Abuja — The Senate is to postpone its long vacation by one week to enable it consider President Muhammadu Buhari's ministerial list that was sent to the upper legislature last night, THISDAY has learnt.
The President of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan, had wednesday afternoon assured his colleague that the list was on its way.
THISDAY learnt from reliable presidency and Senate sources that the upper chamber might have reached an understanding with the president that the list of ministers would be considered and approved before the recess.
The National Assembly is scheduled to proceed on its long vacation on July 25, meaning that the intervening two weeks going by Senate rules and procedure might not be sufficient to screen the ministerial nominees.
Lawan had assured his colleagues, who expressed worry that except the list was transmitted immediately, it might not be considered until after the recess in last week of September, that the list was on the way.
"If the president sends in the list today," said a ranking senator, "it cannot be considered until the upper week as it would have to, by Senate rules, be referred for one week."
He explained that it means the Senate would not be able to begin consideration of the nominees until July 23, leaving the senators only three days before the recess. "That is an impossible task even if we work 24/7," the senator, who did not want to be mentioned, said.
But a reliable presidency source told THISDAY last night that the president had reached an understanding with the Senate leadership that the upper chamber would grant a week postponement to enable the senators to confirm the nominees.
THISDAY also gathered that Buhari wednesday sought Senate approval for the appointment of 15 special advisers to assist him in the discharge of his responsibilities.
The source confirmed a statement by Mr. Charles Akpan, a Deputy Director in the Office of the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, sighted in the website of PRNigeria, which said the president in his request, cited Section 151 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which confers on him the power to appoint special advisers to assist him in the discharge of his responsibilities.
According to the statement, the president appealed to the senators to treat the request with dispatch.
The statement added that the request is expected to be read at plenary thursday.
Several attempts to confirm the information from presidential liaison officer, Senator Ita Enang, fell through as he didn't pick his calls.
When THISDAY contacted a top presidential source, who did not want to be named, he said he had no doubt about the truism of the story.
He said his belief was predicated on two factors, one, that the statement emanated from the office of Enang, and two, that he saw the draft of the letter in the office of the president on Friday.
He encouraged THISDAY to go ahead with the story, insisting that he had no doubt that it was true.
"I have no doubt that the statement is true because it is coming from the office of Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters.
"Two, I saw the draft on Friday but the Chief of Staff was not around. You can go ahead. I have no doubt that it is true," he insisted.
Industrialists Urge Buhari to Engage Technocrats
Meanwhile, as Buhari prepares to submit the names of ministers to the Senate, some business operators have called on him and the incoming ministers to domesticate some of the international treaties the country has entered into.
Among the treaties the industrialists want domesticated is the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which Buhari signed last weekend. It has become operational since May 30.
The much-awaited ministerial list is expected to get to the Senate this week for its consideration, Senate President Ahmed Lawan said yesterday in Abuja.
The industrialists, during separate interviews with THISDAY, also stressed the need for the president to appoint technocrats as well as men and women of integrity into his economic management team, considering the dire need to boost economic growth.
President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, said the inability of the federal government to domesticate various agreements signed with international partners remained "a big national problem," which the incoming cabinet must be determined to address.
He added that while Nigeria and Syria had signed five trade agreements in 2006, the latter had domesticated all the agreements in 2007, while the former had not domesticated any.
He, therefore, called for the establishment of a national committee, which will pursue the implementation of agreements going forward.
He said: "There has to be a rethink; you see there are lots of issues that are pending, which we continue to either overlook or pretend they are not there but they are there and they are pending.
"Nigeria has signed several trade agreements with international partners and we hardly domesticate these agreements; it is very bad and not good for us. It is killing opportunities.
"I can tell you that just this morning, I hosted a meeting with the Syrian ambassador; we signed five trade agreements in 2006 and they domesticated theirs in 2007. We have not domesticated ours and you can quote me on that. And you can be rest assured that quite a number of agreements have not been domesticated. Nobody talks about it.
"There is no structure for domesticating agreements. When they are signed, they are virtually left in the country where they were signed or left on the table to gather dust. So, it is a big national problem.
"And when we domesticate them, we hardly make them public and we hardly implement them and the main reason is that the government officials are doing two things: One, they absolutely exclude the private sector who are the business people from being involved in all these issues, including trade negotiations among others.
"It is very wrong and you can see what happened with the AFCTA; that is the main issue because the private sector was not fully consulted, it is one of the issues. Meanwhile, it is the private sector that does business not government.
"So, they have to really have a rethink about carrying the private sector along and espousing the agreements that they have signed.
