In from Timothy Enietan-Matthews (Nation’s capital) . . .
The Nigerian Senate, on Thursday last week concluded the process of screening and confirming the ministerial nominees of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The process, initially thought by many to likely be a sharp departure from past exercises however turned out not to be exactly what Nigerians had expected. This was largely for three major reasons.
One, members of the Red Chamber, especially, its leadership and supposedly influential members had spoken glowingly of how they intended to ensure that they do a thorough job in the screening and confirmation process, assuring Nigerians that it would not be business as usual.
One recalls that the chairman of Senate Ad hoc Committee of Media and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye had said the morality of the nominees would be questioned while the Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, vowed that things would be done differently and thoroughly this time around.
However, those who followed the screening and confirmation process will readily agree that the process was nothing but descent below what had always been obtainable.
The expectation of Nigerians were increased when various petitions started flying about against some of the nominees, especially against the immediate past governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, who no doubt was the most controversial in the course of the screening and confirmation process.
Before President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded his list of nominees to the Senate, the possibility of Mr. Amaechi’s nomination generated unusual interest and debate from every strata of the society. While many believed the former governor deserved to be named a minister others, especially of the opposition stock felt it would be morally wrong to have him in the cabinet of a President who rode to power on an anti-corruption mantra and change slogan.
Both sides, no doubt had their reasons and both are tenable as far as their positions are concerned.
For Amaechi’s supporters, he is eminently qualified to serve in President Buhari’s cabinet because he played a prominent role in the build up to the President’s emergence as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and eventually as Nigeria’s elected president. Obviously, no one can take this away from Amaechi. However, his opponents were quick to point out the fact that he is being accused of corruption by his state, where he was governor up till May 28, 2015, poses a moral burden on the President to exclude him until he is proven innocent of the several allegations leveled against him.
Despite the validity of the latter argument, President Buhari nominated Amaechi and the battle shifted to the Senate, where Senators elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lay in wait for him.
Contrary to the titanic battle expected by many, on account of the level of animosity PDP Senators had against Amaechi, his screening and confirmation was just but what later came to be little discomfort for the Ibiama born politician. As, after days of anxious waiting, and postponements, he was screened with PDP Senators excusing themselves from participating in the question and answer session.
However, his confirmation revealed that the Senate may be heading for stormy days ahead, as PDP Senators staged a walk out of the Red Chamber when their APC counterparts insisted on confirming him. This stormy days were again reinforced on Tuesday, November 3rd, when a PDP Senator refused to second the motion earlier moved by an APC Senator to adopt the proceedings and record of last week Thursday, the day Amaechi was confirmed, saying he was not in the chamber when the former governor was confirmed.
What however surprised many followers of the entire process that led to the confirmation of Amaechi was the decision of the Senate to jettison the report of its Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee in order to confirm him.
The contentious report, arising from petitions from Rivers State, formed the major plank on which the PDP caucus in the Senate hinged their opposition to the screening of Amaechi, but Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his APC Senators insisted on not recognising or using the report to arrive at a decision on the confirmation of the former governor.
If anything was obvious during the uproar in the Senate on that fateful Thursday, it was the fact that the Senate found it more expeditious to throw away the report of a validly constituted committee on the altar of partisan politics. It was also obvious that when party interests are concerned, the Senators have no regard for their own rules. A dangerous precedent that may spell doom for the 8th Senate.
For Senate President Bukola Saraki, the outcome of all that transpired may have effectively eroded his known solid support base in the Senate, as PDP Senators had reportedly vowed to withdraw their support for him if Amaechi was confirmed against their wishes. If this threat is carried out, then Saraki will be open to whatever his opponents in the Red Chamber, mainly of the APC stock, decide to throw his way.
It is also instructive to note that despite insinuations that the Senate President did what he did in order to secure a soft landing and a political solution to his current travails in the hands of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Court of Appeal, in a split decision, ruled that he must face his trial at the CCT. This certainty made nonsense of whatever mileage he may have expected from the blanket confirmation of all of President Buhari’s ministerial nominees.
It is now left to be seen what dividends will accrue to the Senate President from the exercise, especially with the frosty relationship that already exists between him and his former PDP allies.
Time and only time will tell!
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