Tough times await ministerial nominees in the Senate on Tuesday as the Peoples Democratic Party senators on Friday vowed not to lower their guard during the screening at the upper legislative chamber.
Saturday PUNCH reliably gathered that although some nominees had indirectly contacted the senators across party lines, their efforts had not yielded desired results.
Investigations also showed that the PDP senators might stop the screening, unless President Muhammadu Buhari presents all the 36 ministerial nominees, as against 21 he submitted on Tuesday.
It was learnt that the move by President Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress and the senators to reach out to the PDP senators was being coordinated by his Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang.
Enang had on Wednesday jointly addressed a press conference with the Minority Leader, Chief Godswill Akpabio.
At the press conference, Enang had said, “Part of our job is to reach out to all the sections. And the past is gone, this is a new beginning. We are doing this in the interest of Nigerians.”
Akpabio, on his part, said, “Even though (we are) in the opposition party; we believe strongly in one Nigeria and we believe in the unity and progress of this country.
“Our stand is that anything that can elevate the living standards of Nigeria and improve upon the economy of the entire country, that we will do anything within our powers to play our role.
“It is our duty to rally round the President; to make the economy improve. On a personal note, I am impressed with the list sent by the President. I believe that he has kept to his words by ensuring that he sought out a lot of people of integrity that can salvage the country.”
Nothing will stop us from doing our job—PDP senator
But on Friday, the Senator representing Delta South on the platform of PDP, Ighoyota Amori, in an interview with one of our correspondents, vowed that nothing would make members go back on the modalities for screening.
He described the ministerial list sent by Buhari as a compensation list.
The lawmaker said the nomination was to compensate appointees for their role in the past general elections, which brought the APC government to power.
He said, “First, to be frank to myself, it is shocking that the first list of ministers as was read on Tuesday by the Senate President fell short of national expectations particularly with this their ‘change mantra.’
“Between both of us, the wait between May 29 when the new government was sworn in and September 30 is not worth it in a serious minded government that knows its onions. There was no need for that long wait.”
He cited Britain, where he said Prime Minister David Cameron formed a government, the next day he won an election.
Amori stated, “The election took a long time to process. You have worked with these people and you know them; you should be able in a very serious government that talks about change to have a departure from the past to this ‘change’ which is the slogan.
“The change would have been that after electing them, they formed cabinet and start working immediately. People would have clapped for them. But from May 29 to September 30 and of course, we got the list officially on October 5 and when we heard the names, it was laughable.”
He wondered why it took the President a long time to nominate those, whose names were sent to the senate.
The senator stated, “There was nothing new about them deserving of this long wait. If you take them one by one, there were people who are in the news for one corruption case or the other. For me, I do not have anything against anybody but he would not have wasted the time of Nigerians if he knew he was going to recycle the same people.
“I can call it a compensation list for those who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to help the un-organised army of people to get a victory they did not deserve. People that were used to sabotage their party.
“Look at Ameachi, would you not consider this nomination a compensation for doing a dirty job? Look at Fashola and Fayemi as well as Lai Mohammed, they are all the same. So, what is new? It is the same old story.
“But if APC wants, let them gather all the ex-convicts, we will still do our job. They have the gavel and they are very free to use it the way they like. We would resign our position to the court of public opinion. There are some we cannot oppose because we have seen something in them.”
PDP senators may reject 21-nominee list
Also another PDP senator, who confided in Saturday PUNCH, said the screening was discussed at the party senate caucus meeting on Thursday night.
He said that his colleagues also resolved to reject presentation of the list of minister nominees in batches.
They also threatened to stage a protest on the floor of the senate next week during the screening process unless President Muhammadu Buhari sends the full complements of the ministerial list by Tuesday.
They subsequently sent the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to meet with the senate president and convey their message to him for onward transmission to Buhari.
Screening will be rigorous, Senate spokesman insists
The spokesperson for the senate and APC member, Dino Melaye said except for the slight modification of the procedure for former members of the National Assembly, other nominees would face rigorous screening.
He said, “We maintain that the screening exercise will be rigorous, will be expeditious, and it will be thorough.”
Melaye added that all the petitions received would be looked into, and that their veracity would guide proceedings during the screening exercise.
Also speaking with our correspondent, the Senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District on the platform of the APC, Shehu Sani said, “We will not lower our standards, we will follow the constitution and the rules of the Senate in the discharge of our responsibility. No one will be cleared based on sentiments. We won’t disappoint Nigerians.”
“We’ll encourage nominees to reach out to senators–Enang
Enang told reporters in Abuja, that the President respects the constitutional powers of the three arms of government- especially the powers of the legislature which approves the budget as well as screens ministerial nominees among other functions.
According to him, his office has encouraged each of the nominees to reach out to senators to smoothen the grounds.
He also explained that the nominees were being guided on the necessary documents they are expected to make available to senators to ease their confirmation.
Enang said, “We are generally discussing with them, (nominees) on matters they may wish to know more and we will work with them. We have emphasised with them that they have to consult.
“They have to go and meet their respective senators. The president nominated them to the senate; the senators representing their respective states are their first line of defence.
“They are their immediate sponsors other than the senate leader and they have to show absolute respect to all the senators and every other thing will fall in line.”
On the modalities for the screening he said, “The Senate is the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is free to set its criteria for the screening of the nominees appearing before it.
“Our job is to make sure that we work with the respective senators and the nominees to make sure that the senators are satisfied and agree with the nomination.”
Meanwhile, the three senators from Rivers State, who are members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, have made their intention to oppose the nomination of former Governor Rotimi Amaechi known.
One of the senators who spoke under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said, “How do you think we will in good conscience support his nomination when he is still in court seeking to nullify the election of our governor and ours? Besides, he has not even visited or called any of us. Put yourself in my shoes, can you support such a person?”
Speaking in a similar vein, the Deputy Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State, Mr. Samuel Nwanosike, said, “Amaechi does not belong to the PDP, he belongs to the APC.
“Amaechi refused to do the normal handover to Governor Nyesom Wike and we can remember that he described the panel set up by the governor as a kangaroo panel.
“We are here for change and that is why the people will not support anybody who has refused to defend many allegations against him. “
However, the State Deputy Chairman of the APC, Chief Peter Odike, said the party was not leaving anything to chance. He said the party was doing all within its power to ensure that Amaechi scales through the screening.
Odike, who spoke through his Media Assistant, Mr. Paul Osiagu, expressed confidence that there were PDP senators who were sympathetic to Amaechi’s course and would rise up to defend him when the time is ripe.
He, however, declined to give details of what plans the party has put in place to counter the PDP on the floor.
Amaechi sighted at Senate
Meanwhile, a former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, was sighted at the Senate on Friday obviously to perfect his documentation at the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang.
Ameachi, who drove himself to the Federal Parliament in company with the immediate past senator representing Rivers East Senatorial District, Magnus Abe, spent about one hour in Enang’s office, without granting interview.