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Ministerial Screenings: The Senate Must Be Thorough

By Veronica Abang
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Since the swearing in of President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29th, 2015, the need to have appointed ministers running the affairs of Nigeria’s federal ministries, and the eagerness to know who will make Buhari’s executive line-up has haunted Nigerians.

According to Chapter 6, section 147, subsection 1 of the Nigerian Constitution, it is mandatory for the President to appoint ministers. However, the Constitution does not specify a time that this appointment must be carried out.

During his four-day bilateral visit to Washington, D.C, in the United States, President Buhari told newsmen that he will be appointing ministers by September. Although September happens to be here, the exact day in September is yet to be disclosed by the President.

President Buhari explained that the delay in appointments was caused by the fact that Nigeria must first put new rules of conduct and good governance in place, in order to avoid the past mistakes made by previous administrations.

In order to curb corruption in his administration, and ensure that those he chooses to represent the nation at the highest level are credible, the President seems to be taking his time with releasing the names of his ministerial appointees to the Senate.

In view of this expected development, the activities of the 8th Senate will soon take center-stage as the ministerial appointees are released for screening. In this regard, the Senate should note that: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” What this means is that Nigerians are watching and waiting to see that the President’s ministerial nominees are screened based on competency, not nepotism. Additionally, the Senate must ensure that the chances of confirmation of any of the nominees as eventual-ministers of the Federal Republic should be based solely on performance, not political affiliation. ‘Godfatherism’ and favoritism has not taken this country anywhere. Our past method of placing partisanship and bias, over experience and aptitude has had our country running around in circles for decades.

The reason ministers and other senior appointees of the government often do not give due respect to legislators after their confirmation can be linked to the playful manner the Senate screens nominees of the executive branch. The culture of praise singing during appointment screenings, devalues the institution of the legislature, as past Senates have pursued shadows, and left substance by the way side.

Taking a necessary trip down memory lane, in 2011, during the screening of 11 ministerial nominees, It was not surprising that the first three nominees that appeared before the Senate – who were former members of the Upper Legislative branch – were asked to ‘bow and go’ in accordance with the Senate tradition of not subjecting its former members to appropriate screenings.

The former Senate President, Senator David Mark, who presided over the three day screening process, after being attacked by critics about the lighthearted nature with which the Senate screened its nominees said that: “The Senate believes that anybody who was able to become a Senator or member of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is more than qualified to be a minister.” This sort of thinking turns logic upside down.

Taking another step further back, in March 2010, when the then-acting president, and immediate past president of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, sent a list of ministerial nominees to the Senate, the Senate went back to its real method of screening when it was the turn of two female nominees, Mrs. Akon Etim Eyakenyi and Mrs Lawrencia Labaran, appointees from Akwa Ibom and Kaduna states respectively. The women were grilled in a situation that left many critics impressed by the process, but also raised eyebrows as to why a formerly docile Senate, suddenly turned the screening process for the two women into a grueling encounter.

Those who stayed glued to the events at the Senate chambers on that day, after the screening of the two female appointees, expected that with the screening of the two-time National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Gusau (rtd), a nominee from Zamfara State – the Senate would also have been as thorough given the security challenges in the country at the time. However, critics of the process were disappointed, as many Senators deliberately reduced the session with the former Chief of Army Staff to what some watchers simply described as a ‘charade.’

As the Sergeant-At-Arms walked the former NSA into the Red Chamber, Mark remarked: “Gusau is a retired General from NDA Course 1, while I am a retired General from NDA Course 3.” This introduction by the Senate President created prolonged laughter in the Chamber, with some senators, mostly those from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), shouting: “Just bow and go! Bow and go!

The ministerial nominee who was escorted to the stage to face the day’s business was however, prevented from making a word from most of the senators who continued shouting ‘Take a bow! Take a bow!’- making the session rowdy. Seemingly confused at the scene created by the Senators, Mark then asked: “is this the true reflection of Senators that General Aliyu Gusau should take a bow?

There was a thunderous shout of “Yes.” Gusau was subsequently asked to leave the stage, which he did with over 25 senators standing up from their seats to escort him outside the Red Chamber – temporarily suspending the screening business of the day for a while.

Those who expressed bitter feelings over the legislative ‘waiver’ extended to Gusau, believed that there were too many questions for the security expert to answer in the face of the security challenges that Nigeria found itself at the time.

This time around, it is important to remind the Senate that under the mantra of ‘Change’ that the All Progressive Congress (APC) promised Nigerians. The 8th Senate should make sure the screening of ministerial appointees maintains a L.E.A.D. standard. The 8th Assembly should be aware of the fact that they have to be LOYAL to Nigerians first and foremost, and not to the ministerial appointees. The Senators must assure that there needs to be 100% EXCELLENCE in all their doings during the screening process and ACCOUNTABILITY should be their watchword. This means that the Senate must be accountable to the institution that they find themselves a part of, and to Nigerians who voted them into power. Finally, the 8th Assembly members should uphold DILIGENCE. Nigerians have already experienced a lot at the hands of past administrations already; hence, it should no longer be business as usual in the legislative chamber. This means that every exercise should be taken with all seriousness and all legislative matters should be attended to accordingly.

Finally, it is important to reiterate that the simplicity and playfulness with which the Senators have approached the screening of appointees in the past, may not be unconnected to the disdain and disrespect that many past ministers have accorded to the Senate as an oversight institution.

Time and time again, Senators have said that they will no longer praise sing during appointment screenings, but we are yet to see if they will ever stop this worrisome habit. Personally, given the track record of the Senate President as a reform-minded individual, we hope and believe that this time around, things will change for the better and not just for the benefit of the ministerial nominees, but for the growth and development of Nigeria as a whole.

It is high time those in authority stopped thinking about themselves and their elite political cronies alone...

Abang Dove writes from Abuja and she tweets @abangdove .

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Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Veronica Abang and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."