"Secondly, the implementation of these agreements; for the AFCTA, we must set up a national commission for the implementation of the agreement. And when we do that, you will find out that the concerns that we have are actually opportunities; some of the issues that government was brandishing around that were the reasons they didn't want to sign, including dumping and lack of competition, all these are huge opportunities for Nigerian business, our economy and for our people.
"So, there should be a national body as being done in other countries of Africa set up to look at opportunities, look at the so-called challenges and how to turn them into opportunities. It is possible, it is doable and we have no alternative."
Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Muda Yusuf, also told THISDAY that Buhari should appoint more technocrats with tested and proven track records and sound technical knowledge into his cabinet.
Yusuf, said only technocrats should be appointed ministers, especially in ministries that have direct impact on the economy such as the Ministries of Finance; Economic and National Planning; Budget; Power; Transport; Mines, Agriculture and Petroleum as well as ministries that have direct consequences on infrastructure development.
"We will like to see these technocrats given enough room to exercise the power of oversight and direct the course of their respective ministries with minimum political interferences from politicians. This will guarantee that the country will get good results from their proven abilities.
"Even if we must adhere to the principle of federal character, the president must insist that the state governments must present good hands to him; people with the desired technical knowledge that will hit the ground running.
"This is important because the country's economy is not in good shape. The state of the economy is still fragile. The appropriate and right kinds of investments that are expected to move the economy forward are not coming into the economy as expected. What we have is more of portfolio investments that are hot monies.
"We are expecting to see more investments in the oil and gas sector, power sector and infrastructural development.
"So, the president needs people with sound technical knowledge to deal with these challenges and pull the economy out of the woods. The unemployment and poverty rates are still very high and growing fast.
"So, this is not the time to appoint ministers that are only in the cabinet to represent the interest of their political godfathers because of the money these godfathers might have spent during the election," Yusuf added.
On his part, the Director General of the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Timothy Olawale, said ministerial list expected from the president should not be based on political patronage.
"We do not know the content yet. But our advice is that he should assemble technocrats that can support the agenda of the government. There are quite a good number of them around that can elevate government policies and ensure that the government runs in an informed manner. This list will not be for political reward.
"The list should not be based on party line but on merit, irrespective of a potential nominee's political leanings because at this point the interest of the nation should override every other consideration.
"In addition, we are also calling on the Senate to do a thorough screening of the ministerial nominees to see that they are the right kind of appointees that will serve the interest of the common man," he stated.
Also, Chief Executive, Global Analytics Company, Mr. Tope Fasua, while speaking on his expectations from the would-be ministers, said they should not think about themselves, but put national interest above every other thing.
"I know it will be very difficult because that has been a tradition for them to come and look after themselves but at least they have to appeal to them because it is not taking us anywhere. All of them have to think of revenue generation in whatever duty they find themselves," he said.
An economist and former Director General, Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Dr. Chijioke Ikechukwu, said Nigerians expected to see qualified persons occupy relevant positions.
"Firstly, Nigerians expect to see square pegs in square holes. We expect to have technocrats and professionals in his cabinet. We expect to have qualified professionals to occupy specific technical positions. This is not a time to compensate party faithful. Such party men can be given contracts to compensate for their loyalty and efforts during campaign. It is time to get it right," he added.
Buhari May Release Ministerial List This Week, Says Lawan
However, while the industrialists were setting agenda for the president on the constitution of his cabinet, Lawan moved to douse tension over the delay in sending the ministerial list to the Senate, saying it would come in this week.
The Senate president said while contributing to a motion on the issue during yesterday's plenary that he learnt that the president would send in the list before the end of this week.
He said: "Let me on the strength of this motion inform the Senate that the executive arm of government is working very hard on the ministerial list. In fact, the list based on information at my disposal, will be forwarded to us by the president before the end of this week."
He appealed to his colleagues "to be ready to make the necessary sacrifice in terms of sufficient time, to be spent in carrying out thorough screening and confirmation of appointments of the expected ministerial nominees."
Earlier, Senator Albert Akpan (Akwa Ibom North East) had come under Order 43 of the Senate's Standing Rules to move a motion that the Senate should compel the president to send the ministerial list before the Senate goes on annual vacation in the next two weeks.
Akpan had said while moving the motion that "Mr. President, in view of the yearly long recess both the Senate and the House of Representatives will embark upon in two weeks' time, there is need to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to forward the much-expected ministerial list to the Senate for screening and confirmation.
"This is very important because if such list is not made available for the required legislative attention before we embark on the long recess, there will be no ministers and by extension, federal cabinet for the president to work with, till September.
"Making the list more urgent now from the president before our long recess, is the fact that if it is not made available, concerted efforts being made by both arms of government to return the yearly budget cycle to January- December, will be defeated.
"On this note, I call on the president of the Senate to inform President Muhammadu Buhari of the need for the list before we embark on recess."