- The Senate will commence the screening of ministerial nominees on Tuesday following the unveiling of the modalities for the clearance of the minister-designates. In this piece, Assistant Editor, MIKE ODIAKOSE, x-rays the modalities and the how it may impact on the outcome of the screening exercise.
Last week the Senate met behind closed doors to fine-tune strategies and modalities for screening of ministerial nominees transmitted to it by President Muhammadu Buhari. Senate’s spokesman, Daniel Dino Melaye told newsmen after the meeting that the modalities for the screening of the nominees was drawn from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended and the Standing Rules of the Senate.
Two major conditions laid down by the Senate which every ministerial nominee is expected to scale through are production of evidence of the assets declaration and endorsement by two Senators from the nominee’s state of origin.
“The Senate is relying on the provisions of section 147(3), section 14(3), Section 65 of the Constitution for the screening.
“It is mandatory that all nominees will show evidence of asset declaration as part of requirements for screening,” he maintained.
Melaye stated that the Senate’s standing rules require that a minimum of 2 Senators from the state of a nominee must have subscribed to their nomination.
Barely 24 hours after the Senate unveiled its modalities for the screening of the ministerial nominees the presidency came out to express support for the position of the senate., saying it was in the best interest of the nation.
The Senate action, according to the Presidency, falls within the constitutional powers of the upper chamber of the National Assembly on screening and approval of ministerial nominees.
According to Senior Special Assistant, SSA, to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters (Senate Wing), Senator Ita Enang, the upper legislative chamber was constitutionally empowered to set out conditions upon which ministerial nominees forwarded to it by the president could be screened.
While many Nigerians applauded the Senators for requesting for the evidence of Assets declaration by the ministerial nominees, however, a cursory look at the rules of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, as regards assets declaration clearly indicates that the Senators may have overreached themselves in demanding for assets declaration.
The Code of Conduct Bureau regulation requires every public officer to declare their assets on assumption of office and not prior to the assumption of office.
The CCB rules says (a)“This form is a schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) and it is mandatory for all Public Officers whether elected, appointed, recruited, contracted etc, by whatever name called to collect and sign for the form from the Code of Conduct Bureau Office nearest to their work station in any of the 36 states of the Federation and F.C.T. or the Code of Conduct Bureau Headquarters at the Federal Secretariat Complex, Shehu Shagari Way, Maitama District, Abuja.
(b) “Every declarant is required by Law to declare his/her assets/liability including that of his spouse(s) who is not a Public Officer and children under 18 years age, honestly, sincerely and submit same to the Bureau within 30 days of the receipt of the forms.
(c) “Every Public Officer is to note that it is the requirement of the Law to declare his/her assets/liabilities on (a) Assumption of office; (b) At the end of his term of Office, (c). At interval of four years for Public Officers on continuous employment of Government whether Federal, State or Local Government: (d) and at such other intervals as the Bureau may determine from time to time.”
Since the ministerial nominees can be disqualified at this stage by the Senate and may not have the privilege of “assuming office” it is arguably not the intendment of the framers of the CCB Act for nominees to submit assets declaration form. The law is very lucid at what point public servants declare their assets.
But because the Senate is tyrannically holding the knife and the yam nobody, especially ministerial nominees, dare tell them to their face that they are reading the Code of Conduct Act upside down.
Also, there are fears in several quarters that the Senate may disqualify some nominees based on petitions sent to it by some aggrieved individuals. Some of the petitions were over alleged fraud, while some of the petitions are about the state of origin of some of the nominees. The Nigerian laws are very clear on the issue of all accused persons being innocent until they have been proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction or a properly constitutes Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
Worried by the pressure being mounted on the Senate and some State Houses of Assembly to disqualify ministerial and commissioner nominees, a Lagos-based advocacy group, the Law and Good Governance Group, maintained that it will amount to injustice for anyone to be disqualified at the screening stage over unproven allegations.
Cited one of the provisions for disqualification, Executive Director, LGGG, Dr. Festus Odunlami said a nominee could be disqualified if he “is under a sentence of death imposed on him by a competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment or fine for an offence involving dishonesty by fraud (by whatever name called) or any other offences imposed on him by such court or tribunal substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal.”
Also, it said a nominee could only be disqualified if “he has been indicted for embezzlement of fraud by a judicial commission of inquiry or Administrative Panel of Inquiry or an or a tribunal set up under the tribunal of Inquiry Act, a tribunal of Inquiry law or any other law by the Federal and State Government which indictment has been accepted by the Federal or State Government, respectively.”
The group recalled that although the 1999 constitution envisaged a situation where a nominee could be disqualified, it was evident that the Constitution “is very clear in stating that a person can only be disqualified if he has been indicted or convicted by any of the following: a court, a tribunal, a judicial commission of inquiry, an administrative panel of inquiry set up by Law or the Code of Conduct Tribunal.”
The statement added, “We wish to state, therefore, that the framers of these constitutional provisions placed these strict conditions to prevent third parties from placing non-judicial decisions of questionable validity as hurdles to the election of a nominee.
“They (the lawmakers) should not be seen to be departing from the same constitution that created the laws.”
On the issue of state of origin, which is the ground on which some petitioners are demanding for the disqualification of some ministerial nominees, anyone irrespective of his or her state of origin, is regarded as an indigene of anywhere he or she has resided for about ten years in any part of the country. As for women, it will be the height of injustice to deny them clearance if they are nominated to represent the state of their husbands if they met all other criteria. If a Barak Obama whose father is from Kenya can be allowed to run for the presidency of the United States because his mother is from that country, why should a Nigerian mother be denied representing the state of origin of her husband and children. Or are the women/mothers suddenly alien natives?
On the issue of every ministerial nominee getting the endorsement of two senators from their state before they can scale through, this perhaps is the most draconian of the modalities put in place by the senate. The senate is made up of 109 members and for a good ministerial material to be knocked out of the race because of only two votes is nothing short of dictatorship of the minority. There is no doubt that some of the minister-designates were not nominated by the political godfathers and tin-gods from their state. If the senators representing the state of the nominees pay allegiance to the godfather in their state there is very strong likelihood that the senators representing their states will do the bidding of their godfathers and knock the ministerial nominees out.
There is also conspiracy theory going on about the insistence of the Senators in demanding for the support of two senators before nominees scale through. There are talks that this modality was intentionally put in place to knock out some nominees. For instance, there are speculations that the presidency wants to use this modality to knock former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi out of the race. It is common knowledge that Amaechi contributed immensely to the presidential campaign of the APC and everyone is expecting him to be rewarded handsomely for his contributions. But Amaechi is having allegations of financial misconduct hanging over his neck. Nigerians have been wondering how President Buhari that is fighting corruption finds it convenient dinning with Amaechi.
The conspiracy theorists say Buhari wanted a diplomatic way of pushing Amaechi out of his way without hurting the former governor. The President had opportunity of giving Amaechi automatic appointments like the Chief of Staff or even Secretary to the Government of the Federation without Amaechi going through the rigors of the Senate screening but he chose not to do so. If the Senate disqualifies Amaechi, which is very likely as Rivers Senators have already submitted petition against him, Mr. President will tell him (Amaechi) that he has done his bit to compensate him and shift the blame to the senate and his estranged brothers in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
As Nigerians await the Tuesday screening of the ministerial nominees, several Nigerians are of the view that it is imperative for the Senate to revisit their modalities for clearing the nominees, especially those that were not indicted by any panel, and ensure we do not sacrifice merit on the altar of local politics from the various states.