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Drama as Senate screens Fayemi, Dambazau, 8 others , Saraki unveils names of 16 new nominees



The much-awaited screening of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees commenced on Tuesday with the Senate chamber coming alive as senators and nominees engaged in banter.

Contrary to expectations, the Senate screened 10 out of the 21 nominees in the first batch of prospective ministers sent by the President.

The 10 nominees already screened include Senator Udo Udoma (Akwa-Ibom), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti); Chief Audu Ogbeh (Benue); Dr Ogbonnaya Onu (Ebonyi); Dr. Osagie Ehanire (Edo); Lt Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (Kano);and Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Kwara).

Others are, Amina Muhammed (Gombe); Suleiman Adamu(Jigawa) and Ibrahim Jibril.

The Senate president, Bukola Saraki, also on Tuesday announced the names of the 16 nominees in the second list sent to him by the President on Monday.

In the new list are Khadijah Bukar Abba-Ibrahim; Omoleye Daramola; Prof Anthony Anwuka; Geoffrey Onyema; Brig. Gen. Mansur M. Dan Ali (retd) and Mr. James Ocholi.

Others are Zainab Ahmed; Okechukwu Enelemah; Muhammadu Bello; Mustapha Baba Shehuri; Ms Aisha Abubakar; Heineken Lokpobri; Adamu Adamu, Prof Isaac Adewole; Pastor Usani Uguru and Abubakar Bwari Bawa.

Senate spokesman, Dino Melaye, after plenary on Tuesday, said the 10 already screened would know their fate on Thursday (tomorrow), perhaps same time with the remaining 11 scheduled for screening on Wednesday (today).

The Senate, before unveiling the 16 new nominees, met behind closed doors.

Saraki emerged from the meeting to explain the 30-minute executive session was to enable senators to review and adopt the modalities for the screening of the nominees.

The senator representing the Federal Capital Territory, Philip Aduda, raised a point of order, noting that no ministerial nominee was picked from the Federal Capital Territory. This, he said, ran contrary to provisions of the constitution.

But the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the veracity of Aduda’s claim could not be established because Buhari did not attach the states of origin of the nominees.

He urged the Senate President to advise Buhari to attach a list of nominees in future to avoid the alleged confusion generated by the current exercise.

Saraki, who noted the observation of Aduda and Ekweremadu, promised to convey their request to the appropriate quarters.

Report on petitions

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, presented his panel’s report on the petition against a nominee, Ms Amina Mohammed, who was accused of representing Kaduna State.

Anyanwu noted that the petitioner presumed that Mohammed would be representing Kaduna in the Buhari cabinet whereas she is from Gombe. He therefore said his committee recommended the clearance of the nominee for screening.

The senate, having considered the report, approved the nomination of Mohammed as ministerial nominee and her eventual screening.

The leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume, then explained that the report of the committee on ethics on the petitions against Rotimi Amaechi was not ready. Saraki asked the committee to make the report available for presentation and consideration on Wednesday (today).

The screening

Udoma was asked only one question on direct foreign investment by the Senate president in the spirit of giving special respect to serving and past members of the National Assembly.

Udoma urged the Federal Government not to rely on public sector alone in its task of revamping and transforming the economy.

He said, “We should look at ease of doing business. We should be consistent in making plans available to the people. We need to encourage direct foreign investment by reviewing our tax policy. I have been in the private sector. I understand their language.”

The Senate Chief Whip, Sola Adeyeye, however took on the nominee from Ekiti State, ex-Governor Kayode Fayemi, asking him to justify the loan borrowed from the capital market by his administration.

Fayemi said the loan was spent on capital projects. He also denied buying a N50m bed for the N2.5bn Government House built by his administration.

“I challenge anyone to bring an invoice of a bed in the state house that is worth N50m. I did not spend irresponsibly on it. There is no bed that is up to N1.5m in the place. It is probably one of the cheapest state houses in Nigeria,” Fayemi told the senators.

His successor, Governor Ayodele Fayose, had accused Fayemi of reckless spending, alleging that the former governor left the state in debt.

Fayose alleged that his successor purchased two beds worth N50m for himself and his wife in the new Government House and left behind a debt profile of N57bn.

But Fayemi while debunking the allegations before the senators, claimed that he took N25bn bond and had paid N14bn out of the sum and that he borrowed the money from top institutions due to the relationship he had with them.

“I used my relationship to raise a lot of funds with institutions like the World Bank and DFID, among others. There is no country that does not borrow. I did not borrow to pay salaries,” he said.

He said that his predecessor, former Governor Segun Oni, also left behind a debt profile of N30bn.

