Drama, Uproar as Senate Screens Amaechi, Akpabio, Eight Others

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The Senate in session
  •  Protests over Lawan’s shielding of ex-transport minister, exclusion of FCT from list
  •  Abaribe to ex-Akwa Ibom governor: I would’ve made you sweat
  •  Shehuri, Magashi, Sylva, Adebayo, four others take turns thursday

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Senate Wednesday began work in earnest by screening some of the 43 ministerial nominees whose names President Muhammadu Buhari sent to the upper chamber.

THISDAY learnt last night that the ministerial list with the accompanying letter, which Senate President Ahmad Lawan read out during plenary on Tuesday, was delivered to Lawan’s house on Monday night by the Chief of Staff to the president, Mallam Abba Kyari.

The first batch of the nominees, comprising immediate past Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; former Akwa Ibom State, Governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who was also the Minority Leader of the Eight National Assembly before his defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); former Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Senator George Akume and six others appeared before the Senate.

Eight other nominees in the second batch, who included former Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Mustapha Shehuri; former Legal Adviser to the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), one of the legacy parties that formed APC, Major Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd); former Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva and former Ekiti State Governor, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo, will take their turns today.

However, Wednesday’s screening of Amaechi and others was trailed by drama and uproar. While some of them who are former lawmakers and are covered by legislative privileges were asked to take a bow without taking questions from senators, others not so privileged where grilled.

But attempts to extend such an honour to Amaechi, who was speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years, met stiff opposition from the senators, especially those from his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But for the legislative privilege, Akpabio too would have gone through a tough screening process as Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, pointedly told him that he would have made him sweat.

The screening, which began on a peaceful note at 11.15a.m., suddenly turned dramatic when Amaechi was ushered in at about 2.45p.m.

Lawan was quick to remind his colleagues about the convention and policy of granting automatic confirmation to nominees who had been elected into the National Assembly or state legislature in the past.

He said: “We have agreed on a policy on how we go about the screening; I just want to reiterate that policy and to say that we will extend the privilege to members of the legislature even at state level.”

His statement was met with shouts of disapproval from senators each time Lawan tried to explain the issues.
At a point, former Governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje, came under Order 3 of the Senate Rules to say the rules never recognised former state lawmakers as part of people to be given automatic confirmation.

Responding to Goje’s point of order, Lawan, who served as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole that screened the nominees, said there was nothing wrong in granting automatic confirmation to former state lawmakers even if the Senate Rules did not allow it.

Abaribe, who was recognised to speak on behalf of the minority, asked Lawan to permit senators from Rivers State to ask Amaechi some questions.

Lawan, again, rejected Abaribe’s request, insisting that the policy and convention of granting automatic confirmation to nominees with legislative backgrounds at state level is valid.

While trying to persuade senators to allow Amaechi to ‘bow and go’ without going through the rigour of screening, more senators shouted No! No!! No!!!.

Abaribe later informed the plenary that all the senators from the Minority Caucus, including those from Rivers State, had asked him to convey some messages to Amaechi.

Abaribe listed the issues contained in the messages from Rivers senators to Amaechi to include the reported neglect of the Eastern axis in the nation’s railway project.

Abaribe also said Nigerians were not happy that while some parts of the country were suffering from infrastructural decay, the federal government was extending projects like railway line construction to foreign countries.

He said: “I want to make a comment on my good friend, who is another donation from the PDP, having been eight years speaker of Rivers House of Assembly under PDP, eight years governor of PDP and Chairman of Governors’ Forum of PDP. So now that we know that he has his DNA in PDP.

“I only want to state that I have spoken to the Rivers State caucus and they have asked me to pass this message to you, that they expect that you will be Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which Rivers State is part of; which also means that whatever you can do as minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in making sure that peace is sustained and maintained in Rivers State, that you should please do.

“Let us also expect from you that the Nigeria railway would be done within Nigeria before extending to other countries.”
During the screening of Akpabio, Abaribe said he was ready to give him a tough time but for the privileges covering him as a former lawmaker.

“I would have made Godswill sweat… We know that as an uncommon person, you will work very uncommonly to make sure the relation between the chamber and the villa is uncommon,” he said.

Beforehand, Akpabio had said as an “uncommon performer”, he would keep rendering “uncommon services” to Nigeria.
“It is my firm belief that the only way we can touch the lives of the average man in the society is through this hallowed chambers. Nothing really to say than what you already know; I am regarded as uncommon performer in any place I go,” he added.

During his screening, another ministerial nominee, Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, backed the official exchange rate of the naira to a dollar.

Ogah, a former banker and an oil magnate, expressed his support for the official exchange rate of N305 to $1, adding that “there is no country that allows its currency to be fixed, as every currency is usually being floated.”

Ogah who was responding to senators’ questions added: “We must guide our currency because our ability to guide it is what makes it go up and go down.

“If we had in the past grown our foreign reserves, I can tell you our currency wouldn’t have gone the way it is today.
“I believe that with what is going on, the Nigerian Naira at the price which it is today, is okay for the nation.”
The nominee also made a case for ‘guided deregulation’ of the petroleum downstream sector as a means of boosting foreign exchange.

However, before the screening commenced yesterday, Senate Minority Whip and Senator representing the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) in the National Assembly, Senator Philip Aduda and his counterpart from Kogi West, Senator Dino Melaye, protested the exclusion of Abuja indigenes from the list of ministerial nominees.

They urged the president to appoint a minister among the indigenes to fulfill a constitutional requirement, which says the FCT shall be treated as one of the states of the Federation.

Aduda had raised Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules to cite Section 299 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which stipulated the recognition and treatment of the FCT as one of the states of the federation.
He urged the Senate president to draw the attention of Buhari to the problem and ensure that a minister was appointed from the FCT to guarantee that justice, equity and fair play among all sections of the country.

“Mr. President please, I want to ask you to urge Mr. President to look into the issue of the FCT and ensure that justice is done, and that there is fair-play and equity because in the FCT, you definitely have people who are his party members.

On his part, Senator Melaye cited relevant sections of the Constitution, to support the demand by Senator Aduda, stressing that the matter should be treated as a constitutional concern because the Constitution has provided direction on the issue.
The Senate president noted that the issue of appointment is purely an executive responsibility, expressing optimism that Buhari would take a proper and prompt action on the matter.

By the time the Senate rose at 6.15p.m. yesterday, a total of 10 out of the 43 ministerial nominees had been screened while eight others are to be screened today.

Those subjected to rigorous screening by the Senate included Ogah, Onu; former Education Minister, Adamu Adamu and Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite.

Five other nominees who were asked to ‘take a bow’ without being asked any question by virtue of being former and serving members of both the National and state Assemblies included Akume; Akpabio; Hon Emeka Nwajuaba; Amaechi and Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, who was spared being questioned by virtue of being the only woman to appear for screening Wednesday.

Besides Shehuri, Adebayo, Magashi and Sylva, others for screening today are Ramatu Tijani, Mohammed Abdullahi, Tayo Alasoadura and Sunday Dare.