Amaechi’s confirmation: APC’s gain, Saraki’s loss?

It is no longer news that the nomination of former governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been confirmed by the Senate. It is also a stale news that the confirmation witnessed a dose of intrigues and horse-trading . What many Nigerians and onlookers might not know is the political undertone and the significance of the confirmation of Amaechi as a minister. Prior to his screening and confirmation last Thursday, Amaechi’s fate was hanging in the balance. While Senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), especially those from the northern flank were favourably disposed to his confirmation, lawmakers of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had vowed to frustrate it. For days, the screening and confirmation of the former governor were deferred. As soon as one petition against his nomination was upturned, a fresh one was submitted. First, it was the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions headed by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo North). The 13-member Senate committee repeatedly failed to submit its report, either indicting Amaechi or giving him a clean slate. While other ministers-designate whose names were part of the second batch of ministerial nominees submitted to the Senate were cleared without any hassle, Amaechi’s screening and confirmation dragged on for almost one month. Unlike the nominee from Sokoto state, Ms Aisha Abubakar whose nomination was earlier greeted with a barrage of petitions, but eventually cleared without hiccups, Amaechi on the other hand faced the harshest opposition seen in recent times. Similarly, the nominee from Osun state, Professor Adewole Isaac Folorunso who faced an earlier setback when 15 Professors jointly signed a petition, kicking against his nomination also got a clean verdict from the Senate committee. Also, the nominee from Imo State, Professor Anthony Anwuka faced a similar opposition, but was given the nod to be screened and confirmed. But for Amaechi, it was a battle of supremacy between the deflated PDP and the buoyant APC who were not ready to throw in the towel while the game of chess lasted. At last, it was victory for Amaechi, but not so for the PDP and the man in the eyes of the storm, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President. While APC Senators and the presidency may echo ‘uhuru’, Saraki may have lost his support base, the PDP Senators. The embattled Senate President was in an obvious dilemma during the confirmation of Amaechi. He was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. He did not want to offend PDP Senators that aided his ascension to the Senate presidency . Likewise, he was careful not to further alienate himself from APC Senators who were yet to fully accept him as Senate President. At some point during the confirmation exercise, Saraki who appeared to be confused lost control of the Senate. He was caught in a war of words between Akpabio and the Senate Majority Leader, Ali Ndume. For over 50 minutes, Saraki looked helpless and his woes were further compounded by the fact that the exercise was beamed live across the world. He was also careful not to sabotage his fragile relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he has tried fruitlessly to curry his favours since his controversial emergence as President of the Nigerian Senate. It took the intervention of APC Senators who buoyed Saraki to damn the consequences before he could stamp his feet. He went ahead, against all obvious odds to sanction the confirmation of Amaechi as minister. Although the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio did not explicitly confirm or deny whether PDP Senators in the Green Chamber will withdraw their support for Saraki, there appears to be clear danger signs ahead. The expected announcement of the composition of the various standing committees of the Senate will either seal Saraki’s Senate presidency or further crack the already troubled seat. The drama that characterized Amaechi’s confirmation The drama started soon after the Senate resumed plenary on Thursday morning. The report of the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on Amaechi was reportedly circulated in the chamber to PDP Senators who were battle ready to counter the confirmation of the former Rivers state governor. Sensing that there might be an uproar, the Senate President immediately called for a n executive session soon after the confirmation of the chairman and commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which preceded the confirmation of the ministers-designate. The senators went into the session at about 1.53pm. The meeting lasted for 1 hour and 17 minutes. The Senate president spoke briefly after the closed door session. He had said: “The Senate in a closed session reviewed the debates of the ministerial nominees as ministers in the government of the federal republic of Nigeria.” Soon after, the Senate Leader, Ndume, moved that the chamber dissolved into a committee of the whole to consider for confirmation, the nomination of the 18 ministers-designate. He was seconded by Senate Minority Leader, Akpabio. The confirmation exercise started at about 3.18pm. The confirmation