18 down, 18 more to go
The screening and, in one case, lack of screening of ministerial nominees dominated public and private discussion in Nigeria last week and is expected to do so again this week. The president nominated the ministers in two batches. The first batch, sent in hours before the president’s self-imposed September deadline ended, contained 21 names. One of them, Ahmed Musa Ibeto of Niger, was later dropped. A second list of nominees was sent to the Senate last Monday. It contained 15 names from the states that had no representation in the first list as well as one replacement nominee from Niger State.
After two days of day-long, televised screening sessions the Senate confirmed 18 ministers, all of them from the first list. The remaining two from the first list as well as the 16 from the second list are expected to be screened between tomorrow and Thursday. In as much as all the 18 nominees screened last week were confirmed, expectations are that the 18 to be screened this week will be confirmed as well, though not without some problems. Alhaji Lai Mohamed was nearly rejected last week. On the two occasions when his name was put to the vote, many of those who watched the drama on television thought the nays were louder than the ayes.
PDP senators were the loud naysayers. The surprise was that when Senate President Bukola Saraki smiled mischievously and ruled that the ayes had it, the PDP caucus did not challenge his ruling and call for a division. It is well known that Saraki did not like Lai’s nomination from his home state of Kwara, Lai being an ardent follower of Saraki’s deadly party rival Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Alhaji Lai was the first APC chieftain to reject Saraki’s election as Senate President and he used harsh language to do so. It could well be that Saraki, who is a closet ally of the Senate senators, arranged with them to say nay to Lai’s confirmation so that he will overrule them and make the point that he saved Lai by a sleigh of the gavel.
Of the two unscreened nominees from the first list, most attention will focus this week on former Rivers State governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The Rivers State Government is desperate to torpedo Amaechi’s confirmation lest he lands a key portfolio and uses it to intimidate the PDP-led state government, just as current Governor Nyesom Wike did when the roles were reversed under the PDP regime. PDP senators cannot possibly like Amaechi, whose defection last year was a straw that broke the PDP camel’s back. The surprise is that APC senators did not raise a finger to save Amaechi, who is not a troublemaker within APC, unlike other party godfathers.
Indications at the weekend are that the second list of ministerial nominees will sail into a stormy screening weather. For the first time since he emerged as party leader and later president, some APC state chapters summoned the courage to stand up to President Muhammadu Buhari. Even though the president abandoned his earlier intention [as we gleaned it from his body language] to have a cabinet made up of apolitical technocrats and nominated some of APC’s most prominent leaders to be ministers, his choices still outraged APC leaders in several states. Some Yobe State APC men rose against Mrs. Khadija Bukar Abba’s nomination, saying Kanuri domination of Yobe State makes nonsense of the state’s carving out from Borno State in order to give minority groups some breathing space.
In Sokoto State too, APC’s state and local government leaders signed a petition rejecting Hajiya Aisha Abubakar’s nomination, saying she is unknown and that her family is a bastion of PDP support. In Kaduna, Governor Nasiru el-Rufa’i dispelled charges that he had a hand in the nomination of Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, his foster sister. In Jigawa State too, there were protests that Sulaiman Hussaini Adamu’s family members have bagged four juicy posts in the Buhari regime. There were protests in the South too, but more were reported from the North.
It will require the political equivalent of a forensic audit to determine the source of this trouble. It is a bit of an ominous sign for the Buhari presidency because I cannot remember a case in the Second Republic when NPN state chapters publicly objected to anything that President Shehu Shagari did. Several things came together to bring about these protests, as far as I can see. Since May when the then presidentelect stated in an interview with Daily Trust that he will not surrender the choice of ministers to APC chapters or godfathers, APC governors and godfathers didn’t like it but they were prepared to live with it.
They didn’t like it because every APC state chapter had already pencilled down some people for ministerial jobs as part of the bargaining for governorship seats. They were prepared to live with it because Buhari had too much popular support to be publicly challenged. However, the APC chapters saw a window of opportunity because Buhari partially abandoned his four months’ long secret search for apolitical technocrats and instead nominated many party leaders as ministers. He however did so with geographic disproportion. Whereas from the Southern states Buhari nominated the most visible APC leaders such as Raji Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi, Ogbonnaya Onu, Kayode Fayemi and Chris Ngige, he used a different selection scheme in the North.
It was this whiff of an opening, the feeling that what is good for the Southern APC goose is also good for the Northern APC gander, that infuriated some Northern APC chapters and gave them the courage to go public. They were further encouraged when Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State convinced the president to change Niger State’s nominee, apparently to address geopolitical balancing in the state.
It could be inferred from the loud silence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu since the nominations were unveiled and reports of his self-exile to Equatorial Guinea that he is also upset with the nominations. It could also be deduced from the petitions by some APC chapters as well as the happy remarks of some ministerial nominees that neither APC governors nor even the nominees themselves were consulted before their names were sent to the Senate. At least three nominees said they first heard of their nominations on the radio. This procedure, a throwback to the days of military rule, is inappropriate today.
Now, the state chapters that are protesting have all sorts of theories about how the nominees from their states made the president’s list even though they were not seen in the trenches during the political battles to unseat PDP. To a Nigerian politician, being seen in the trenches is the most important qualification for appointment as a minister or commissioner. President Buhari does not share this notion; he believes that once elected, he is free to find the men and women he trusts to help him carry out his mandate, no matter how he arrives at those choices.
The practical problem here is that he applied different criteria in different states. In the South he chose visible party leaders; in the North he mostly shunned them. I think this could be because Buhari feels the impact of his huge popularity in the North and does not really attribute his win in the region to the work of local APC chieftains. In the South however where he is much less personally popular, he tends to acknowledge the efforts of local APC leaders. Except Tinubu, who thinks he is not getting enough recognition for his decisive role in the election.
All told, the protesting APC chapters will be unable, I think, to stop any nominees from being confirmed. The happy thing, from the point of view of non-politicians like me, is that all the 18 nominees that were screened last week proved their mettle and showed they have what it takes to handle this task. The 18 nominees up for screening this week are likely to be just as impressive. President Buhari is likely to have a good cabinet. He will pay the political price for some of his choices later. World number one Novak Djokovic continued his stunning season with a straight sets win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Shanghai Masters yesterday.
It proved all too easy once again for Djokovic as he continued his frightening dominance of men’s tennis by blitzing the Frenchman.
The Serbian, 10-times a grand slam champion, brushed aside the challenge of a befuddled Tsonga 6-1, 6-4 to claim his third Shanghai Masters and ninth title of a standout year that has left him being spoken of among the sport’s all-time greats.