THE recently-concluded screening and confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees by the Senate left many well-meaning and discerning Nigerians wondering: what exactly are the national and public interest objectives of this legislative exercise?
The screening of the President’s cabinet nominees by the Senate is a principal pillar of presidential democracy: separation of powers and checks and balances.
According to Section 147(b) of the Constitution, the President has the right to pick any person as a minister in his government, but such a person can only be appointed if confirmed by the Senate.
In the United States where we copied our system from, the screening of the President’s cabinet members is very rigorous. The senators dig deep into the past records of each nominee, enquiring into issues such as competence, track records, criminal records and even personal lifestyle to determine if they are eligible or fit to serve.
Here in Nigeria, especially since 1999, senators generally betray the principle of checks and balances and disdain the public interest while screening nominees.
In the just-concluded exercise, for example, many former governors on the watch-list of the anti-graft agencies and some still being prosecuted for alleged corrupt self-enrichment and money laundering were confirmed.
What then were they screened for? They should have been told to go and clear their cases before presenting themselves for screening as ministers. But it has become almost unrealistic to expect the senators to take former governors to task because of pending graft cases since many of them (senators) were former governors also with pending cases. The kettle loses the moral force to call the pot black.
Also, the senators capitalised on their so-called internal rule to give former legislators free ride by asking them to bow and go. They also betrayed public confidence by not even asking questions to know what we can expect from them in a Buhari government in which ministers are virtually allowed to run their portfolios unchecked for the next four years.
Instead, what we saw was senators praising and hailing the nominees as if eager to befriend them for future favours.
For instance, while Senator Elisha Abbo pleaded for a nominee to be cleared because of financial favour he (Abbo) received from the nominee in the past, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu asked for another nominee to be cleared because he was “not an orator and he has stage fright”.
Instead of allowing the senators do as they like during the screening exercise we might as well just allow the President to appoint and swear in his ministers.
With the Senate becoming a dumping ground for many allegedly corrupt former governors and politicians we might as well consider scrapping the increasingly anti-people Red Chamber.