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Senators: Boys in the business of men!

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By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

WORKING as a political appointee in Nigeria is merely an exercise in extreme perfunctoriness. I doubt if those who accept these offices, those who offer them and those who “screen” and confirm the appointees, are driven by any vision at all, any objective to achieve in the progress of the country.

What is very clear is that whereas work for these officers is largely undertaken desultorily (with little or no intention to achieve any significant outcome), what appears to drive most of them is the opportunity to arrange or negotiate what might enter their private pockets from the public purse. It is at this point that one would be startled to discover that the Nigerian public office holder is, indeed, capable of being very zealous, thorough and focused, that he can conscientiously pursue a set goal and achieve it with amazing aplomb and precision.

Those who labour to perpetuate this grand mess are the characters that encumber the ground at the upper legislative chamber and who expect us to address them as “Distinguished Senators”. If you want to confirm just how tragically unserious this country is, just spare some moment to watch the current farce playing out at the Senate which they call screening of ministerial nominees. It is one of the most odious dramas that could be inflicted on an enlightened mind.

In countries managed by serious-minded people, names of political appointees are forwarded to the National Assembly with the offices they are nominated for clearly specified. It is only a bunch of juvenile-minded senators that would agree to interview people whose job descriptions they are totally ignorant of? So, what then is the purpose of such a wasteful exercise?

Nigerian Senate

The ideal thing should be that before each nominee appears for screening, the senators should have known what post he is being nominated for. Then they would even undertake intensive research into his portfolio to determine what exactly he is expected to do and the target he must achieve while in that office.

Sometimes, they would even engage some experts in that field to help them raise very penetrating questions for the nominee to ensure that he is knowledgeable enough about the demands of the particular office he would be assigned to. To these lawmakers, it is not a matter of merely fulfilling an obligation as is the practice in Nigeria.

They are driven by love of country and would want to be sure that the person being nominated for any office would bring great value to it. If in the course of questioning they find the person unfit for the position he was nominated for, they would refuse to confirm him.

The president would then have to nominate another person, because the lawmakers would consider it unpatriotic to allow an incompetent person to occupy an office where he would only slow down the country’s progress and development. Concern for the health and progress of their country is uppermost in their hearts. Only the best available brain is good enough for every office in their country’s public service.

But in our country, it is just a boring farce, a juvenile drama being enacted by naïve adults. What the president has done once again was to send the names of nominees without attaching the portfolios to which they would be assigned.

And our “distinguished senators” have dressed up and appeared at the Assembly Chambers, wearing serious faces, to give Nigerians the impression that they were engaged in a very important national assignment.

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I felt sad watching the respected Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe telling Rotimi Amaechi what is expected of him if he was “returned to the Ministry of Transport”! What purpose then was achieved by the “screening”? Pray, how can full-grown adults allow themselves to be made to enact this kind of tragic drama? What’s the use of the ministerial screening if it would not attempt to determine the competence of a nominee for public office? When will the informed members of the National Assembly summon the decency and scruples to excuse themselves from this puerile display?

The worst aspect of this is when nominated former National Assembly members appear for screening, as occurred in the case of Godwin Akpabio. The lawmakers would just ask them to “take a bow” and go! And the “screening” is over! They were once asked why they did this, and their answer was that anybody who had served as a federal lawmaker was qualified to be a minister!

Did you hear that? Just how unserious could a country be? I felt very sick watching the Senate president, Ahmed Lawan, struggling to present a convoluted, drab and infantile argument to show that since Amaechi had a “legislative background” as former Assembly Speaker in Rivers State, that he also was qualified for the “take a bow and go” charade!

This same shameful spectacle repeats itself also each time ambassadorial nominees are screened. And the lawmakers would merely ask somebody nominated as ambassador to a country in the Middle East, for instance, to just recite the National Anthem, without bothering to find out the extent of his knowledge about Middle East history, that particular country’s politics and even the reasons behind the enduring crisis in the entire region. That is why our diplomats commit very costly blunders in the countries they are posted to ever so often. They know little or nothing about the terrain they have been asked to represent us in.

Were ours a serious country, the nations to which the president intended to post them would have been indicated and that would inform the kind of questions they would be asked during the screening exercise. Serious lawmakers would seek to thoroughly drill them to determine the adequacy of their knowledge about the history and politics of the countries they were being sent to and how they intended to advance Nigeria’s interest while serving there.

In Nigeria, a president can just wake up one morning and redeploy any of his ministers. No decent country does that. If you are being moved, for instance, from the education ministry to the ministry of transport, you are supposed to return to the National Assembly to be screened afresh to determine your ability to function in the new office you are being asked to go and man even though you may have performed very well in the other office you had occupied. That is how serious countries are run.

Care is taken to ensure that every appointment or policy would add great value to the country. Now, with the little we just examined here now, are you still surprised why Nigeria would still remain the same, or even deteriorate further, after eight years of this administration?

Ejinkeonye, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos


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