Saturday, 9th December 2023

Ministerial screening: Economy, rule of law, foreign policy, security top agenda for nominees

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor), Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, John Akubo (Abuja), Godwin Ijediogor (Asaba), Lawrence  Njoku (Enugu) Seye Olumide (Ibadan) Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos).  
31 July 2023   |   3:45 am
The decision by the Senate to hastily begin screening of the proposed members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) today may have saved the ministerial nominees from the series of petitions that usually characterise the exercise.

• Kanu not released, only granted access to personal doctors — DSS Source
• PDP, CSOs ask Senate to reject recycled, compensated nominees
• APGA urges nominees to implement Tinubu’s manifesto
• Umahi, Kyari, six other nominees to get automatic confirmation 

The decision by the Senate to hastily begin screening of the proposed members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) today may have saved the ministerial nominees from the series of petitions that usually characterise the exercise.

The Department of State Services (DSS) has not released Nnamdi Kanu, the Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a competent source disclosed in Abuja. The source said on Sunday that contrary to reports in a section of the media, the IPOB leader was only granted access to his personal doctors under the supervision of the Service. Some sections of the media had reported that Kanu was on Saturday, released for the first time, since his incarceration two years ago to meet with his personal physicians in an Abuja hospital outside the facility of the DSS. According to the DSS source, access to doctors for suspects in DSS custody is routine in line with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of the Service.

President Bola Tinubu had on Thursday, presented the list of the ministers-designate to the Senate, few hours to the deadline, through his Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila.

28 names including four ex-governors, seven women and youths were presented to the Senate by the president, with a promise by Tinubu to send 14 more names from 11 states that are yet to be represented in the proposed cabinet.

The Guardian investigation from the committee on Ethics and Public petitions on Friday indicated that no petition had been received against any of the 28 nominees.

Accordingly, the category of nominees to be screened on Monday may not encounter petitions, an issue that had in the past, denied many the opportunity of being confirmed as Ministers.

There were allegations that the government deliberately waited till the last minute to submit the list to avoid public probes.
Indeed, the senate had to postpone its yearly recess to commence the screening today.

Even as the Senate said it would give automatic confirmation to deserving ministerial nominees, political parties and civil society organisations have advised the Senate to outrightly reject those who were compensated for political roles played during the election as opposed to merit or competence in addressing the nation’s teething socio-economic, political and security problems.

The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which said it may meet within the week to address matters arising from the nomination and other related issues, however, charged the Senate to display patriotism by rejecting nominees found to be incompetent for the federal cabinet job.

Acting National Chairman of the PDP, Ambassador Umar Damagum, said that consultation was already in progress on sundry issues affecting the party and added that within the week, the leadership will unveil its position to the public.

Spokesman of the party, Debo Ologunagba, who declined to make an official statement on the matter when contacted, however, said the position of the party would be disclosed within the week.

But a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PDP described the nomination as mere job opportunities for loyalists and political associates of the President.

He said: “Are you surprised about this? Were you expecting anything more? We know that the President must compensate his boys and others who ran around to perpetrate all sorts of irregularities in that election to ensure his emergence.

“The country’s comatose economy requires serious revolutionary steps to fix it, who among these nominees has that capacity? He queried.

For the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Mr Sylvester Ezeokenwa, the ministers-designate ought to be familiar with the manifesto of the President especially in finding solutions to the hardship in the country.

Ezeokenwa, who said his party had no issue with the caliber of the ministerial nominees said, it is during the implementation of their assignments that Nigerians would know whether they are fit or not.

In its own reaction, the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), said some of the nominees failed to fight insecurity when they were governors in their states, and as such shouldn’t be confirmed by the Senate.

According to the President of the association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the human rights violations tendencies of some of the nominees are too high to be trusted with another public office.

He also drew the attention of the Senate to the huge debts incurred by the state where one of the nominees served as finance commissioner, adding that it would be dangerous to reward such a person with a federal cabinet appointment.

“So, the Senate must be thorough and meticulous in screening these nominees who we believe are opportunistic political jobbers brought for political compensation. It is obvious that the President doesn’t want to solve the problems of insecurity, otherwise why appoint someone who created the enabling environment for the rise of insurgency by Fulani herdsmen and is not known to have fought them with the goal of ending the insurgency?”, he queried.

Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central).

Senate majority leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, had disclosed that the Senate would not waste time to commence the screening at 11am on Monday.

He also revealed that some nominees will be given automatic confirmation and be asked to simply take a “bow and go”.

“But take a bow and go is not an unparliamentary convention, it has become a practice all over the world and that person must be a former member of the parliament, who is well known to us. Somebody we have confidence in his ability.”

At least eight of the nominees who were members of the National Assembly will benefit from the automatic confirmation.

