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By NBF News

True to its words, the Senate yesterday grilled the ministerial nominees for six hours and fifteen minutes, with seven of them having their nominations confirmed as ministers, by unanimous decision.

Those confirmed, all former ministers, were tasked by the Senators, who bombarded them with questions bordering on their performances while in office and the state of the nation generally.

Confirmed yesterday were Emeka Wogu, a lawyer, Sen. Bala Mohammed, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Elder Godsday Orubebe, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (rtd), and Prof Ruqayyatu Rufai.

Quite interesting was the defence by the embattled former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, who was responding to questions on the strong objection to her nomination especially from the oil and gas industry she superintended over, when she said that her opposition was not unconnected with the fact that she stepped on 'powerful big and small toes', while in office.

Her opposition came mostly from the oil and gas industry where major multinationals have been fingered to be leading the antagonism against her appointment over alleged introduction of certain reforms in the industry which put the oil majors at a disadvantage. Senator Smart Adeyemi also gave vent to the activities of the opposition earlier in a report when he disclosed that his colleagues were under pressure to reject some nominations with the major pressure coming from the oil and gas stakeholders and political mercenaries.

Coincidentally, Senator Adeyemi was first to throw questions at Mrs. Alison-Madueke, when she appeared before the Senate yesterday, asking her to give her score-card as minister.'The issue of my name having come up in the papers most recently had been one I have found extremely vicious and most unfortunate. First of all, to the best of my knowledge, this distinguished House has never indicted me for anything. If it had, I will not be standing here today. I have never carried out any project without following the due process when I was a minister.

'It's unfortunate that in a sector that carries the entire economy, when you try to implement policies and programmes, people resist them and begin to attack you.' Desperate to clear herself, Mrs. Alison-Madueke spoke on many issues such as the comatose refineries, scarcity of kerosene, among others, saying: 'We have put in place a liquefied petroleum plant in Lokoja, again this was important because we are trying to ensure that Nigeria moves away from kerosene as much as possible as a tool for the masses for cooking and move on to liquefied gas which will reduce deforestation.

'Very importantly, this entire structure which we call gas industrialization revolution, was actually to ensure that we re-energize our gas sector in Nigeria and to ensure that over the next four to five years, we will create at least a million jobs for Nigeria.

'Regarding the refineries, we have put in place Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) for our traditional refineries.

'As regards the scarcity of kerosene, we ensure as much as possible over the last 12 months that we flooded the Nigerian market with kerosene. At this point in time, Nigerians use eight million litres per day. We generally have about 11 million litres of kerosene in one form or another. However, even though we were able to ensure that there was enough supply, we were having problems with the price as everybody knows.

'Part of the problem is because, the specific kerosene that is imported into Nigeria as household kerosene is exactly the same as the specific for aviation kerosene as well and because of this, we were seeing round-tripping by unscrupulous marketers, so you buy the kerosene at the price of the DPK and you will sell it for aviation kerosene which is obviously more expensive,' she said.

On fuel subsidy: 'We have looked extensively at the issue of subsidy because it is a very delicate issue for Nigerians at any point in time. It is true that right now, government budget can hardly afford the cost of subsidy which at this point is well over a trillion naira and government is actually looking for the money as we speak.

'The issue as we see them and we are looking at them very delicately. In fact, I have set up a committee to begin looking at it before I left, is that many of these subsidies are not reaching the masses that were set up to take care of. When we bring in products like kerosene at a certain cost and then sell them to the middle-man at much lower subsidies cost, he then sells at a particular cost which in turn translates to the man on the street, instead, rather higher cost is what the retailer presents to them and that is why we are dealing with this high cost of kerosene.

On Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), she said: The PIB itself has been out of our direct control since it was laid for the first time in front of this esteemed House and that first laying took place even before I came into office. So, I have no direct input into the bill. We did obviously look at some pertinent areas of the bill, like fiscal regime as it concerns domestic gas. I think that all in all, there are quite a few areas that had issues in the bill. The particular bill in front of you will need a certain amount of review because it does need to be looked at a little more.

On refineries: 'When we came about a year ago, our three traditional refineries were working at 30 per cent capacity utilization, so today, they are working at 60 per cent. So, they are actually producing at this time about 32 per cent of the product within the country. We have put in place a very robust Turn Around Maintenance. The programme had been abused over the years, we looked around and we discovered that the turn around had been carried out by companies that are not qualified to do the maintenance, they were not the right companies.

First to mount the podium in the Upper Chamber was former Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu, who while defending his tenure, said the current federal revenue allocation formula was overdue for review saying the formula was last modified in 1993 during the Babangida regime. A position that may sound cheering to the governors' ears, Wogu said the Constitution provided for review of the allocation formula every five year's hoping that the Senate would lead in the direction. He said, 'it beholves on the National Assembly to give the country a new revenue formula in conjunction with Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC)'.

Elder Godsday Orubebe, former Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, gave an insight into how his tenure contributed to the peace in the region with the conceptualization of a development master-plan whose foundation had been laid and was gradually being executed due to paucity of funds. He explained that the ministry under him worked with other agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to give effect to the amnesty programme, which had guaranteed peace in the region and stable and improved oil production.

Former Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, admitted that the National Hospital in Abuja was no more than a cottage hospital as it lacked requisite of a national hospital. According to him, the hospital did not have more than 400 beds, which is far below expectations, adding that it was only a national hospital in name. Also having hectic time before the Senators was the immediate past Minister of Education, Prof Ruqayyatu Rufai, who justified the action of her ministry on the education policies including the establishment of nine more federal universities, adding, even at that, the number was still grossly inadequate, because many youths on the street have to be educated.

The confirmed nominee said at present, the number of universities in the country could only provide admissions for 44 per cent of eligible candidates who scored above 200 in the last JAMB exams.

She identified lack of quality inspectorate division and unqualified teachers as contributing to the declining standard of education. Prof Rufai regretted the crisis in Kaduna Polytechnic saying that a visitation panel to the school had already concluded investigation and certain measures were to be taken as the White Paper was ready but could not be worked before the dissolution of the cabinet in May.

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By: linda