Niger State. But the Senate cannot revoke its consent once it is given.
Those untutored in the legislative process are wont to see the legislators as unserious in carrying out their functions. The atmosphere that pervades the legislature is one of all work and no play makes the legislator a dull person. The good presiding officer is the one who is occasionally able to relax the nerves of his colleagues by the interjection of decent jokes into the business of the House.
Occasionally, the presiding officer is able to carry even the nominee along in the joke-while-you-work process. In 1975, Roderick Hills was being screened for appointment into the Securities and Exchange Commission of the U.S. Senator Williams Proximire (Democrat/Wisconsin) who was addicted to jogging, so to say, asked the nominee if he would require a government-provided limousine to drive him to work. Hills retorted rather humorously, “I will not but all the same, I will not be jogging to work”.
In the just-concluded exercise, we must commend all the nominees for knowing when to give a direct answer; and when to “jump and pass”. Okechukwu Eyinna Enelamah (Abia State) was offered a long rope to hang himself but he skipped the rope. His opinion was sought on the issue of accompanying nominations with portfolios. He pleaded passionately for the Distinguished Senators to spare him the ordeal of being asked to publicly veto his boss, particularly when anything he said would not alter the equation.
Then came Prof. Anthony Anwuka (Imo State). When asked what his reaction would be if he did not get the required portfolio. He quickly surrendered to the will of the boss, maintaining that he had come to contribute to national development in whatever assignment he would be given.
The Senators were on top of their elements. The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, virtually set the chamber aflame, when he demanded of Lai Mohammed, after full interrogation, “Mr. President, why don’t we ask this nominee to deposit one or two publicity jinx on us before he leaves?”
Again, it was all fun when the lot of asking Hajia Buka Ibrahim to take a bow and go fell on her husband, Senator Buka Ibrahim (Yobe State).
One knotty issue that still bothers many is that of “Take a bow and go”. On a broad base, the Senate may have come to term with late Senator Uche Chukwumerije’s early warnings, “Bow and go is anti-intellectual and animation of secret society methods”, hence former Senators – Chris Ngige, Hadi Sirika, Udo Udoma, and Heineken Lokpobiri – were not asked to take a bow and go. Rather, each of them delivered what could pass for an inaugural lecture before leaving the chamber.
Strange enough, at the end of every nominee’s screening, he was still asked to take a bow and go. This is an anomaly. After you have drilled a man for hours, you don’t ask him to take a bow. All you can do is to inform him that you are through with him. It is then left for him to bow or kneel down; or if he likes, he could begin to roll on the floor as a mark of appreciation. It is un-African to ask a person to greet you.
If it is true that the end justifies the means, it is also true that the four-month wait was worth it. After all, nothing good comes easy. With a formidable team behind President Buhari, it is clear that the wheel of quality governance will now move smoothly without any let or hindrance.