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MINISTERIAL SCREENING: SENATE REJECTS ANDO, CONFIRMS PEPPLE, DUKE, OTHERS

By NBF News
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After two weeks of standing on the fringe amid protests from his kinsmen, Senate formally rejected the nomination of Dr. Obadiah Ando who made a surprise return to the Senate chamber for the ministerial screening yesterday.

Senate, however, confirmed Mrs. Sarah Reng Ochekpe (Plateau), Mr. Edem Duke (Cross River), Mr. Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ms. Ama Pepple (Rivers) and Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia (Kaduna) as ministers.

Dr. Ando surfaced in the Senate chamber as the Plateau State ministerial nominee, after he had been shunned by the lawmakers since the screening exercise started on June 29.

Twice, his name had been included in the list of ministerial nominees to be screened by the Senate and twice, he was not called into the chamber for the exercise even though his name was listed on the Order Paper.

Last Thursday, President Goodluck Jonathan withdrew his nomination after talks to persuade the three senators from Taraba State to support his nomination failed.

The three senators rejected Dr. Ando on the allegations of 'non-performance and inaccessibility' when he was former minister of water resources.

Senate President David Mark announced the withdrawal of his nomination during confirmation of eight ministers last week.

Yesterday, however, Senate allowed Dr. Ando into the chamber and he acknowledged being 'privileged and humbled to stand before this distinguished chamber today.'

As he reeled out his achievements in the water resources ministry to senators who listened to him without interruption, Senator Aisha AlHassan (PDP, Taraba) who had earlier led her colleagues to oppose his nomination looked at him with a bemused expression on her face.

While still talking about his achievements, senators urged Mark to allow him leave the chamber. Senator AlHassan's bemused expression gave way to a wide grin as Dr. Ando exited the chamber. She even embraced him warmly on his way out.

Affirming his rejection, Senate President David Mark said: 'The nomination of Dr. Ando is not confirmed as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It's very clear that not everyone who is nominated would pass the Senate screening test. I hope that some lessons have been learnt…'

Former chief of staff to the Rivers State governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike took the podium and shortly after introducing himself, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe asked Wike to respond to allegations of financial malfeasance to the tune of N4.5 billion and arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

'You were said to be involved in financial malfeasance and you were arrested by the EFCC. Can you tell us what happened and can this hallowed chamber present you as a fit and proper person as a minister in the Federal Executive Council (FEC)?'

Wike replied: 'Let me say to this Senate that I am a fit and proper person to be a minister. The mere fact that an allegation was made against me doesn't mean that I have committed the offence. I'm being persecuted on the pages of newspapers. In 2009, I was invited by EFCC. I went there on my volition and I wasn't arrested…'

Wike explained that as at the time the allegation was levelled against him, 'I had only N624,000 in my bank account. The allegation was that I diverted N4.5 billion into my private account. I'm not a government official and I was charged to court in 2009 but was discharged and the matter quashed.'

Former head of service of the federation, Ama Pepple, was accorded the traditional bow when it emerged that she served as a protem head of the 3rd National Assembly and a former clerk of the Senate.

Mrs. Mailafia was also allowed to leave after answering questions from Senator Ahmed Lawan.