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Tough Week Ahead Senate Ministerial Screening

Francis Moses in Lagos, Tony Etim in Port Harcourt X-ray the twist and turns expected at the Senate with the screening of ministerial nominees starting tomorrow


With the Senate get set for the screening of ministerial nominees as from tomorrow, there are indications that the upper chamber may be rowdy following the decision by the Senate to screen only ministerial nominees who have declared their assets.

The indication came during the weekend when a popular anti- corruption group, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, urged the principal officers in the National Assembly to live by example by declaring their assets publicly first. Many believe the group was speaking the minds of those opposed to the Senate criterion, besides the others, for giving a clearance to any of the nominees.

The Senate, last week, released the criteria for screening of President Muhammadu Buhari’s intended cabinet members, which is scheduled to commence tomorrow. According to the Chairman, Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye, the senators decided that each nominee must submit proof of their assets declaration, must have their nomination approved by two senators from their states, and must have a clean bill of health from its public petitions committee, among other conditions.

But the Chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, in expressing approval of the decision of the Senate, however, said it would be self-contradictory for the National Assembly leadership to compel the ministerial nominees form demanding for the nominees to declare their assets without doing the same.

Adeniran said, “We are fully in support of it. As a matter of fact, we were the ones who first suggested it to Mr. President that any aspiring minister should be made to approach the CCB, fill their form, submit same and make it public.

His words “However, the National Assembly should also cause its principal officers to make their assets declaration public. It is at that time that they will have moral authority and grounds to demand assets declaration from aspiring ministers.

“Nobody should be asked to bow and go. We are therefore fully in support of the demand for assets declaration; that is a place to start to assess their administration.”

Against this backdrop the Senators from Rivers State recently insisted that they would oppose the nomination of a former governor of the state, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. Others facing opposition from their states, such as Amina Mohammed from Kaduna, Adeosun from Ogun, Babatunde Raji Fashola, would have a taste of the pudding as from tomorrow.

For Amaechi, the Senator representing Rivers-East Senatorial District, Senator George Sekibo, said over the weekend that the petition against the ex-governor was “supported by the three senators from the state.”

He also said they would insist on the report of the Senate committee on public petitions currently investigating allegations against Amaechi before he could be cleared by the upper chamber of the National Assembly.

In the event, Amaechi, has told his successor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, to go to court over the recommendations of the Justice George Omereji-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the sales of valued assets belonging to the state by the last administration.

Amaechi said in a statement issued from his Media Office at the weekend that rather than engage in theatrics and ‘childish’ tantrums, Wike should prosecute him if there was any case of corruption against him.

The state government had last week, while briefing journalists, declared that the commission of inquiry had indicted Amaechi and asked the ex-governor and others to return the sum of N97bn belonging to the state.

The government also directed its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Chinwe Aguma (SAN) to begin a process of prosecuting Amaechi and others indicted by the panel should they fail to return the said sum.

But Amaechi specifically stated that from the way the panel conducted its probe, it was obvious that Wike established it (panel) with a mission to indict him, maintaining that the outcome of the Omereji commission was not surprising to him.

His words “Indeed, the Wike panel was an inquisition against Amaechi. Wike should go to court if he has any case of alleged corrupt activities against Amaechi. His panel is not and can never be a law court.

“Wike’s regular childish tantrums, theatrics, comedy and drama of screaming huge bogus and phantom figures of missing or stolen or misappropriated billions of naira by the Amaechi-led administration have become a silly and sickening distraction.”

Taking the matter further at the weekend, former Comssiioner for Information, Mrs Ibim Semenitari stated Amaechi, was never invited to appeared before the Justice George Omerejii Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by Governor Nyesom Wike to look into the sale of the state power plants ad other financial issues.

Semenitari stated this at a press conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State while reacting to a White Paper issued by the Rivers State Government after Justice Omereji’s commission submitted its report to the state government.

Semenitari, who addressed the press on behalf of former commissioners under Amaechi administration, majority of whom were at the conference insisted that Amaechi did no refused to appear before the commission rather he was never invited to appear before the commission.

According o Semenitari, the press briefing became imperative following the recent spate of attacks on the former governor and allegations of corruption against the regime.

She stated that the position of the former commissioners was that “It is illegal for a governor to set up a judicial commission of inquiry.”

The commissioners pointed out that “ While inaugurating the commission Mr. Ezebunwon Nyesom Wike had charged the committee to amongst other things “investigate the illegal sales of the power plants.” This statement by itself was evidence enough that a position had been taken by the Rivers State Government.

“The Chairman of the Commission itself had himself stated “ if it was before me and sitting as a judge of a serious biting – biting court, you would have seen what is going to happen to people that are corrupt. I would have ordered the arrest of those corrupt officials who decided not to follow procedure and lock them up and maintain it.” This comment long before all parties had appeared before him was another confirmation of our position that the Commission’s report was already pre determined.