went on smoothly until Akpabio interjected soon after Professor Anwuka’s name was called for confirmation. He said there were issues that were yet to be resolved. Akpabio was countered by another PDP Senator from Imo state, Nneji Achonu. Achonu told his colleagues that the petitions had been withdrawn. The Senate president thereafter ruled Akpabio out of order and confirmed Professor Anwuka’s nomination as minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. After the brief rowdy session, the Senate committee chairman on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Anyanwu was called to read the contents of the report on Amaechi. In his remarks, he said the report was signed by 7 out of the 11 members of the committee. He averred that since the matter under review was in a competent court of law, the committee agreed that the confirmation of Amaechi be suspended, pending when there a valid court judgment on the issue would be delivered or the case withdrawn. He was yet to conclude when the Senate Leader, Ndume, said that further action should be suspended on Amaechi’s confirmation since the case is already before a competent court of law. Akpabio who rose up to amend Ndume’s motion before seconding, was booed. Akpabio said: “We had said that we were going to make comments after the conclusion of the whole process about Amaechi. I want to move a motion that the Senate do allow a proper discussion of the motion before us.” The Senate Minority Leader thereafter declined to second Ndume’s motion that action be stayed on the confirmation of Amaechi as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But Ndume responded: “My motion is still standing. We need to put it to a vote.” Again, the Senate Leader was deflated by Akpabio. He argued: “The role of the Leader is to lead the Senate. What we are saying is that we should consider the report of the committee. Legally speaking, we had agreed here that whenever a report on any nominee was presented, we should debate it. The report has been presented. What the Leader is trying to do is to stop us from debating the report.” At this time, the Senate President intervened. He said: “As we have already agreed, we will take the comments after which we will go back to the motion moved by the Senate Leader for consideration.” George Sekibo, PDP member from Rivers State who repeatedly shouted ‘point of order’ was eventually recognized by the Senate president to speak. Sekibo said: “Mr. President, I have the interest to speak as a member of the Rivers state caucus. Mr. President, we represent our people. The Nigerian people we represent are the majority. The majority is not the APC, but the Nigerian people. Those evaluating what we are doing are the Nigerian people. “The allegations laid here is weighty. There are misappropriation of funds and sale of government property. The committee has done it’s work and has come with its report. There is no way anybody can amend the report of the committee. There is a moral burden on all of us. Whatever we do today will be recaptured in the future. Mr. President is fighting corruption and we cannot encourage it. APC Senators have had their own say, it is our time to have our own day.” An APC Senator from Osun state, Jide Omowoware countered Sekibo. He said: “At the committee of the whole, a recommendation can be amended. H argued that the Senate Standing Order says no petition shall be received on a matter pending before any court of law.” An overwhelmed Saraki who appeared to be in a fix reacted: “The earlier speaker raised an issue bothering on the issue of constitution and indictment. The report of the committee is silent on that.” Again, Anyanwu cleared the air: “We took an overview of the findings. What we are saying is that we do not even have the right to entertain the confirmation of a nominee whose case is before a court. When I was reading the report, I read a letter from the lawyer of the nominee. The issue in question is that we do not have the power to entertain any matter in court.” Biodun Olijimi, a PDP Senator from Ekiti state who backed his party colleagues said: “There is a moral burden not just on the Senate, but on the president of the federal republic of Nigeria who is riding on the issue of corruption. We must be sure that a court of law absorbs him before we can confirm him in this Senate. The majority may have its way, but Nigerians will know that this government is not ready to fight corruption.” Joshua Lidani, a PDP Senator from Gombe State raised a fresh argument. He said the contents of the report was in line with the Standing Orders of the Senate. He said the Senate rules have the force of law, hence can stand on its own. He said the confirmation of Amaechi should not be entertained by the Senate. Barnabas Gemade, an APC Senator from Benue state differed. He was still speaking when all the PDP Senators staged a walkout. Their action was ignored by the Senate president who was buoyed by a loud voice support from APC Senators. Left alone without any opposition, the APC Senators had their day and unanimously confirmed the nomination of Amaechi. The angry PDP Senators immediately stormed Senate Hearing Room One where they addressed journalists. Minority Leader, Akpabio, while reacting to the