The Senate on Tuesday began the screening of the first batch of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees.
Similarly, the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, also read out the names of the 16 fresh ministerial nominees submitted to the Senate on Monday evening by the chief of staff to the president, Abba Kyari.
Those on the second batch of the list include Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Prof Anthony Anwuka, Geoffrey Onyeama, Brig-Gen M. M. Dan-Ali, Barrister James Ocholi, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Okechukwu Enelamah, Muhammadu Bello, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, Ms Aisha Abubakar, Heineken Lokpobiri, Adamu Adamu, Prof Isaac Adewole, Pastor Usani Usani Uguru and Abubakar Bwari Bawa.
The screening of the initial nominees, which commenced around 11am , lasted about six hours with senators grilling the nominees on various national issues.
Nominees screened yesterday were Senator Udoma Udo-Udoma, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Lt-General Abdurrahman Dambazau (retd), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Mrs Amina Mohammed, Sulaiman Adamu and Ibrahim Usman Jibril.
Former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi; his counterpart part from Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola and the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Taraba State in the last general election, Senator Aisha Al-Hassan, are among the 11 other first-batch nominees yet to be cleared by the lawmakers.
Senator Udo-Udoma was the first to take the stand yesterday during the ministerial screening. As a former senator he was asked to take a bow and go after the Senate president asked him few questions as is the tradition and convention of the Senate.
Former governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, during his screening was asked to render an account of his tenure as the chief executive of Ekiti State. He defended his records, adding that Ekiti is number 35 on the revenue list of Nigeria and with an average of N3bn from the federation account, with salaries alone standing at N2.4bn a month at the time.
He also disclosed that he built the Ekiti Government House with N2.5bn, the cheapest in Nigeria, and refuted allegations that he purchased a N50m bed.
The former Ekiti governor identified teacher quality problem and mismatch between career need and enrolment as the biggest problems bedeviling the nation’s educational system.
On issues of poverty, corruption and the Nigerian economy, Fayemi said: “Poverty is not indomitable; China has lifted her citizens above the poverty level. The major problem in Nigeria is that the gap between the mindlessly rich and the hopelessly poor is too wide and must be bridged.
“There is too much concentration of power at the centre; therefore, there is need for devolution of power in Nigeria. Corruption must be tackled head-on. The amount of leakages in our revenue system is unacceptable, and must be promptly addressed. We have to reduce our recurrent expenditure and increase our capital expenditure in this country; otherwise we won’t be able to develop meaningfully.
“We have to diversify our economy, and it is achievable. Our criminal justice system has to be revisited. People don’t get punished for committing crimes in Nigeria. Our prisons have been saturated by those who are denied Justice.”
On his part, APC chieftain, Chief Audu Ogbeh, a well-known farmer, was grilled on issues relating to agriculture and on why politicians easily move from one party to another.
In his responses, he explained how the government would revamp the agricultural sector and create millions of jobs for the youths, but he lamented that banks’ high interest rates were mitigating against the growth of agriculture in the country. He blamed lack of internal democracy as the reason why politicians find it easy switching political parties at will.
“The major problem of agriculture in Nigeria is bad seedlings. We have the worst seeds to plant. Agricultural extension workers should be engaged in the local government areas to teach farmers on the best seeds to plant to improve our agricultural production.
“Nigeria is facing great danger if our agricultural production continues to go down. We have to work hard to stabilize agriculture. The greatest problem facing the development of agriculture in the country today is the high and indeed outrageous interest rates being charged by the commercial banks in Nigeria,” he stated.
Former governor of Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu responded to the questions on how to revive the power sector. Unlike his colleagues, he was not questioned much; he was soon told to take a bow.
Dr. Ehanire, a surgeon, was interviewed on issues relating to medicine as it was expected he would be given the health ministry, given training as a medical doctor. He was grilled on how he would restructure the health sector if appointed health minister. His responses were apt and clear.
He was also asked why doctors in the country had challenges in giving the right diagnoses to patients. He also proffered solutions on how the menace could be corrected.
Former chief of army staff, General Dambazau (retd) did not disappoint the senators who grilled him on issues related to insecurity and insurgency in the country. He was also grilled on how he handled the issue of security when he held sway as army chief. He explained how he would change the tide against the insurgents and ensure the protection of the sovereignty of Nigeria.
Spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lai Mohammed, vowed to discharge his duties with the same zeal and passion he applied to his job as opposition spokesman, and although the Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, insisted that the Kwara-born politician respond to more questions, he was asked to take a bow.
Mrs Amina Mohammed, who had been cleared of the petition against her by the Ethics and Privileges Committee before the screening, answered questions with aplomb and was asked to take a bow.
Another nominee, Engr Sulaiman Adamu, during his screening, was asked how he would ensure the provision of potable water to every nook and cranny of the country if appointed water resources minister. He gave useful insights on what to expect. Like the rest, he took a bow and left the chamber.
Jibril, who previously served as a senior official at the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), answered questions from senators on issues bordering on the development of the capital territory. In his response, he proffered solutions on how to tackle the spiraling population growth. He also took a bow and left the chamber.
The screening of Rotimi Amaechi, Senator Aisha Alhassan (Taraba), Senator Chris Ngige (Anambra), Hadi Sirika, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Kemi Adeosun (Ogun), Abubakar Malami, SAN, (Kebbi), Barrister Adebayo Shittu (Oyo), Solomon Dalong (Plateau), Ibe Kachikwu (Delta), and Ahmed Isa Ibeto (Niger) is expected to take place today.
Meanwhile, those on the new list include Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim (the wife of former Yobe governor and current senator), Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Professor Anthony Anwuka, Geoffrey Onyeama, Brig.-Gen. MM Dan-Ali (retd), James E. Ocholi, Zainab Shasuna Ahmed and Okechuku Enelamah.
Others are Muhammadu Bello, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, Aisha Abubakar, Heineken Lokpobiri, Adamu Adamu, Professor Isaac Adewole, Pastor Usani Usani Uguru and Abubakar Bawa Bwari.
Deputy Minority Whip Phillip Aduda protested the non-inclusion of an FCT native the final list. Quoting the constitution, he urged the National Assembly, which is the legislative arm of the FCT, to appeal to the president to correct the anomaly.
In his response, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu faulted the presidency on the grounds that nominees’ states of origin were not included in the letter, saying he could not identify the nominee from his own state, Enugu, from the list.