President Muhammadu Buhari did beat his record in the nomination of Nigerians who would serve as ministers in his government. Unlike in his first term of office, from May 29, 2015 to May 28, 2019, when it took him five months (October 2015), to send the first set of his ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening and confirmation, he did that in record two months (July 2019) this time round. Although some people still believe he delayed in constituting his cabinet, going by the fact that he won reelection in February, Mr. President, all the same, kept his promise that it would not be like his first term.
Also, President Buhari, in constituting his cabinet, kept his promise to nominate people he “knows” as ministers. He nominated, again, 11 people who worked with him during the first term in office. He nominated nine former governors. He nominated seven women. There are a total of 43 ministers, one from each of the 36 states of the federation and an extra one each from the six geopolitical zones of the country. In doing this, President Buhari fulfilled the constitutional requirement that each state must produce a minister. In making an additional nomination of six ministers, he showed that he would increase the number of federal ministries the ministers would oversee.
President Buhari has done his bit in picking would-be ministers, to the best of his ability. The Senate has cleared or confirmed the ministerial nominees, as required by the Constitution. President Buhari would now exercise his discretion and power to assign portfolios to the ministers, to complete the exercise. That is what the Constitution says.
While the nation awaits the ministers to be assigned portfolios and, therefore, start functioning in the office they are appointed, there is a question that needs to be asked. Would the Senate say for sure that the ministerial nominees were screened? This poser is coming because of what transpired at the Senate during the screening, wherein the majority of the nominees were asked to just introduce themselves, take a bow and go. Inasmuch as the Senate has the prerogative to do what it wants in screening ministers or to decide what parameter to use in the exercise, would senators say they did justice to this national assignment? I do not think so.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Senate gave most of the ministerial nominees what could pass for a waiver or soft landing. The lucky ones were spared the trouble of answering questions or addressing whatever concerns the lawmakers had. They simply appeared, perhaps, for their faces to be seen or admired, and then asked to go. These privileged ones included former members of the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly, female nominees and other “adopted lawmakers” with a relationship or association with lawmakers.
The ministerial nominees have been confirmed, but it is obvious that many of them were not screened, in the true sense of it. The dictionary defines screening thus: “The evaluation or investigation of something as part of a methodical survey, to assess suitability for a particular role or purpose.”
With this definition at the back of our minds and what transpired at the Senate for five days when the 43 ministerial nominees appeared before senators, one can confidently say some of the nominees were never screened. When former National Assembly members among the nominees were asked to “take a bow” and go, when female nominees were also asked to do the same as well as some others, there was certainly no screening. The exercise was no evaluation. It was not an investigation. It was not an assessment of the ability of those so nominated, to know their suitability for the job. It was a “carry go” exercise, which, at best, is for the entertainment of Nigerians and the world.
I do not know the point the Senate intended to make with the process it adopted in screening the ministerial nominees. I do not know how the senators feel using a process that made a caricature of screening exercise. However, what I do know is that the Senate denied Nigerians the opportunity to truly assess those who would work for them as ministers. The Senate also denied the ministerial nominees the opportunity to prove to Nigerians their capability. It also, indirectly, portrayed women in bad light.
Instead of spending five days for the “show” Nigerians saw, the Senate could just have invited all the ministerial nominees into the chamber and ask them to take a bow. Thereafter, the Senate could have just read out their names and pronounce them confirmed. That would have saved us the trouble of staying glued to national television just for mere “take a bow and go” drama. This would have also saved the country the cost of live television coverage for five days.
We have watched some other nations screen their ministers, where thoroughness is brought to bear. Such screening usually takes hours, for one nominee, wherein senators or lawmakers ask all manner of questions, without any Senate President or Speaker deciding which one the nominees would answer and which to ignore. In the United States, for instance, Hillary Clinton was a senator and former First Lady of the nation before being nominated as Secretary of State. This did not stop the Congress from grilling her when she appeared for screening. She was not asked to take a bow and go because of her membership of Congress. Nobody told her to take a bow and go because she was a woman. She was subjected to though examination/evaluation, through tough questioning. She was, thereafter, confirmed for the office she was nominated.
The Senate’s self-denial exhibited during the screening of ministers was, indeed, a disservice to Nigerians. It was a lost opportunity for a robust discussion that could have brought out some ideas, which the government could adopt. Some points that the few ministerial nominees who were asked questions made during their screening were not just intellectual masturbation but an opportunity for the education of Nigerians. The presentations of the likes of Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Babatunde Fashola, Uche Ogah, Festus Keyamo, Sunday Dare, Adamu Adamu, Abubakar Malami, Mohammed Abdullahi and others did bring out ideas that could shape policies of government, if taken up. There could have been more of such brilliant ideas had the Senate subjected all the ministerial nominees to real interrogation. Could you imagine the contributions of the likes of Chris Ngige, Godswill Akpabio, Gbemisola Saraki, Oluronnimbe Mamora, Omotayo Alasoadura, George Akume, Hadi Sirika and Emeka Nwajuba, all former senators and member of the House of Representatives, had they been questioned by the senators, instead of being asked to take a bow and go? The experiences of these people, which could have been shared in such an engagement, could have brought out some takeaways.
For the women who were asked to also take and bow and go, they may not know that the Senate has made them lesser mortals. If you are exempted from an examination on the grounds of gender, it, therefore, means that the examiner considers you a human being with less intellectual capacity. By the exemption of women from answering questions, the Senate presented them as less human to and not equal to men. I wonder why the women did not see this!
The Senate has, indirectly, presented itself as pliable to the Executive by its disposition during the ministerial nominees’ screening. Yes, some Nigerians see the screening of ministers as an indication of the Senate pandering to the Executive, which was the fear expressed during the race for the Senate presidency. Senate President Ahmad Lawan had said the Senate would not be a rubber stamp of the Executive. It would be hard for anybody to believe this, judging from the performance of the 9th Senate in its first major assignment.
Lawan should know that he is the Senate President of Nigeria and, therefore, expected to do things, in the leadership of the Senate, that would protect the interests of Nigeria, not that of President Buhari and a few individuals. The Senate, as a body, should know that, in the doctrine of separation of power, it is supposed to function independently and not be an institution that panders to the Executive it is supposed to check.