Nigeria: On Ministerial Screening and Appointments of Committee Chairmen

21 August 2019
opinion

Abuja — The Senate President has been unequivocal that the Senate under him will not be irrationally confrontational or, deliberately embark on a collision course with the Executive as some opinions have said of the 8th Senate. However, the public will still expect to see a robust law-making body that goes about its primary, statutory oversight functions without coming across as an emasculated lap dog. The first serious interface between the Red Chamber and the Executive, the screening of the ministerial nominees, was like a litmus test that Ahmed's Senate abysmally failed to signal its independence.

While it lasted, the screening exercise was indeed a spectacle to behold. All the forty three nominees successfully and effortlessly went through the scrutiny of the Red Chambers. That gave the impression that all nominees were found to be spotless and competent. The exercise was also unique in terms of the record time it was carried out by the Senators. Screening forty three nominees in five days, it was so much different from the preceding 8th Senate which conducted the screening of thirty six nominees in thirty days. Of course, 70% of the nominees were not asked any questions at all beyond being asked to take their "bow and go".

A number of the nominees were former state governors with pending cases of corruption of monumental proportions under investigation or in the courts of law. In the valuation of discerning public, there were those of them whose low level of performance as former ministers ought not to have qualified them for consideration for reappointments. Also, the Executive's selection of the incoming Ministers appeared to have been informed more by political factors such as, reward for contribution to the campaign, cronyism and satiation of powerful cabals and godfathers around the President. Although he is not going to stand for election, President Buhari appeared to have been swayed by certain forces to overlook the scale of capacity in favour of the exigencies of 2023. As it unfolded, the Lawan-Omo-Agege Senate did not sieve but was merely a conduit pipe, something akin to a machine that churns out the garbage exactly as it was fed into it, warts and all.

Or, what rationale is to be found in the nominations from Sokoto, Kebbi through Kaduna to Katsina states? What sense can anyone make of those selected from Lagos, Bayelsa, Benue and Akwa Ibom states among other bizarre examples? It makes pundits to wonder as to what's meant by, "NEXT LEVEL"? Nigerians had thought that the cliché was meant as a vow to deliver more on the "dividends of democracy" more robustly and more tangibly than it was their tardy, unedifying experience in the Buhari's first tenure!

In its appointments of the leadership of critical Committees, the Senate, soon afterwards, demonstrated that it is on the same page with the Executive in the choice of those to deliver its services to the people. We have seen in the Senate list of Committee leadership, square pegs in round holes; people whose experience, pedigree and antecedents are incongruous with the institutions and agencies over which they are expected to exercise oversight functions. Again, it was a situation of political expediency, cronyism and the powers of lobby superimposing competence and qualification.

Among other similar perplexing appointments of committee leaderships made by the Ahmad Lawan's senate, one particular instance of Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, Senate Committee chairman on Defence and Vice Chair on Anti-corruption suffices to buttress the point being made by a broad spectrum of observers on the subject. Pray, at a time when the nation is facing horrifying insecurity challenges, just what are the pedigree of the Distinguished Senator from Sokoto to qualify him to chair what is unarguably, the most critical Senate committee at this material juncture?

As an educationist, it was just logical as it was just appropriate that he was the Senate committee chairman on Basic Education in the preceding 8th Senate. By giving him the defence committee, is it that there are no Senators with backgrounds in the military, the police or suchlike security and Intelligence agencies? In the absence of such Senators, wouldn't one of them with background in the legal profession have been a more appropriate choice?

A flash back to a news report on the arrest of "dangerously armed criminals and political thugs" by security operatives in Sokoto in February this year, is, perhaps, a warning signal as to the potential danger inherent in the appointment of the Senator from Sokoto to the Defence Committee.

According to the Army spokesman, Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka, troops of 8 Division operating on Exercise Egwu Eke III on Saturday, 2nd January 2019 "arrested 16 persons believed to be political thugs armed with dangerous weapons along Illela -Danfulani -Gwadabawa road"

General Kukasheka was further quoted to have told newsmen "while still conducting the search (on the arrested suspects), a prominent politician and a serving Senator came to the scene and ordered his mobile police escorts to release them. In the process, an operative of the Department of State Services (DSS) was molested and his clothes torn".

How do we expect the said "serving Senator" to conduct himself and his politics today, now that, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence, beside his mobile police escorts, he will be going about with a retinue of armed military personnel as escorts? If, as ordinary Senator, he had shown the degree of the reported audacity and display of raw powers to challenge security operatives on a lawful operation, who is the officer, from a platoon commander up to the topmost military hierarchy, to stand in his way? It is frightful.

Further, how does Senate President, Ahmad Lawan explain his selection of a Vice chairman of the Committee on Anti-corruption when that very appointee is currently being investigated by the foremost anti-corruption agency, the EFCC? In a 2nd August 2019 edition, the Punch Newspaper reported that, while, the sum of 1.7 billion naira had already been traced to the personal account of senator Aliyu Wamakko, the EFCC factsheet said in all, the senator is being investigated over 15 billion naira allegedly missing from the Sokoto State Treasury while he was the governor, 2007-2015. The argument here is on the strong issues of morality, public concerns, perceptions and propriety.

In the Nigerian ways of doing things, can the EFCC still go about investigating the weighty case of graft it has been handling against the man who is now the vice chairman of a committee with powers to influence its flow of funds? Will not the anti-graft agency be intimidated or, on consideration of its own "best interest" decide to tread softly in its handling of issues pertaining to him or of his close associates?

Is it possible for embattled Mr. Ibrahim Magu, in wanting or in desperation to be confirmed as substantive Chairman of the EFCC, to still muster the needed courage and professional vigour in the investigation of Senator Wamakko? As it is, all eyes will be on Mr. Magu and the EFCC on this matter in the days ahead. Meanwhile, if the choice of the Senate President in this regard was not one that was consciously made, then, it is very surprising and, sad that much introspection was not brought to bear.

Mohammed Bello Maikanti wrote from Abuja

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