Friday, 1st December 2023

Lagos commissioner-nominees rejection: The facts, the innuendoes

By Gbenga Salau
02 September 2023   |   4:21 am
The rejection of some commissioner-nominees by the Lagos State House of Assembly has continued to generate reactions across the state. While there have been different assumptions on why the lawmakers stepped down the confirmation of some nominees...

Obasa. Photo/twitter/jidesanwoolu

The rejection of some commissioner-nominees by the Lagos State House of Assembly has continued to generate reactions across the state. While there have been different assumptions on why the lawmakers stepped down the confirmation of some nominees, the legislators have not come out strongly to explain why they rejected the nominees.

However, some principal officers and other members of the House have been speaking in innuendos concerning the matter. This has further given room for speculation, especially as there were misgivings in certain quarters after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu submitted the list of the commissioner-nominees to the House for screening on July 28, 2023.
The names on the list were: Mr. Afolabi Ayantayo, Mr. Jamiu Alli-Balogun, Mr. Rotimi Ogunwuyi, Mr. Gbenga Oyeriinde, Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN), Mr. Mobolaji Ogunlende, Ibrahim Layode, Dr. Dolapo Fasawe, Mrs. Toke Benson-Awoyinka, Olakunle Rotimi-Akodu, Abdulkabir Ogungbo, Mr. Abiola Olowu, Dr. Adekunle Olayinka, Mrs. Bolaji Cecilia Dada, Mr. Aramide Adeyoye, Mr. Idris Aregbe, Mr. Yakubu Adebayo Alebiosu, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab, Bola Olumegbon, Dr. Oreoluwa Finnih-Awokoya and Mr. Kayode Bolaji Roberts.
Others were Mr. Moruf Akinderu Fatai, Mr. Seun Osiyemi, Mrs. Barakat Bakare, Prof. Akin Abayomi, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, Mr. Olalere Odusote, Dr. Rotimi Fashola, Mr. Mosopefolu George, Mr. Tunbosun Alake, Ms Ruth Abisola Olusanya, Mrs. Folashade Adefisayo, Mrs. Folashade Ambrose, Dr. Olumide Oluyinka, Mr. Yomi Oluyomi, Mr. Sam Egube, Dr. Jide Babatunde, Mr. Olalekan Fatodu and Mrs. Solape Hammond.
Almost immediately the list was sent to the Assembly, some Muslim groups kicked against its composition, saying it was lopsided. They claimed that the number (8 out of 39) of Muslims on the list was too small and as a result rejected it, insisting on the nomination of more Muslims. 
But on August 23, the House disclosed that it would not confirm 17 out of the 39 commissioner-nominees recommended by Sanwo-olu.Those in the rejected list included six former commissioners who served in Sanwo-Olu’s first term. The former commissioners are Gbenga Omotoso (Information and Strategy); Akin Abayomi (Health); Cecilia Dada (Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation); Olalere Odusote (Energy Resources); Folashade Adefisayo (Education) and Sam Egube (Economic Planning and Budget).
For analysts who have been observing the activities of the state, virtually all the returning commissioner-nominees rejected by the Assembly were those that were in the A-list in terms of performance during the last administration. This is even as religious colouration has been introduced into their rejection.
For instance, immediately the House released the list of commissioner-nominees confirmed and those rejected, some Christians claimed foul play, saying the majority of those rejected were Christians. They stated that they were not happy about the development.
The Christian Rights Nigeria (CRN), which claimed that the 17 commissioner-nominees were rejected by the House on religious ground, also alleged that the lawmakers took the decision at the behest of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC).
CRN National Lead, Pastor Eliashib James, warned that the rejection of the commissioner-nominees was capable of stoking religious tension in the state.

But beyond the religious colouration to the development, there have also been speculations about a cold war between Sanwo-Olu and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa. There were insinuations that Obasa was using the non-confirmation of the commissioner-nominees as payback to Sanwo-Olu for allegedly prodding Abiodun Tobun to contest against him in the speakership race.   However, Obasa has maintained that there is no rift between the governor and the lawmakers.
“There is no basis for the House or myself to fight the governor. The governor is a friend and colleague in serving Lagos State. Whenever the House says no to a governor’s request, it is interpreted as the House fighting the governor. We will continue to work together and there is no reason to fight. But we have constitutional rights to say yes or no to his nominees.
“If anybody wishes to know the reason for the decision, they should approach the House. We will not be forced to spill our observations, and we reserve the right to expose the report of the screening,” Obasa said.

