It was a dramatic opening yesterday at the screening of the 43 ministerial nominees for confirmation at the National Assembly.
President Muhammadu Buhari sent the names of the nominees to the Senate on Tuesday for screening and confirmation.
The “bow and go” policy, which the upper chamber adopted as privilege to former senators, House of Representatives and Assembly members, almost threw a spanner in the works.
There were arguments in the chamber over the application of the “bow and go” policy but for the tact handling of the ensuing rumbling by senators in the chamber.
Although the chamber resolved to ask former members of parliament to take a “bow and go”, extending the privilege to members of the State House of Assembly did not go down well with some senators.
Opposition to the extension of the policy to former state lawmakers drew what some senators described as “harsh words” from Senate President Ahmad Lawan.
The screening of former Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi exposed the deep dissatisfaction some senators had for the policy, especially extending it to former House of Assembly members.
Amaechi was Rivers State House of Assembly Speaker between 1999 and 2007 before he became governor.
The confirmation hearing started smoothly around 11.11 am when senators took their seats
Senate Leader Abdullahi Yahaya read the names of the nominees as listed in the Order Paper and moved that the Senate dissolve into the committee of the whole to consider President Buhari’s request to confirm the nominees for appointment as ministers in accordance with Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution.
The senator representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Philip Aduda, fired the first salvo when he complained bitterly that the FCT was not accommodated in the ministerial nominees list.
Aduda prayed Lawan to appeal to President Buhari to nominate an indigene of the FCT for minister.
Kogi West Senator Dino Melaye said that the President has a constitutional duty to accommodate FCT in his list of ministers since the territory ought to be treated as a state.
The nominee from Abia State, Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, was the first to be admitted into the chamber for screening and confirmation.
Ogah told the lawmakers that the way to grow the economy of the country was by building critical infrastructure.
Arguing that dependency on oil alone cannot be the only way to go, Ogah noted that an enabling environment should be created for the private sector to operate.
For modular refineries to work, the would-be-minister spoke of the need to guarantee constant supply of crude and well as proper financing.
He said: “The best thing we can do as a nation is to ensure that our refineries work. The quantity of refined crude we import into the country is impacting on our foreign exchange. We must make our refineries to work. If there are those who do not want it to work, we should show them the way out.”
On job creation, he said that it was not the responsibility of the government to create jobs but to create the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.
He also said that the introduction of the Single Treasury Account (TSA) almost crippled some banks but for the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which came to the aid of the banks.
Former Benue State Governor and Senator George Akume was asked to take a bow and go.
Senator Emmanuel Oker-Jev, who defeated Akume in the February senatorial election, moved that the former Benue Governor should take a bow and go.
Oker-Jev reminded the chamber that Akume spent eight years as governor and 12 years as Senator.
He said that he was mandated by two other senators from the Northcentral state to request the Senate to allow Akume to take a bow and go.
Lawan said that the tradition of asking former senators and members of the House of Representatives to take a bow and go subsists and there urged that Akume be accorded the privilege.
Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege also said that the privilege of allowing former parliamentarians to take a bow and go should be sustained in perpetuity.
The former Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, was asked to take a bow and go, Akpabio promised to continue with his “uncommon quality service” to the country.
Before the former Akwa Ibom governor left the chamber, the Senate President asked the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe to say something.
Abaribe complained that “bow and go” has created a problem between his head and his heart.
The Abia South Senator noted that if the policy was not there, he would have made Akpabio to sweat.
While wishing Akpabio well in his appointment, Abaribe asked the Akwa Ibom nominee to go to the Villa to work in an “uncommon way”.
Senate Leader Yahaya reminded Akpabio of how he led the opposition when he was in PDP to walk out during the screening of Amaechi for ministerial slot four years ago.
The chamber was thrown into a bout of laughter.
Yahaya asked Akpabio what he would have done if Abaribe led the opposition to stage a walk out as he was being screened.
The Kebbi Senator told Akpabio that he did not need to answer his question.
AKpabio told reporters that he would work with President Buhari to lift the country out of poverty.
He said: “I will not change. I will serve with an uncommon zeal.”
On his pending case at the tribunal, Akpabio said he was expecting good news from the tribunal so that APC will be stronger.
He, however, added that it was the party that ran election and should decide what happens if the tribunal rules in his favour.
