The last two weeks have been characterised by the storm of ministerial screening by the Senate. Even before this, the screening of the nominees has been preceded by a rancorous debate over who should be included or excluded from the list.
When Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu was inaugurated on May 29, 2023 as President, not a few expressed the hope that the ministerial list would be out before the end of June. The hope for appointment of new ministers had suffered delay when former President Muhammadu Buhari swept away the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the corridor of power in 2015.
Arising from the inability of Tinubu to release the list of ministerial nominees earlier as anticipated, those who predicted early release of the list said the delay was due to insistence by the President to consult critical stakeholders. When finally, the names of 28 nominees were released on Thursday July 27, 2023, less than 48 hours to the expiration of the 60-day ultimatum on release of the nominees by the president, as provided for in the Nigerian Constitution, not many were impressed by some of the ministerial choices.
It was certain that names of some of the nominees by the ‘Jagaban’ were bound to ignite discordant tunes. Like former President Muhammadu Buhari who spent several months tinkering with the ministerial list, many analysts were of the view that Tinubu’s delay in releasing the list was not worth the anxiety, taking into consideration the choice of some former governors whose political lives have become synonymous to the corridors of power.
Unlike what happened in 2015, many had expected that the President would have deleted the phone numbers of some politicians who have now turned the corridor of power into a permanent abode. Even when political analysts had predicted that former Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was set to embrace political oblivion, following the warm relationship between Tinubu and the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the love between the duo seemed to have hit the rocks as the former APC governor bounced back to reckoning as the National Chairman of the party.
It is clear that against the backdrop of what is playing out in Kano, there is now no love lost between the APC and NNPP, as Ganduje has called on his former boss, who is now in charge of Kano politics. to sheathe the sword of political hostility and return to the APC.
If the ministerial screening exercise proved a smooth ride for a majority of the nominees, tons of allegations threatened to be an albatross for others. Against expectations that former Governor Nyesom Wike would stumble over opposition to his nomination, the hallowed chamber of the Senate welcomed him, with senators from Rivers describing him as “one of our best”. They requested their colleagues to allow the former Rivers State governor to take leave of the Senate with a bow.
Of course, the screening of former Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai of Kaduna State was confronted with numerous petitions and protests by some groups. Since the history of ministerial screenings in Nigeria, there has been no single nominee that has attracted a deluge of petitions than that of el-Rufai whose eight years in power as governor left trails of fierce discordant tunes along religious and ethnic lines. Apart from Kaduna citizens who lost homes, stalls and business premises through demolitions, including sack of thousands of monarchs, teachers and unrivalled banditry and kidnappings that had turned the state into Nigeria’s most fearful zone for criminal activities, the number of petitions against the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were massive.
The former governor had regaled members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly with his usual technocratic prowess on the power sector after dazzling the lawmakers on his footprints in governance. To the consternation of many opposed to el-Rufai, the three senators of Kaduna State, all from the PDP, who were expected to oppose the nomination, quickly endorsed the man who worked hard to diminish the victory of their party at the state level. Someone told me during the week that the three PDP Kaduna senators were already privy to the awaiting waterloo, but resolved to allow the nominee to swim in his delusive victory mood that gained tremendous traction in various social media platforms.
When Senator Sunday Karimi (Kogi West) commended the former governor over his governance footprints in Kaduna, but raised concerns over a deluge of petitions opposing his nomination, especially on security matters, there was a muffled and muted rancour. Not a few described the Senator from Kogi as an idle and unwanted interloper who has chosen to interfere on a matter that was entirely not his business.
When finally in the dusky hours of Tuesday, Senate completed the screening exercise, for the second batch of 19, and another addition, Barr Festus Keyamo, and released the names of confirmed ministers, el-Rufai’s name was missing, including that of Sen Abubakar Danladi (Taraba State) and Stella Okotete (Delta State)
It was obvious that the plot to stop the former governor was orchestrated to ensure he was caught unawares. If the three PDP senators had opposed his nomination, a source confided to me yesterday, it would have given him a clue that all was not well, and probably force him to activate his contacts to turn the tables against his traducers who had sworn to ensure he does not get the confirmation nod. The former Kaduna State governor’s fate was deliberately sealed in order to take him unawares, making him ignorant of the fact that Senator Karimi was a forerunner to doomed ministerial ambition.
When finally the deed was done, the Senate quickly told him and others who had been denied confirmation to await security clearance for yet another possible appearance before the Senate. For the former governor whose intelligence and political craftiness remains unprecedented in surviving the sharks of intrigues, the decision to deny him confirmation as minister is akin to unleashing a devastating blow on him. Less than three days after the Senate sealed his fate, there were reports on some online media platforms that the former governor had rejected the ministerial position offered to him.
How does someone reject a position that has been denied to him as shown by the Senate’s refusal to confirm him as the Minister of the Federal Republic? It is a fact that the opposition against him was solid rock even as he was said to have confessed that some forces in the Presidency were out to frustrate his ministerial ambition. It is clear that with the senators turning their back against him, el-Rufai’s dream is already set aflame without any hope for resurrection.
One fact about the Tinubu-led administration is its commitment to arrest the rampaging insecurity that once pervaded various parts of the country. The petitions against the former Kaduna State governor have to do with state security matters, including other allegations bordering on threats to the unity and corporate survival of Nigeria; such allegations cannot be swept under the carpet even when President Tinubu had promised to work with him.
Senators may have succeeded in pulling through the screening of new ministers who are expected to assist the President in discharging the affairs of governance, but members of the National Assembly must be committed to ensuring these new ministers are accountable to the Nigerian people. More importantly, in the months and years ahead, lawmakers should not let down the bar in the discharge of their oversight functions.
As the new Federal Executive Council (FEC) is inaugurated next week, the lawmakers must not allow the new ministers to behave like Keyamo whose arrogance to the 9th National Assembly should not be allowed to repeat itself. After forcing Keyamo to eat the humble pie, this National Assembly, under the leadership of Sen Godswill Akpabio, must not subjugate itself to the whims and caprices of the executive arm, knowing full well that democracy rises and falls on lawmakers who are the true symbol and bastion of democracy.