Senate, at a stormy session yesterday, fixed Tuesday next week for the screening of the 21 ministerial nominees whose list was submitted to it by President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday through Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Engr. Babachir Lawal and the president’s special aide on the senate, Sen. Ita Enang.
The Upper House also declared that it had no plan to grill President Buhari, who had indicated interest to retain the Petroleum ministry portfolio.
The lawmakers, in what suggested possible face-off with the presidency, however, said the senate expected not less than 36 ministerial nominees from President Buhari, in compliance with provisions of the 1999 constitution.
There was however indication yesterday that the president may send another batch of 15 ministerial nominees to the senate before the commencement of the grilling of the 21 ministers-designate next week Tuesday.
Top on the list of the nominees include former governor of Rivers state, Chibuike Amaechi, former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Audu Ogbe, former governor of Abia state, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, immediate past governor of Lagos state Mr. Babatunde Fashola.
Five former governors made the list which was officially unveiled on the floor of the senate about 11am yesterday by the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.
Moment after the list was unveiled yesterday on the floor of the senate, the lawmakers vowed to subject every of the 21 nominees, no matter their party affiliation, to thorough scrutiny.
Opposition senators, who had earlier vowed to summon President Buhari for screening yesterday, also picked holes on the 21 names, insisting it was below the expectation of Nigerians.
Minority leader of the senate and former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, in swift outburst on the floor of the senate, insisted that there was nothing exciting about the list. Others alleged that the president only recycled the old names.
He insisted that President Buhari should have sent a complete list so that all the 36 states of the federation would be represented.
He particularly noted that since it took Buhari four months to announce the partial list, it may take a longer period for the complete list to be out.
“If you notice from the list, this is no real change. We expected a wholesome list and not partial list”, Akpabio said.
Other PDP senators also moved to oppose the presentation of an incomplete list, but Saraki only noted their observations, and proceeded with the other businesses of the day.
He however said President Buhari should be given the benefit of doubt, pointing out that since he fulfilled his promise of sending the list by September, he would also send the remaining list “shortly” as promised.
Saraki, who earlier read out the names of the nominees from Buhari’s letter, said that the screening of the nominees would commence next week Tuesday, October 13.
He explained that the main reason for scheduling the screening date was for senators to have ample time to study the curriculum vitae of the nominees.
However, Spokesman of the senate, Senator Dino Melaye, who told journalists yesterday that senate will not ignore any petition against any of the nominees, declared that the senate may do away with its long tradition of asking any former lawmakers on the list the courtesy of ‘bow and go’.
He insisted that senate would not have any business screening President Buhari alongside the 21 nominees.
Senator Melaye said that senators asking for the screening of the president were only expressing their personal opinion.
Briefing senate correspondents yesterday senator Melaye insisted that it would not business as usual adding that the senate would be very thorough in the grilling of the nominees. He also denied report of alleged attempt to subject President Buhari to screeing.
“I want to use this opportunity to disabuse the minds of rumor mongers. Some are saying since the President will be the petroleum minister, so, he will be summoned and screened.
“I want to say this is baseless and untrue. It is only products of imagination,” said Melaye.
Melaye, who reiterated Senate’s decision to carry out a rigorous exercise of the ministerial nominees, stated that the screening would not be immediate because senators wanted to ensure due diligence in the screening of the nominees.
“We are going to ask for the citation and profile of our nominees to be submitted to the Senate, and as from tomorrow or Thursday, the senators are going to study the resume of the nominees to guide us in our deliberations for the screening.
“In few days from now, we are expecting the rest of the list from Mr. President, who is a man of his word and honour. I want to assure Nigerians that as soon as we received the list of the additional nominees, we will communicate through the press corps,” he said.
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa had earlier said that Buhari must appear before the Senate, if he wants to be the Petroleum Minister.
“The Constitution is clear, and we will follow the Constitution and the laid down rule. I don’t think the President’s name will be on the list, and I also don’t think that the President will say he is a minister.
“If you are a minister, one of the conditions is that you must be subjected to screening and approval of the Senate. He, as the chief minister, can be there to supervise any ministry; but he cannot be a minister. Whoever is advising him to be a minister is not advising him right”, he said.
The list, as announced, on the floor of the senate has Senator Chris Ngige (Anambra), Mr. Kay- ode Fayemi (Ekiti).
Others are: National Publicity Secretary of All progressives Congress (APC), Lai Mohammed (Kwara), former PDP National Chairman, Audu Ogbeh (Benue), Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu (Delta), Senator Hadi Sirika (Katsina) and Abubakar
On the list also are Alhaji: Abdurahman Bello Dambazau (retd.) (Kano), Aisha AlHassan (Taraba), Barrister Adebayo Shittu (Oyo), Barrister Solomon Dalong (Plateau), Amina Ibrahim (Kaduna), Osagie Ehanire (Edo), Sulaiman Adamu (Jigawa), Kemi Adeosun (Ogun), Ogbonnaya Onu (Ebonyi), Ahmed Ibeto (Niger), Ibrahim Jibril and Udoma Udo-Udoma (Akwa- Ibom)
Commenting later, Senator Ak- pabio said, “We will do our best to ensure robust debate, fine-tune the policies of the APC administration to better the lots of Nigerians, and to ensure that Nigeria gets out of the current economic doldrums. So far, on a personal note, I am impressed with the list that was sent by the President.
“I believe that he has kept to his word by ensuring that we sort out a lot of people of integrity that can salvage the country. But of course, the Senate will still do its work of screening and re-screening, and I pray that more than 70 or 80 percent of the list should pass through,” he said.
Meanwhile, six bills were presented and read for the first time, including: Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015 (SB. 17) sponsored by Senator Andy Uba and Chartered Institute of Capital Market Registrar (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2015 (SB. 25) sponsored by Senator Francis Alimikhena.
Others are: Nigerian Law Reform Commission Act CAP N118 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2015 (SB. 27) by Senator Babajide Omoworare; Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2015 (SB. 28) by Senator Babajide Omoworare; Special Fund Accounts Commission (Establishment, etc) Bill, 2015 (SB. 34) by Senator Shaba Lafiagi; and Development Planning and Projects Continuity Bill, 2015 (SB. 42) by Senator Jibril Barau.
– Emeka Ekpunobi and Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja