Saturday, October 17, 2015 11:36 am
Buhari’s ministerial nominees give perspectives on national issues and development at Senate Screening and these are a precursor to what will happen as the exercise continues next week
By Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja.
After a wait of over four months, the process of bringing in the men and women who will work with President Muhammadu Buhari to “change,” Nigeria as stated in the manifesto of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC has began to crystallize with the approval of 18 ministerial nominees for appointment by the President by the Senate last Wednesday.
The ministerial nominees were cleared after two days of intensive screening include Senator Udoma Udo-Udoma, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, Dr. Osage Ehanire, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Amina Mohammed and Suleiman Adamu. Also cleared were Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, Senator Chris Ngige, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Senator Aisha Alhassan, Mr. Solomon Dalong, Kemi Adeosun, Mr. Hadi Sirika and Ibrahim Jibril.
The intended screening dominated public discussion in the past one week, especially with the Senators vowing that the nominees will be subjected to thorough screening and protests against the presence of some personalities among the intended ministers. However, in spite of the huffing and puffing of Senators, the screening of the ministerial nominees which was streamed live on television and on the internet yielded tremendously for Nigerians as it provided insights into the nominees as well as the changes they will want to see in the various areas of national life when they become ministers.
Though the President did not attach portfolios to the names of the nominees, Senators however grilled them on the area they might be asked to superintend over based on their qualifications and previous areas of employments. Some of the nominees who have held public offices were also given the opportunity of defending their records. Also, through their impressive delivery and display of mastery of the subjects they spoke on disabuse the minds of those who have written off the ministerial list.
There was no doubt that one of those whose screening was very much anticipated was former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola. The former Governor who was grilled for over one hour during which Senators posed questions to him based on his eight years tenure as chief executive of Lagos State, allegations that he spent N78 million on his website and almost N200 million on the construction of boreholes and on the issue of loyalty.
If he was rattled by the questions, the former Governor did not show it as he noted that nobody had accused him of corruptly enriching himself. Fashola also noted that all procurements under his administration usually went through a process involving agencies saddled with responsibilities for each area. “I have remained loyal to courses that I have signed unto and in all my life, nobody can fairly accuse me of giving my word and going back on my word,” the Governor said in response to the question on his definition of loyalty.
Other highlights of Fashola’s screening include his recommendation that production can be stimulated through taxes, decentralisation of the police, and diversification of the economy. “One of the ways in which we can stimulate the economy of this country at this moment when there is a need, in any event, to move away from oil, is to encourage productivity and to allow the states which generate the most in terms of these taxes to keep as much of them. Competition has always been known to stimulate productivity and as much as I can say that I have not probably travelled to all the 36 states of Nigeria, the knowledge and information available suggest to me clearly that no state in this country is unable to undertake some kind of productive activity; whether from minerals in most rural areas, whether it is processing cocoa, whether it is timber processing, and so on,”
Fashola said. “Those kinds of multiplier activities support the growth of industries and are accountable to happenings across the nation,” he added. While noting that the country currently has less than 500,000 policemen to its population of over 180 million, the former Governor said the argument that State police would be abused for political purposes does not hold water: “I have heard the argument that (state) governments will abuse the police for political purposes. But the abuse of political power is not as important as loss of lives. And everything we do to advance that course makes us more respected as a government that cares.” He also spoke on the Federal Capital Territory and what should be done to turn the city around as well as the need for Nigeria to borrow funds for infrastructural development.
Fahola’s brilliant outing was followed by another excellent presentation by Ibe Kachikwu, the Group Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. Kachikwu was appointed the NNPC GMD about two months ago by President Buhari and with his nomination as minister, the lawmakers believe he will be given the petroleum portfolio. It was therefore not a surprise that the questions directed at him were based on how he is going to tackle the problems in the oil industry and ongoing reforms of the sector which he initiated after his appointment.
A key revelation of Kachikwu during the screening was that Nigeria has been losing about $15 billion annually due to the failure of the National Assembly to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). This, according to him is because non passage of the bill has brought about a lot of uncertainty which has constituted impediments to investments. He however said he will not allow the ongoing reform of the sector to be held down by non passage of PIB.