They are the current acting National Chairman of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Abubakar Kyari, who represented Borno North in the 8th and 9th Senate; Senator John Enoh, who represented Cross River Central in the 8th Senate and Senator Abubakar Sani Danladi who was former acting governor and deputy governor of Taraba State.

Others are former Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Nkiru Onyejiocha, who represented Isuikwuato/ Umunneochi federal constituency, Abia State; Olubunmi Tunji Ojo, who represented Akoko North East/ North West federal constituency, Ondo State. He was the chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC; Abubakar Momoh, a two-time member of the House of Representatives who represented Etsako federal constituency, Edo State and Ekperikpe Ekpo, who represented Abak federal constituency from 2007 and 2011 from Akwa Ibom State.

As the Senate begins screening the ministerial nominees Monday, a lawyer and Founder of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, has urged the lawmakers to allow the constitution to prevail.

Speaking with The Guardian at the weekend, he said they have the constitutional power to reject any nominee, I hope they do so and not trade public interest with political interest.

Itodo, however, expressed disappointment with the approach taken by the President, “because we thought that this president would have done things differently and I think it is a missed opportunity. What I mean in this case is attaching portfolios to the names. It is important, my expectation was, he was going to do something differently, given his antecedents but it is a missed opportunity.

“They should also interrogate their leadership competence, their records. Some of these people who have been nominated know some of their antecedents so they should ask them.
I didn’t expect someone like El Rufai to have been appointed in view of the video that went viral over incendiary comments that he made. One expects the senate would take this up during the screening.

“It is an opportunity for the Senate to either ask him to withdraw that or apologise for making those statements because it is actually an insult and a disregard for the sensibility of Nigerians.

Setting agenda for whoever will become the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a former director general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, said the person must first seek a better understanding of Nigeria’s three foreign policy principles- Non-alignment policy; Foreign Policy Concentricism, as espoused by a diplomat and immediate past chief of staff to former President Muhammadu Buhari, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari; Constructive and Beneficial Concentricism, as propounded by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, and more importantly, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi’s Consultation Doctrine.

Akinterinwa, now of the International Relations Department, Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, said these principles have generally been misconstrued, yet they are always applied.

He stated: “Nigeria must redefine its foreign policy to respond to the New World Order and to the new alliances that are in the making, as well as to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and African Union (AU) policy attitude to unconstitutional change of government in Africa.

“The policy is currently placing emphasis on military coupists, but ignoring coups by civilian-sponsored or assisted coups.”

The professor of International Relations charged Nigeria to raise the issue of democratisation of the United Nations (UN) system and make noise about the two permanent seats for Africa, insisting the matter cannot be kept in the cooler for too long.

In addition, he called for the redefinition of the content of ‘Africa as centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy,’ especially in terms of policy of reciprocity, good neighbourliness, regional integration and national security and importation of Fulani herdsmen from West and Central Africa.
The Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) identified the economic challenges besetting the country as an issue that must be addressed by the newly appointed Ministers recently unveiled by President Tinubu.

Also, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) while expressing disappointment over the choice of some of the ministerial nominees stressed the need to tackle unemployment and rising poverty among Nigerians.

Yusuf Yabagi Sani

IPAC chairman, Yabagi Yusuf Sani expressed optimism that the ministerial nominees would live up to the expectations of Nigerians.

He noted: “In terms of track records, all the individuals I saw there, at least the ones that I know, are people that you can go to sleep with your eyes closed as far as performance is concerned. They have what it takes in terms of track records and professionalism also. So, I don’t expect anything less than performance,” he said.

“We should expect performance and commitment to take the economy out of the woods so that Nigerians can begin to experience what we call the dividends of democracy.”

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani who chairs the TMG applauded President Tinubu over the inclusion of a sizable number of women on the list of his ministerial nominees.

Expressing disappointment over the inclusion of some controversial former governors on the list, he identified the corruption, wastefulness and security challenges in the country as areas requiring urgent attention.

For the former National Chairman of APGA, Chekwas Okorie, allocation of portfolios to the ministers has propensity to either douse or arouse tension in the polity.

He stated that ministries and agencies of government are not of equal importance and value, stressing that the President must strike ethnic and religious balance in order to carry a cross section of the country along and give Nigerians a reasonable sense of equal citizenship.

He stated that by doing so, tension in the polity would be reduced, adding that the Ministers should work to impress on the president the need for community policing to solve the country’s security challenges.

Okorie told The Guardian in Enugu that, “It is constitutionally mandatory for President Tinubu to appoint a minimum of 37 ministers to ensure that each of the 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, FCT”, adding that, “he may appoint more than this number depending on his political and administrative calculations.”

He recommended that the ministries and parastatals be grouped in categories of A, B, and C; so that each of the six geopolitical zones should get an equal share of the ministries and parastatals from each of the categories.