drama on the floor of the Senate, told journalists that the PDP caucus would never support Amaechi’s confirmation. Akpabio said: “You just witnessed a mild drama in the Senate. It is an unfortunate incident. We have the responsibility to explain to Nigerians. When the particular nominee was invited for screening, we raised some concerns, but were shut. We attempted to discuss the report, but did not work. The reality is that once a case is before any competent court of law, any action taken will be subjudice. We tried to make this point. As a majority party, they did not comply. “It could have been a good idea for the nominee to withdraw his case before Senate can go ahead. The Senate president was returned unopposed. He was the sole nominee. None of us here indicated interest. You cannot say we supported him or not. It is not abnormal for the PDP senators to walkout. You will notice that our colleagues were not ready to allow us hear our views.” Former Senate president, David Mark who kept a loud silence since the well-reported ministerial confirmation hearing started, had earlier stormed out of the Red Chamber when Senators resolved to go into a closed session. He did not participate in the press conference. Unfortunately for the other 17 nominees, Amaechi took the shine off them. They are Mr. Adebayo Shittu (Oyo), Mrs Khadija Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa), Claudius Omoleye Daramola (Ondo), Baba Shehuri Mustapha (Borno), Ocholi Enojo James (Kogi), Adewole Isaac Folorunso (Osun) and Bawa Bwari (Niger). Others are Geoffrey Onyeama (Enugu), Zainab Ahmed (Kaduna), Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali (Zamfara), Usani Usani Uguru (Cross River), Okechukwu Eyinna Enelamah (Abia), Anthony Anwuka Gozie (Imo), Mohammed Musa Bello (Adamawa), Adamu Adamu ( Bauchi) and Aisha Abubakar (Sokoto). Reactions Since the controversial confirmation of Amaechi, Nigerians have been reacting. Mr. Charlie Agbo, the Chief Executive Officer of Legislative Competences, a tink-tank group believes that neither APC, nor PDP Senators was wrong. Like other Nigerians that keenly followed the exercise, Agbo believes it is a watershed in the country’s political history. “The recent screening of Rotimi Amaechi for a ministerial position in the cabinet of President Muhamadu Buhari by the Senate will be considered from two layers of analysis viz, legal and political,” the political analyst started. “Viewed from the legal perspective, Amaechi’s plea of subjudice before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petitions is unassailable as he is not expected to prejudice a matter before a court of law and risk the levy of contempt. On the other hand, the committee’s alleged opinion that he should not be screened in queue with his plea of subjudice is unknown to law and negates Amaechi’s right to protection by the constitutional safeguards in criminal trials. He is innocent until proved guilty,” Agbo argued. He did not stop there. He argued further: “My view therefore is that the Senate was right in screening him and treating his case as if he has no case for now. Any other position, such as alleged to have been taken by the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Petitions and relied upon by some Senators to boycott the screening exercise would have run against the constitution. “From the political point of view, the real problem is the partisan nature of the issue and the underlying suspicion of mischief. Otherwise, if the bona fides of those petitioning against Amaechi’s screening and that of the Senators opposed to his clearance on the basis of his indictment by a Judicial Commission of Enquiry in Rivers State were guaranteed, then the president may come under some considerable expectation to place his decision to nominate him or not under a greater prism of examination. “But this is neither here nor there as the president himself is a partisan as well as the defender- in- chief of the constitution and therefore should follow the dictates of the law, which recommend that Amaechi should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and which to the president’s good fortune will satisfy his partisan interest. “Bottom line is that political considerations should be subordinated to the rule of law irrespective of whose partisan interest is served since it is only the courts that will determine whether Amaechi is guilty or not. The sentiments of those opposed to Amaechi’s screening could be understood against the background of the need to ensure that those entrusted with executive responsibility are not compromised or tainted by moral baggage. But an indictment is only a prima facie basis for prosecution which could go either way when subjected to the crucibles of the law.” Advising the Senate, he said: “The Senate should be mindful of the fact that they are laying a template for the future. As we navigate our way in the tested terrain of democracy, we should tailor our temperament and legislative philosophy against international best practices.”

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Benue Blog Portal: Amaechi’s confirmation: APC’s gain, Saraki’s loss?
Amaechi’s confirmation: APC’s gain, Saraki’s loss?
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