“Government is a continuum and Government policy is as determined by the administration of the day. Ministries, Departments and Agencies implement decisions of the State Executive Council and all records are domiciled in the ministries. As former commissioners we had each submitted our hand over notes to the Secretary to State Government as well as our Permanent Secretaries and so every record required by the successor government are available with the MDA’s. Our attention would only be required for routine clarification where this may be necessary.”

On the monorail project, Semenitari claimed that “the first phase of the project (2.6 Km stretch) could be said to have been technically completed. It is infantile and the height of gross irresponsibility to request that the sum of N33Bn be returned to the Rivers State Government. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the rudiments of governance and infrastructural developments.”

On the Agricultural Credit Scheme, he commissioners claimed that the scheme was intended to facilitate the flow of credit to farmers to enable them expand and consolidate their holdings; Sums were set aside for disbursement to farmers in the various LGAs of the State by way of grant.

They disclosed that a total no of 380 mother cooperatives were engaged after scaling through the eligibility criteria; there were a total no of 2553 subgroups engaged by the mother cooperatives; total of N4bn was earmarked for the implementation this programme and the completion of the fish farm projects; and about N3.1bn has been disbursed from the funds living behind about 900million with Rivers State Ministry of agric account for the completion of the projects.

On the sale of the power plants and the alleged illegal conversion of N60.4 billion by the Amaechi administration, Semenitari stated that these allegations are not true as proceeds from the sale of the assets was properly recognized in the 2014 Appropriation Law of Rivers State as one of the sources of revenue to fund the 2014 budget.

Semenitari said “the Power assets were priced and sold at a premium at $800,000 per mega watts which is higher than the rate of $358,000 per megawatts used by the Federal Government in disposing its power assets at Afam. Whereas River State earned $302,000,000.00 for seventy percent of its power assets of 542 megawatts, the Federal Government received $260,000,000.00 for the 726 megawatts plant situated adjacent to the Rivers State facility.

“Payments for the assets were made in several tranches between 2012 and 2014..All Proceeds of the sale made in US Dollars were lodged in the Rivers State Power Assets Sale Account with Access Bank.

“.The USD proceeds were sold to willing buyers at a rate higher than the prevailing CBN rates, and the Naira equivalent lodged by the buyers into the Rivers State revenue Account at Zenith Bank.

“The companies that were erroneously portrayed as fronts for looting of the funds were actually those that bought the USD and made remittances of Naira equivalents into the given Account with Zenith Bank.

“Once the funds were received into RVSG account they were used alongside others from other revenue sources to finance various Government projects and activities.”

Interestingly, the chief press secretary to Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state, Mr. Idowu Adelusi has stated that his boss would never allow the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) or any other group to draw him into politics of bitterness.

Reacting to comments by some members of the APC that Fayose had no choice other than to support the ministerial nomination of Kayode Fayemi, Adelusi noted that the era of using petitions to block ministerial appointment is gone.

His words “I hope people running their mouths are aware of the rule of the Senate that at least two senators from nominee’s state must support such nominee. But apart from that, the governor’s type of politics is devoid of bitterness.

“Since Governor Fayose came into office, by his deeds, he has not discriminated against even people who are his sworn enemies. The man he appointed the Solicitor-General of the state was the man that was used by those in governments then to prosecute him over phantom murder charges.

“Whether anybody likes it or not, God has made him the leader of the state now, in spite of the scheming, plots and gang up of some people. When God fights your battle for you, what else do you need to do other than to watch?

“Fayose’s kind of politics is not vengeance as it is being played by Ekiti APC which is very crude. Their own mindset is that if something is not theirs, it cannot be for somebody else and they will try all means possible to destroy it.

“Fayose is starting a new platform of politics without bitterness, that era of using petitions to block ministerial appointment is gone.

“If there is a fellow who should be vengeful, it is Fayose because he is the one political detractor’s did all they could to destroy. But since God is not part of their evil agenda, Fayose is governor again. I can tell you that if Fayose has not intervened, the Senate will not approve the nomination of Fayemi.

“But we will not give back to them what they gave us, rather we will teach them how politics should be played”.

Meanwhile Fayose called on members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the National Assembly to support the candidacy of Fayemi in the Senate when the screening of ministerial nominees starts on tomorrow.

The state chapter of the APC has commended President Buhari for the inclusion of the ex-governor of Ekiti state in the ministerial list. According to the party, Fayemi fits into the change agenda espoused by the president.

What may turn out a sore point at the screening exercise is the asset declaration proviso, which many consider as an extension of the politicization of the Saraki-CCB tango even though these naysayers consider the criterion as legitimate and constitutional.

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