By Demola Adeyeye
The Screening of Ministerial Nominees sent by President Muhammadu Buhari to the upper chamber of the National Assembly has come and gone but therein lies important lessons we must carry away from the entire process. The names of the 36 individuals came in two batches through the Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, to the Chairman of the National Assembly, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
Several Pundits have spoken about the rather professional way the Senate President led the screening processes. Frankly, Senate President Bukola Saraki took the bulls by the horn, personally and intelligently asked the nominees salient questions, made sure both the Senators and the nominees were adequately protected against any bullying and ensured proper decorum throughout the course of the screening. This simple gesture has made his name written in gold with commendations pouring in from different quarters on the mature and proficient way he handled the screening. Many Nigerians are indeed pleasantly surprised at his dexterity as Chairman of the Senate Committee of the Whole being without any blemish.
Furthermore, the Senate tried as much as possible to reduce the usual practice of bow and go. Personally, I stand against the crass practice that has pervaded our legislative space for a number of tenures as bow and go remains largely unproductive as prospective ministers who were supposed to be grilled in order to understand their strengths and weaknesses are summarily passed even without saying a word. The 8thSenate though not entirely, did take its time to engage the nominees but not without a lot of room for improvement. Nigerians do not care if a Senator was the father of the day at your son’s traditional marriage, nor care about the number of grandchildren a ministerial nominee has when our security, economy and educational sectors are in need of a dire revamp. It would also not be out of place to ensure the Federal Capital Territory has a Nominee in the Federal Executive Council just as other States do.
The extent to which the screening was open also remains a major plus. The Office of the Senate President allowed several bloggers, online magazines and media personalities as well as the terrestrial TV and Radio Stations unfettered access to the entire screening. The Senates Official Twitter handle @NGRSenate gave real time information as the screening went underway just as viewers worldwide watched LIVE online just as several distinguished senators sourced questions from their constituents online. These developments speaks volumes of the extent of transparency we should look forward to henceforth from the Senate as the expectations of the citizenry regarding the functionalities of the National Assembly further increase.
The Screening also made Nigerians see their representatives in the Red Chamber sitting for between 6 to 8 hours daily in the spirit of national urgency to conclude the screening and subsequent confirmation in due time. It was also noticeable that the Senate did not allow this to affect its entire normal legislative functions as the presentation of not less than 30 Bills were presented for first reading within this period and debates still held on the Motion on the Apapa Gridlock by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) which was overwhelmingly supported by almost all Senators across party divides as well as the Motion on theN64Billion Over-bloated Contract of the Second Runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja brought by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West). Oversight responsibilities continued as the Ad-Hoc Committees on Power, Aviation and Import Waivers were having meetings just as official condolence visits paid to the Awolowo, Onosode and Alamieyeseigha Families.
One must not but also commend the intermediary in between the executive and legislative arms, the SSA to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang as he was visible throughout the screening mediating between the senators and the nominees. He served his role quietly but with great vigour and determination even with the opposition senators on the management of petitions against the ministerial nominees. Information within the National Assembly say that there were more petitions filed against nominees than were actually presented on the Senate Floor but since the Senators concerned from the State of Origin of the Nominee did not lay it before the Senate and its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (Imo East), they were as good as no petition.
For one, the screening showed the depth of our legislators on issues of national concerns from tax to tourism, education to the petroleum industry, environment, science, technology, the girl-child development to finance, health, investment, foreign policy and religious matters. The screening was also an avenue for the Nigerian electorate to decipher the chaff and the wheat in the Senate. For example, while Senators Jibrin Barau (Kano North) and Mao Ohuabunwa (Abia North) spoke severally and intelligently, Senators Theodore Orji (Abia Central) and Duro Faseyi (Ekiti North) had little or nothing to contribute. The Female Senators also had a good showing and were apt in their questions and contributions.
The Screening also saw its climax and the anti–climax with several quotable quotes that will stay for a very long in the Nigerian public’s consciousness. Former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, came with the much-revered line: “_May our Loyalty never be tested.”_ In a similar light, APC Spokesperson, Lai Mohammed coined the phrase: _“It is service to serve in opposition, but higher service to serve in the Government.”
The crescendo of the entire proceedings was the screening and confirmation of the _former Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The Minority in the Senate, led by the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, which had taken a hard-line stance by not asking Amaechi any questions while he was being interviewed and screened, decided to stage a walkout during Amaechi’s confirmation in disagreement to the decision of the Senate Leadership. The very fact that the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is equally of PDP extraction did not walkout with his colleagues however tells a different story.
Nonetheless, moving forwards it is with the greatest of hopes that many Nigerians believe that the Senate will continue to have it’s A-game in play in the course of legislation on other matters of national importance. Motions and bills need to be speedily but thoroughly debated even as the National Assembly expects the 2016 Draft Budget from the Executive Arm of the Government. The Legislature under the current political dispensation and leadership has indeed become better, deserves commendation but it can still up its ante towards the best.