After weeks of strong opposition, a former governor of Rivers State, Chief Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, was yesterday screened by the Senate. However, the exercise, was not without fireworks among lawmakers.
Prior to his screening, the Senate held a closed-door meeting, barely 10 minutes after the commencement of the business of the day. The parley lasted for over an hour. Soon after, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, revealed details of the outcome of the meeting. He said: “We discussed during the closed-door meeting the issue of the screening of ministers-designate.”
Despite moves by Saraki to douse expected fireworks, there was war of words between Senators from the North and their South-south and South-east counterparts. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators from the South-west were not exempted. Until Saraki wielded the big stick, the Senate was in a rowdy session.
Trouble started when Saraki ignored the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, which was laid before the floor.
Soon after the Chairman of the commit- tee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, submitted it, Saraki thereafter requested that Amaechi be led into the chamber to be screened.
Amaechi was yet to introduce himself when the Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio raised a Point of Order. An angry Akpabio raised Order 43. He said: “I want to point out that the PDP Senators and the caucus do not have any questions for the nominee. We have just received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions against the nominee about cases of fraud and indictment. Until that is discussed, we will not be part of the screening. Is that the position of PDP caucus members?” The PDP Senators all chorused, “yes”. Akpabio was immediately countered by the Majority Leader, Ali Ndume. He raised Order 53 (9). Ndume said: “This is a confirmation hearing. As a former Speaker, we can ask the nominee to take a bow and go.”
He was yet to finish when Akpabio fired another shot. He raised a poser. “Is the Senate Leader saying that the Senate should have a rule where nominees can take a bow and go?” Again, PDP caucus members chorused, “yes”.
Ndume, who was obviously infuriated, countered Akpabio. He said, as Senate Leader, it was his duty to market the candidacy of Amaechi, who is a member of his political party, All Progressives Congress (APC). “On that order I raised, it is my responsibility to market the nominee. You people that are given the privilege to ask questions…”
He was interjected by a PDP Senator from Ebonyi State, Obinna Ogba. The furious Senator shouted at Ndume and demanded that his offensive statement be withdrawn.
In his intervention, the Senate President pleaded with his colleagues to maintain decorum. “I think the Senate Leader has retracted that statement. The Minority Leader stood up to say that they have no questions. That is fine. We have always ensured that those who have served in the legislative arms should be allowed to take a bow and go.”
After a tense exchange of words, the Senate President gave the nod for APC lawmakers to ask Amaechi questions. Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi North) was the first.
He was followed by Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central). Senator Aliyu Wammakko (APC, Sokoto Central) and several others from the North and Southwest equally probed the minister-designate.
Responding, Amaechi promised to explore his vast knowledge of the country to better the lot of Nigerians. He identified areas where the APC administration would focus on how to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. The screening and fireworks lasted for 50 minutes.
The former governor had earlier stormed the office of the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, apparently to make a last minute move to save his screening and confirmation.
Amaechi, who came to the Senate wing of the National Assembly in a large motorcade, temporarily caused a gridlock. After exchange of greetings with some lawmakers who arrived at the National Assembly same time, he moved to Enang’s office, alongside with his retinue of supporters. Our cor- respondent could not get the details of their meeting.
The former Rivers State governor was accompanied to the screening by National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oye- gun, former governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Timipre Sylva, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gali N’Abba, APC governorship candidate for Rivers State, Dakuku Pe- terside, Senator Magnus Abe, among others.
The Senate, yesterday, also screened Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa), Mr. Claudius Omoleye Daramola (Ondo), Prof. Isaac Folorunso Adewole (Osun), Mr. Baba Shehuri Mustapha (Borno) and Mr. Enojo James Ocholi, (SAN) (Kogi).
Unlike Amaechi’s screening, Lokpobiri did not face any brickwall. As a former Senator, he was not grilled by lawmakers. He was only asked a casual question by Saraki, after which he took a bow and left the chamber.
Mr. Daramola promised to guide against incessant strikes in the education sector if appointed minister of education. He gave a detailed report of the problems bedeviling the sector and how the government can tackle the issues.
During his screening, Mustapha promised to ensure that the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari is fulfilled. After responding to questions from Senators, he was asked to take a bow.
The last nominee to be screened was Ocholi who explained how the government can reform the prisons in line with modern realities. He also spoke on the alleged rot in the judiciary and how modest reforms can be carried out in that arm of government.
The confirmation of the six ministerial nominees that were cleared yesterday are expected to be confirmed at the next legislative day. The Senate adjourned sitting at about 3.30pm till next week Tuesday.
Meanwhile, two fresh petitions have been submitted against the nominee from the Sokoto State, Ms Aisha Abubakar. Laying the petitions before the Senate, the lawmaker from Sokoto State, Ibrahim Gobir, said he was only acting on behalf of his constituents. The fresh petition was thereafter referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for further consideration.
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