“This will be a welcome departure from the nepotistic and parochial tendencies of the Buhari dispensation. The role of the ministers in solving security issues in the country is tangential. Their roles are basically to implement the policies and programmes of the Tinubu administration to facilitate the welfare and economic development of the country. The various security agencies have their jobs cut out for them to ensure the security of lives and property of Nigerians. I am of the strong conviction that the introduction of state police and community policing in the country’s security architecture will resolve our security problems to a large extent.”

On his part, former Spokesperson of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, added that appointment of ministers without a strategic plan on how to rescue the country from the present quagmire makes no sense.

“You may like to appoint any number of persons as Ministers but without a strategic plan on how to cushion our current sufferings, you are making a great mistake. We need economic policies with a human face and we need the right Nigerians to drive it. From what I have perceived from that list, most of the people there are there for political settlements. That means already, the plan is not to salvage the country. Some of the people there still have questionable scorecards and these are people we have decided to recycle. It does not make any sense.

“We are however, watching that with their appointment, they should hit the ground running by ending the current economic hardships, solving present insecurity and giving the people hope again in their country”, he said.

A constitutional lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, Chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Debo Adeniran and Wale Adeoye, a journalist and writer, said the administration of President Tinubu must be ready to obey the tenets of rule of law.

They also posited that the government must not interfere in the judicial system with the aim to influence justice and order of the courts.

According to Ajulo, “What they need to do is so clear. Government must be ready to accept any order or injunction from the court when this is done there is no fast way out. This will be a great day for the justice delivery system in Nigeria.

“Rule of law is doing things the way it ought to be done, whether it favours the government or not. The opposite of rule of law is when you deploy sentiment, ethnicity or religion to apply the law. The government must be ready to apply, obey and respect the rule of law, if this is done, President Tinubu will end as a hero in the country.”

Adeoye said the incoming Minister of Justice and Attorney General must ensure that the government under which is to serve, does not take laws into its hands. It must also be prepared to ensure that justice is served without class and or ethnic discrimination.

He also added that the incoming Minister of Justice must start with a radical judicial reformation aimed at flushing out corrupt judges.

Adeoye added that the nominated Minister of Information must adopt the tactics of mass communication and not just issuing press statements to media houses and thinking he has reached out to the masses. He needs to find a way to engage Nigerians through the use of mass communication.

Adeniran on his part advocated the separation of the office of Attorney-General from that of the Minister of Justice.

He said one of the cardinal challenges affecting adherence to rule of law is the combination of the two positions in one hand.

In line with earlier speakers, Adediran said the incoming Minister of Justice must be ready to uphold the tenets of justice without fear, favouritism and partiality.

However, President, Yoruba Council Worldwide, Oladotun Hassan has urged President Tinubu not to hesitate to immediately remove any minister that didn’t live up to the expectations of their offices.

Hassan, who doubles as Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Epe branch, said the President promised to hit the ground running, and with what the country is going through, there’s no better commitment than the zeal that is expected of the ministers to commit themselves to the services of their fatherland.

“In terms of rule of law, economy and insecurity, we know the present situation, the killings in Plateau and Zamfara States, the bandwagon of kidnapping in the southeast, and the overzealous touts in the southwest, all these are symptoms of insecurity.

“Even in the Niger Delta, the recent display of Asari Dokubo are symptoms of insecurity. In a sane society every youth must be engaged. If the youths are constructively engaged, we can use our population for economic revolution, there’s nothing stopping us from outsmarting China, Russia or even the USA.

“I urge President Tinubu that anytime he notices that those he picked are wanting in place of their assignments, he should kick them out.

“Tinubu should work closely with NASS to ensure the independence of the judiciary and ensure rule of law is at the uppermost no matter whose horse is goad. Rule of law does not have friends. He needs to ensure that all hands are on deck. The marching order must be to all the ministers to commit themselves to service. They must give an account.”

Acting National Publicity Secretary, Youth Party (YP), Ayodele Adio said with new ministers stepping in, there’s hope for a well-defined plan and strategy to revive the economy.

Speaking with The Guardian, Adio, however, stated that there’s a perceived lack of urgency among politicians in Abuja, as if they’re waiting for an elusive ‘eighth’ day of the week to take action.

He said: “Nigerians are grappling with one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, soaring inflation, and low wages, making the cost of living unbearable. Businesses, too, are struggling to stay afloat in this challenging economic climate. The public’s demands are straightforward: lower inflation, increased wages, and improved living conditions.

“Regrettably, there seems to be no comprehensive strategy in sight to address these pressing issues, a fact that raises concerns. It’s noteworthy that the federal government has yet to make a significant move to curb the alarming rise in food prices or to counteract the severe decline in citizens’ purchasing power and productivity. This lack of action should be a matter of concern for all Nigerians.”