Emeka Nwajiuba, a member of the House of Representatives, took his turn to take a bow and go.
The Imo State ministerial-nominee, a close confidant of President Buhari, told the Senate that he knew about his nomination only on Tuesday after the announcement by the Senate.
What happened four years ago when the screening and confirmation of former Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, became problematic, almost repeated itself yesterday.
The chamber was charged even before Amaechi was admitted into the chamber.
Immediately the former Rivers State governor came into the chamber, Senate President reminded senators about the subsisting policy of “bow and go”.
Lawan re-emphasised that they also agreed that the policy would be extended to former members of House of Assembly.
Amaechi was given the floor to address the senators.
He informed the senators that he was Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, for eight years, governor for eight years and minister of Transportation for four years.
Amaechi said he was privileged to be re-nominated for screening and confirmation.
Lawan said: “We have agreed on a policy on how we go about the screening. I just want to reiterate the policy that we will extend the privilege to members of the legislature.
“The procedure we have adopted is to ask the two leaders in the House, the Senate Leader and Senate Minority Leader, to speak on our behalf and then I round off.”
Minority Leader Abaribe said: “Let me say that I will have some discussion with you (Lawan) after, but I have also had a discussion with the Rivers caucus and they claimed they don’t have a discussion with me.
“I don’t know whether you can let a member of the Rivers caucus confirm whether I had a discussion with them or not.”
Lawan cut in: “This policy was adopted consciously and overwhelmingly that we don’t shift the goalposts. We stick with it and I know that few of us will have some reservation, but this is democracy. So, minority leader, I want to believe that this Senate will not change on it. I want to advise that if you have anything to say to convey the general idea of what you should ordinarily say I will advise that you do so.”
Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje raised a Point of Order (Order 3 rule 2)
“Nomination of senators to serve as presiding officers and appointment of Principal officers of the Senate or any parliamentary delegation shall be in accordance with and determined by ranking of senators, the following order shall apply
- Senators that are returning based on the number of times that they have been elected.
- Senators who have been members of the House of Representatives.
- Senators who have been elected for the first time.
“Our order here does not recognise the State House of Assembly. When I came to this Senate, I raised the issue having been in the House of Assembly but they said the order of the Senate does not recognize House of Assembly. I don’t know if we are changing this rule.
“Ameachi as a former governor is my friend, but this rule does not recognise House of Assembly,” Goje posited.
The Senate President agreed that it is not in the rule book “but we can regulate ourselves even without things in the rule.”
What followed was murmuring in the chamber.
Lawan insisted that the privilege be extended to the House of Assembly.
He added that it was not adopted to favour Amaechi.
“We are not doing it for him,” he said
Lawan continued: “He (Amaechi) is going to benefit from this not because we came out with this policy to support him. The present nominee is going to be a beneficiary by chance. We are not doing it for him.
“Any nominee who passed through the State Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate will benefit.”
Lawan called the Minority Leader to make his remarks.
Abaribe said: “If you recall, I had said I will like us to have a discussion after, it is with regards to this.
“Now that we know that Amaechi has his DNA in PDP, the Rivers State caucus has asked me to tell you to recognise that you are a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which included Rivers State.
“That you should help to maintain security in the state, that the railway of Nigeria should be done in Nigeria before you go outside Nigeria; that the question of the Eastern corridor of the railway should be considered the way other corridors were considered.”
With Abaribe’s comments and the comments of the Senate Leader, Yahaya, that the Northwest railway corridor should be done (“because we have not seen anything”) Amaechi was asked to take a bow and go.
But that was not the end of the matter. The Senator representing Rivers East, Senator George Thompson Sekibo, attempted to revive the issue. But, he was disallowed by the Senate President.
Lawan sternly asked Sekibo to abandon his Point of Order “because I am going to rule against you”. The Senate President reminded Sekibo that he did not discuss his Point of Order with him (Lawan). Sekibo withdrew his Point of Order.
Apart from Ogah, Akume, Akpabio, Nwajiuba and Amaechi, other nominees also screened are: Ogbannaya Onu(Ebony); Senator Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora (Lagos); Olamilekan Adegbite(Ogun); Adamu Adamu (Bauchi) and Sharon Ikeazor from Anambra State.
Lawan said that the screening will continue today with the consideration of the nomination of eight nominees.