Rather than seek to go the whole hog, Kachikwu advised the Senate to pass aspects of the Bill that are less contentious. “So I will urge this revered Senate to fairly quickly come to terms, find a way of working with us and go ahead and pass those elements of the PIB where there’s no much contention.” On the refineries, the NNPC GMD told the Senators that Nigeria’s three refineries were currently working at the rate of 25 to 27 per cent of installed capacity. This is in contrast to information by the NNPC just before his appointment that the refineries were working at 65 per cent of installed capacity.
The NNPC boss also dismissed rumours of fuel scarcity in the country, saying NNPC has enough petrol in stock that can serve the nation for at least, 40 days. “My analysis over the last six weeks confirms a consistent 25 to 27 per cent performance level, because the issue is not an upsurge. On average, our performance level is between 25 and 27 per cent, so if we can’t run them, then we need to get out, make adequate arrangements to privatise them and take them out,” said Kachikwu who added that it was an embarrassment that Nigeria refineries were not functioning when smaller neighbouring countries like Ghana, Niger and Chad can refine their own products.
On the issue of corruption within NNPC, Kachikwu said the issue is overblown as 80 per cent of the staff was persons of integrity, adding that only 20 per cent of them were bad eggs. He also spoke on the subsidy on kerosene as well as the plans of NNPC to start giving free cylinders to Nigerians to encourage them to switch to gas for domestic cooking.
Ms. Adeosun, the nominee from Ogun State harped on the need for diversification of the economy in another brilliant outing during the screening. She added that youths should be encouraged to get entrepreneurial skills with which they can create jobs and wealth.
Senator Alhassan, another female nominee was however more eager to let the world know that her nomination by the President was not intended to force her to withdraw her challenge of the results of the governorship election of her home state, Taraba. The nominee who was the gubernatorial candidate of APC in the 2015 general elections said the President is a man of integrity who will not stop her by giving her an option to take a ministerial position and withdraw her petition against the election. However, the Senator took her up on the issue of corruption in the judiciary being a former Registrar of Federal Capital Territory High Court. “Corruption in the judiciary has little or nothing to do with giving or taking of money. When a judge or judicial officer exercises his discretion injudiciously, that is corruption. When a bailiff refuses to go and process and waits for any of the counsel to come and see him that is corruption. When a lawyer advises his client who pleads or who confesses the commission of an offence and he tells him, when you go before the court say you are not guilty, that is also corruption.”
Other ministerial nominees screened on Wednesday include Barrister Solomon Dalong, a human rights activist who lamented that cattle rustling is negatively affecting livestock industry in Nigeria and Senator Hadi Sirika who said Nigeria needed a national carrier to stop outflow of funds to outside the country. “Over 90 percent of earnings in the aviation sector are being taken by the international airlines and bilateral agreements are lopsided because we don’t have our own national carrier,” said Sirika.
In all, eight nominees were screened by the Senators on Wednesday. The lawmakers had on Tuesday screened 10 nominees with Senator Udo Udoma, a technocrat and private sector player taking the lead. In the brief speech he made before he was asked to “bow and go,” as a former lawmaker, Udoma had dwelled on the need to diversify the economy in face of the liquidity challenges being faced by the country.
“We cannot turn this economy around if we rely solely on public sector; we have to focus on the private sector. I speak the language of the private sector. Since I am going into the private sector I understand them well,” Udoma who added that he is ready to hit the ground running once he is sworn into office said. The former Senator who was former chairman of Security and Exchange Commission, SEC said there is also the need to improve Nigeria’s investment climate and made policies more stable if Nigeria wants to attract foreign investment.
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi was the second nominee that was screened by the Senate on Tuesday. The lawmakers asked him different questions on foreign policy, his service in Ekiti State, Nigeria’s justice system, how to alleviate poverty and unemployment and so on. The former governor said the Nigeria must close the gap between the rich and the poor if it is serious about alleviating poverty. “Poverty is clearly deep in our country. If you look at our manifesto, we put it at a figure of about 110 million Nigerians who live below the two dollar per day margin in our country. It is not really poverty, it is inequality. You cannot have progress in any country, where one per cent of the population controls 80 per cent of the resources,” said Fayemi.