He said, “Government is a continuum, not in isolation. The state was saddled with some obligation in excess of N30bn owed to banks. I completed all projects. Ekiti was on 35th ladder in terms of federal revenue.

“We were making monthly income of N3bn but paying wage bill of N2.4bn monthly. We raised funding for the state through foreign donors, we raised bond of N25bn for infrastructural development. Industries and tourism were regenerated.”

He said the Debt Management Office had confirmed that his administration owed N18bn and not N57bn being claimed by the Fayose’s government.

Fayemi denied the allegation that he travelled outside the country through illegal route during the military era though he canvassed the need to better protect the nation’s borders, especially because of the current security challenges facing the country.

Another nominee, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who is a one-time Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, said he was not looking for anything new. He said the movement of politicians from one political party to another would continue until the issue of internal democracy and the handing over of power to President and governors by parties were addressed.

He also advised the Federal Government to invest in the training of extension service officers in the agriculture ministry in order to tackle the current challenge in the sector.

He said, “Breed and nutrition is affecting milk production of cows in Nigeria as one cow produces one litre per day whereas those in Zimbabwe produce 15 litres and those in Europe produce 40 litres. Extension workers should teach farmers new mechanism of doing things.”

A former National Chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party and ministerial nominee, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, noted that Nigeria was passing through challenges, and urged politicians to put their differences aside to work for the progress of the country.

On power, he said, “We need to pay adequate consideration to power generation. We need to improve on power and demystifying power generation by exploring other sources of generating power, like coal and renewable energy. This will help to industrialise our country. It will tackle unemployment”

A nominee, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, lamented the current medical tourism plaguing the country and declared that the health sector in Nigeria had not been doing well.

He said, “We need homegrown system backed up by necessary equipment and adequate manpower to engender confidence. The fight against corruption should be extended to the health sector.

“There should be orientation programme for public health workers to treat patients with respect. There should be peer review among the doctors and the development of homegrown and practicable curriculum would be an added advantage.

“We need to design our own model; we have to be innovative instead of copying other countries because the situation is not the same. Older doctors should engage in regular interface with the younger resident doctors.

“Government should respect any agreement reached with medical practitioners. Medical experts from abroad wishing to return home should be encouraged. Maternal mortality remains high in the country but resources allocated to health should be effectively utilised in areas where the need is highest.

“The confidence of people in the health sector should be guaranteed. It is unethical to divert patients to private hospitals from the public hospital where you work.”

Retired Lt. Gen Abdulrahman Dambazzau, a nominee from Kano State, stressed the need to review the country’s defence policy, which should centre on the best way to use the military to tackle challenges and come up with order of battle.

He also noted that the procurement policy also deserved a holistic review, explaining that as a Chief of Army Staff, the maximum he could spend was N20m annually, though later increased to N50m, while every other procurement goes to the Ministry of Defence.

On the North-East problems, Dambazzau said soldiers were at risk.

He described the clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers as unfortunate, saying the clashes were affecting agricultural production.

He stressed the need to improve on the welfare of soldiers, explaining that when he took over as the Chief of Army Staff, there was problem of accommodation as three family members were sharing a two-bedroomed apartment.

Lai Mohammed drama

There was a mild drama when the Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, appeared before the senators.

Having read the body language of the Senate president after the nominee had bowed several times before the members, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, moved a motion that Mohammed should take a bow and go but Ndume was overruled by Saraki, who insisted that the APC spokesman must address the Senate.

Mohammed sought the cooperation of the senators to be minister, having served as the spokesperson for the opposition for 10 years and promised to be less harsh on the opposition as a federal minister.

At this point, Ndume again moved the motion for Mohammed to take a bow and go, a motion supported by the Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, who however insisted that Mohammed must “drop some propaganda.”

Another nominee, who is former Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals, Amina Mohammed, stressed the need to upgrade the Vision 20:2020 while the MDAs must key into the new strategy and review it in line with current realities.

Mr Ibrahim Jibril, on his part, said the issue of haphazard development in the nation’s capital would continue unless the issue of resettlement was properly addressed and urged residents to take advantage of the Abuja Geographic Information System to carry out search on lands.

He lamented that the Abuja master plan, which ought to be reviewed every five years, had not been reviewed in the last 35 years.

Melaye, addressing journalists after plenary, said another 10 nominees would be screened on Wednesday while all the nominees, including those in the second batch, would be screened and confirmed on Thursday.

“The report of Rotimi Amaechi would be received tomorrow. The Senate asked Alhaji Lai Mohammed to take a bow because of his antecedents and popularity,” he added.