Apparently making allusion to one of the rejected commissioner-nominees, Abayomi, who is the immediate past Commissioner for Health, Obasa noted that having different academic qualifications “might not be enough” to be confirmed as a commissioner.
He argued that the health sector of the state is not only about COVID-19, which the commissioner had been highly praised for, given the pragmatic ways the pandemic was managed in the state.
“We have a General Hospital in Ikeja; we have a General Hospital in all of our local governments. What do we have to say about that?” he queried.

On why the immediate past Commissioner for Information, Omotoso, was rejected by the House, Obasa said: “We have always had our Information Ministry there. If we are talking about his experience, his exposure, what happened to Lagos Television (LTV 8)?
“Have they taken the time to investigate and do something that they are not in a position to understand? If anyone is interested to know why we have taken that decision, they should approach the House.”
He, however, hinted that the House’s decision on the cabinet was not final.  He noted: “If there is any reason for us to reverse our decision, if there is and it is germane and convincing, maybe we may, but it is not by threats. And in our own estimation, if they (technocrats) have not done well, we have the right to say no and we have said no. And it is good to advise the man living in a glass house not to throw stones, if not the glass may be shattered.”
A public affairs analyst, Babatunde Akande, who resides in the state, however, condemned the lawmakers, saying they should be ashamed of themselves.
His words: “Without the budget passed by the Assembly, the commissioners cannot perform. What role did they play in drawing up and implementing the budget in a way that will positively affect their constituencies? Yet three cycles of budget were implemented under their watch. 
“Since they are laying a lot of emphasis on the constituency of the commissioner, do they want the commissioners to take their role as the people’s representative in their constituencies? Instead of them focusing on their primary responsibility of representing the people and making it count, they are focusing on irrelevant things.
“It is a pity but I am not surprised. The Assembly has been a lame duck only barking for the interest of the godfather or their personal interests and not that of the people of Lagos State. 
“During the Clean Up Lagos saga that former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was blamed for, the lawmakers played a critical role, passing the Consolidated Environmental Bill within days despite the fact that it was a very voluminous document. Agbero has been terrorising commercial bus drivers and by extension the average resident of Lagos for years now; they have not seen reason to call these agberos to order. Or are the lawmakers not representing the drivers and Lagos commuters the few agberos are terrorising daily? 
“Apapa Port crisis has been going on for so many years; the Assembly is not concerned. They are just a bunch of self-serving lawmakers,” Akande stated.
The Executive Director of Centre for Social and Economic Rights, Nelson Ekujimi, while speaking on if the lawmakers did a good job on the screening of the nominees, stated that because of the calibre of some of the names dropped, he was suspicious that there were more reasons for their rejection.
“In view of their track record and performance in office in the governor’s first term, which is discernible to any rational mind, no matter the criteria adopted for the screening of the nominees, merit and performance ought to be the highest consideration. If we go along that premise, then one begins to question the rationale for the withheld nominations,” Ekujimi said.
On the lawmakers’ failure to disclose the reasons for the rejection of the nominees, he noted that they were not bound by the constitution to do so.  “Since it is not a requirement of law, they are not duty bound to do so, but it would have been better if it was the other way round,” he noted.
On the religious insinuations surrounding the development, Ekujimi warned against travelling the religious route, saying it was retrogressive and dangerous.

“If at this age and time in the Centre of Excellence, we are going to determine service to public good on the basis of religion, it is dangerous for our existence in view of the fact that this is a society that thrives on religious harmony.
“I don’t want to and refuse to believe that it is a factor in this whole issue. To be candid, I am sad and troubled; I refuse to think along that line; it is traumatising for me.
“The lawmakers, just like the members of the executive arm of government, ought to represent constituencies, but we must all frown at the legislator trying to determine whom the governor must pick from his constituency into his cabinet.
“If a person has been picked from a constituency other than the constituency that he or she represents, the lawmaker has the duty to raise objection to such representation on the floor of the House and the House is expected to do the needful in communicating it to Mr. Governor because both the legislature and the executive are supposed to work in harmony in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people.
“It is impossible for a nominee not to have a constituency and from the list submitted, all the nominees come from a constituency,” he noted.