Last Tuesday, the Senate resumed plenary again after a two week hiatus. Before then, President Goodluck Jonathan had forwarded the nomination of Pius Olayiwola Aderemi as the new chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
Aderemi, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, was supposed to succeed a colleague, Olayinka Ayoola, who had also retired from the Commission a few months earlier.
President Jonathan's nomination of Aderemi had been received by the Senate last December and the nomination was forwarded to the Sola Akinyede-led Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption.
Something reportedly happened at the committee during Aderemi's screening exercise. He, according to the report, submitted to the whole House last Tuesday, was unable to effectively answer some questions posed to him.
Unimpressed about his performance, which they attributed to 'old age,' the committee rejected his candidature and urged the Senate to do same. There was no inkling of what was to come until the report was circulated and the plenary customarily dissolved into the committee of the whole to consider the panel's report.
For the first time since 1999, Senate set a precedent with the Aderemi's rejection. The usual practice is for the nominee to appear before the relevant committee, answer some questions and the rest is history. Unfortunately, such history was not re-enacted this time around.
From what transpired at the Tuesday plenary, Aderemi was rejected on the grounds of old age and inability to satisfactorily answer some global questions pertaining to the scope of the Commission.
A part of the report reads: "He was asked some questions relating to his views on what the public and some members of the committee see as the unimpressive performance of the ICPC since its inception and what he intends to do to improve the Commission if he is confirmed as the Chairman.
"He was also unable to answer satisfactorily questions relating to the global dimensions of anti-corruption. As a retired justice of the Supreme Court, the integrity of the nominee is not in doubt. The committee, however, has serious concerns about the capacity and inability of the nominee to meet the demands of the job.
"The retirement age in the public service is 60 years. In the case of Justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, the retirement age is 70 years. By the time most people are more than 70 years of age, their energy, drive, productivity, vibrancy and adaptability to cope with a job is rigorous and demanding as that of the head of an anti-corruption agency (especially in a country as large as Nigeria where corruption is a serious problem) is virtually gone...
"It is the view of the committee that the ICPC is an institution in dire need of focus, repositioning and effectiveness. The committee believes that a person over the age of 70 years will be unable to perform this task optimally.
"The committee also believes that Nigeria should learn from the examples in other parts of the world and ensure global best practices."
The long and short of the committee's report is that they believe that Aderemi may not be able to cope with the rigours and demands of his office in combating corruption in a country like Nigeria where those who are interested in stealing public funds are as energetic as lithe Olympians.
For emphasis, the committee went global and made some comparisons with the headship of similar bodies in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Hong Kong and the United States of America. They averred that the oldest head of such a body is 57 years old. At 72, the committee asked that, "why should the head of an anti-corruption agency in a country as large as Nigeria where corruption has become a contagion be a person that the law regards as too old to be a public servant (retirement age is 60) too old to be a High Court Judge or university professor (retirement age is 65) and too old to be a Justice of the Supreme Court (retirement age is 70 years).
"While not having any doubt about the integrity of the nominee, the committee believes that integrity alone, as we have seen, is definitely not enough to combat head-on, the serious problem of corruption that continues to pose a great threat to the development of our country.
"In the light of the above, the committee recommends that the Senate do not confirm the nominee as Chairman of ICPC."
Only seven Senators signed the report out of 11 members circulated in the chamber last Tuesday.
Contributing to the debate thereafter, Deputy Minority Leader Olorunnimbe Mamora pleaded with his colleagues that "the issue about the nominee is not about age. Even if it is age, there is time to rest. We are not practicing gerontocracy.
A section of the chamber, however, rallied for Aderemi. Deputy Majority Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba disagreed with the committee's rejection of Aderemi's appointment on the basis of age, saying the Constitution does not place any age barrier to appointments into the headship of the ICPC.
Chairman of National Population and National ID Card, Hosea Ehinlanwo also supported Aderemi's nomination. "The nominee wouldn't be the only one in the Board. We are citizens of this country and we shouldn't be discriminated against. The committee has no basis to discriminate against this man."
FCT Committee Chairman Abubakar Sodangi supported the committee's recommendation while James Manager concurred with Ndoma-Egba's submission.
He said: "Age can only be a barrier if somebody is under-aged. There is no medical report saying this man is senile and cannot perform the duty required of him."
After all said and done, some mischievous rumour-mongers here at the Senate tell me that Aderemi's rejection had nothing to do with old age, which was the fulcrum of the debate that day.
One busybody said the rejection was more political in nature than claims of gerontocracy. For whatever it is worth, this Senate has set a precedent with the rejection.