• Saraki confirms MTEF, borrowing plan have been returned to executive

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
In line with the outcome of Monday’s meeting between Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, five governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the Senate yesterday cleared the 47 career ambassadorial nominees whose names were sent for confirmation last June, but returned the recent list of non-career diplomats to the presidency, citing a plethora of petitions against some of them.

THISDAY had exclusively reported yesterday that at the Monday meeting held in the State House, Abuja, it was agreed that the Senate would separate the names of career diplomats whose names had been sent to the Senate for screening and confirmation, while the list of non-career ambassadorial nominees would be withdrawn for review by the state governors.

A presidency source had explained that with the withdrawal of the list of non-career ambassadorial nominees, the state governors and party chairmen in states not held by the APC, after consultations, would submit new names to fill the slots for their respective states.

It was further agreed that a committee headed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) which had recently drawn up a list of nominees to the boards of federal parastatals, would be reviewed by the governors and the APC state chapters.

This will give the governors the opportunity to hold consultations at the state level and decide on whether to retain the nominees on the list for federal boards, or otherwise, revealed a source who was conversant with what transpired at the meeting on Monday.

However, in reviewing the list, the governors were informed that 60 per cent of the slots must be allocated based on political considerations as a way of rewarding those who had helped the party to victory in the 2015 general election, while 40 per cent of the slots will be left for technocrats.

The meeting was the fallout of the growing disaffection among APC governors and the state chapters of the party that they were being left out by President Muhammadu Buhari in the appointment of persons for federal positions.

Owing to rising discontent and deepening cracks in the party, Buhari had mandated his deputy to hold the meeting with the governors and the principal officers of the National Assembly.
During the confirmation of the career ambassadorial nominees yesterday, the senators mulled the rejection of nominees who could not recite the National Anthem and National Pledge, however, some of them, notably James Manager (Delta South) and the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, convinced their colleagues to overlook the inadequacies of the nominees.

In their defence, Manager argued that they failed in the simple assignment of reciting the anthem and pledge because they were nervous and had suffered from stage fright.
In his own submission, Ndume pleaded with his colleagues to emphathise with the nominees, whom he said had only 30 months to the end of their careers in the civil service.

He observed that rejecting them at this moment could end their careers in disgrace.
In his submission, Minority Leader Godswill Akpabio said it was extremely disgraceful that diplomats who had spent no fewer than 30 years in service had failed to recite the National Anthem. Nevertheless, he agreed with Manager and Ndume that they should be spared.
Saraki also joined his colleagues to seek a soft landing for the embattled nominees, echoing Manager that they were victims of stage fright.

While presenting the report of the screening to the Senate, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Monsurat Sunmonu, was silent on the inadequacies of the affected nominees during screening and instead recommended all of them for confirmation.

During the screening of the nominees on July 27, a nominee from Anambra State, Mrs. Vivian Okeke, was asked to recite the National Anthem. Although she started well, she could not complete it. Manager had come to her rescue by helping her to conclude it.

In the same vein, another nominee, Ibrahim Isah from Niger State, was asked by Summonu to recite the National Pledge. Like Okeke, Isah could not correctly recite it.

Besides, another nominee from Benue State, Mrs. Ada Ndem, was asked to mention 12 states in Nigeria and their capitals but when she got to Lagos, she said the capital of Lagos was Lagos instead of Ikeja.
However, in the report, the committee recommended the nominees for confirmation without reference to their shortcomings, except for Ndem whom it said was only nervous at the beginning but later composed herself well.
Though Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North) questioned the rationale for the committee’s decision to recommend the nominees who could not recite the National Anthem and Pledge for confirmation, the Senate eventually resolved to clear them after subjecting the matter to debate.

There were also concerns yesterday that the Senate proceeded to clear all the career ambassadorial nominees despite the fact that 14 of them have less than 30 months to spend in the foreign service before retirement.
Civil service rules stipulate that any officer with less than 30 months before retirement cannot be nominated for appointment. But it was alleged that the Senate opted to turn a blind eye to the rules.

After presenting the report of the screening of the 47 career diplomats to the Senate, Sunmonu also told the chamber that the committee was unable to commence the screening of 46 non-career ambassadorial nominees whose names were sent to the Senate for confirmation in October.

According to her, the committee was unable to commence the screening of the non-career nominees because it had received more than 250 petitions against their confirmation.
Accordingly, Saraki called for a motion to return the list to the president in view of the petitions against the nominees. The motion was moved by Ndume and subsequently passed.

MTEF, Borrowing Plan Returned

Meanwhile, Saraki yesterday also confirmed THISDAY’s exclusive report recently that the upper chamber had returned the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) and $30 billion external borrowing plan to the executive arm of government.
Saraki, according to a statement by his media office, said the documents were returned because they were weak and lacked the necessary requirements for legislation.
Saraki also said festering reports of his tense meeting with the president were exaggerated.
He added that since the constitution gives the National Assembly the power to approve the executive’s expenditure plan, it was only necessary that such approvals are done with due commitments, which he said informed the recent events.

“Reports of rising tension between lawmakers and the president are overblown. The MTEF and the loan request were returned to the executive because both submissions lacked the supporting documentation necessary to conduct due diligence and oversight.

“The real concern should be the length of time it will take to receive the requested documentation and the time lost towards beginning the 2017 budget process.
“What the media is now focusing attention on and what the public is witnessing is not political gamesmanship. This is the discourse that must occur if we are to figure out the best way to tackle the recession.
“The growing cooperation between the executive and legislature is the only way to move Nigeria forward,” he said.

Saraki added that with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Bloomberg Markets reports on Monday that inflation rate in the country rose from 17.1 per cent to 18.3 per cent in October with housing, electricity, water, lubricants for personal transport and education leading the sub-core index sectors driving the inflation rate, Saraki said the situation requires the co-operation of the two organs of government.
“At the end of the day, we as elected leaders must listen to the testimonies of the people and understand the level of despair in the country.
“I am confident that by working together, we can overcome the recession and address the needs of so many in meaningful ways,” he added.