It was supposed to be ministerial screening sessions but it ended up to be one of the most boring moments in Nigeria’s history. President Muhammadu Buhari had submitted his cabinet choice for the upper legislator’s scrutiny. However, Ahmed Lawan-led Senate bungled their first assignment with an uninspiring display that one of them, Dino Melaye, concluded the exercise as a “beautiful nonsense.”
Shortly after Lawan clinched the coveted Senate Presidency seat, he rated the 8th Senate as not performing to ‘capacity’ and that the 9th Senate under his leadership would “perform to full capacity and by the grace of God, Nigerians will see a positive difference in terms of delivery of service to our countrymen and women.” And when it was time for them to show Nigerians that ‘positive difference’, Lawan and his colleagues turned an exercise that would have given citizens a clear understanding of ideas and perspectives of people who would join Buhari in steering the affairs of the country, they reduced it to a ‘bow and go’ exercise.
For the first time in Nigeria’s democratic history, 23 nominees out of the total 43 sent to the Senate, were shielded from any scrutiny. Sound ridiculous? Well, welcome to the house of Lawan, where charade is disguised as screening.
If you follow the sessions well enough, you would probably spend most of your time gawking at the legislators for turning something of national importance to a ridiculous show. Nigeria is facing challenges on different fronts and citizens had hoped the screening of ministerial nominees present a platform to properly gauge their mindsets on recovery and remedy.
Their anticipation was not misplaced given the incoherent and distasteful performance of those who left the ministerial seats a few weeks ago. Except for those who choose political correctness, ministers who served under Buhari in his first term fell below the expected standard of Nigeria. Some of the ministers made a mess of things and aggravated situations facing Nigerians with their incompetence.
That explained the attention shown by many Nigerians to the screening process but Lawan and his colleagues left them disappointed by unnecessarily shielding them from scrutiny. They began the screening process with a simple inability to get much accomplished.
The Constitution in Section 147 (2) assigned confirmation hearing for ministerial nominees to Senate for purposes that benefits ordinary Nigerians and as such, reducing it to a ‘scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ mechanism is utterly counterproductive to the national interest. Though there is a tradition that confers ex-senators privilege from being questioned when nominated as ministers but that can’t displace the law. Expanding the cover of beneficiaries to former House of Representatives and Assembly members, including those considered ‘loyal’ is a concept that upheld an unacceptable status quo.
While Nigerians were glued to their television sets to see how vast nominees are on the economy, transportation, power, and other critical sectors that affect their daily lives, Senators who are supposed to be the representatives of the people, focused on trivial issues. It was so petty that one could confuse the screening sessions to a testimony ground as Senators who should grill would-be ministers turned to pour accolades on those who appeared before them.
Look at that instance when the Senator representing Adamawa North, Elisha Abbo, diverted the screening session to praise-sing a nominee, Rauf Aregbesola, as he told the audience how the former Osun governor “gave me (Abbo) the whole of your salary for that month to go to Adamawa and contest the election.” But the truth is, no one is interested in how he funded any of his election and who funded him but how to fund and return the over 14 million out-of-school children littering every part of the country.
As a governor, Aregbesola superintendent over policies and projects that stirred controversy or collapsed midway that should interest the Senators on what went wrong and what he will do differently at the federal level. The same is the case with many returning ministers whose previous role failed to make expected impacts on Nigerians but the legislators appeared persuaded by being ‘loyal’ or patronized as done by a former minister of FCT, Musa Mohammed Bello, who impressed on the lawmakers to Accord him the traditional “bow and go” treatment because he’s a member of the National Assembly “by association.”
Even when the immediate minister of Power, Works, and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, presented a gloomy outlook of Nigeria treasury and that cash received fell short of actual figures passed in budgets, one had expected the lawmakers to query the disclosure and open it for a wider debate on what can be done to change that situation. Or, how can a ministry whose N500 billion budget got passed only got N250–N280 billion as Fashola disclosed, be able to discharge certain responsibilities but alas, the Senators seem not to be interested.
They are less inclined to the rising state of poverty in the country, which was the foremost concern of Nigerians. The Ministerial screening has provided a glimpse of what can happen when politicians think less of the people but themselves. Together, these politicians ended the ministerial screening sessions by elevating the ‘bow and go’ tradition beyond the law and that is unacceptable.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org