• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Ministerial nominees in intense lobby for ‘juicy’ portfolios

Ministerial nominees

Ahead of the confirmation of ministerial nominees by the Senate, most of the appointees are already lobbying for juicy portfolios, BDSUNDAY can report.

Barring any unforseen circumstances, all the 43 nominees are expected to be confirmed by the upper legislative chamber on Monday, after which they would be sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari and assigned portfolios.

It was also gathered that the ministerial nominees are mounting pressure on their political godfathers, members of the President’s cabal and governors who have the ears of the President to get juicy portfolios.

‘Juicyportfolios’ are those offices that appear lucrative and hold high prospect of attracting financial and other favours to the holders.

Over the years, because of the perception of Nigerians and to the extent politicians who hold such offices attracted to themselves instant wealth and influence, there is always a high-level competition for such portfolios, and those who distribute the offices know this.

Ministries and offices that fall into this category include Finance; Power, Works and Housing; Petroleum Resources; Transportation; Attorney General of the Federation; Education; Budget and National Planning; Communications; Interior, Health and Defence.

Observers have accused President Muhammadu Buhari of creating such unhealthy jostling, by not attaching portfolios to individual nominees.

Matthew Odinka, a trained psychologist, said the Executive set the stage for such lobbying by not attaching offices to the nominees.

“We must not forget that in Nigeria self is the greatest factor that controls whatever people do here. Service comes last. With this background, I would say that the alleged lobbying could not have been possible if the President had been thorough enough to attach portfolios to each nominee, this would have also helped the senators to ask specific questions, even if for the sake of asking. From what we are hearing, it means that we are going to see another set of people who have seen their offices as a meal ticket and to recoup their electoral expenses; that’s for some of them that contested some positions in the last election. For me, four years will still be so, so,” Odinka said.

There are also indications that the President may split the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing into three and that Aviation could have a stand-alone ministry from that of Transportation.

“This is the reason Mr. President expanded his list of cabinet from 36 in 2015 to 43 this time,” a source at the Presidency said on condition of anonymity.

On whether the former governor of Lagos State and immediate past Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola would retain his position, the source disclosed that there may be no ‘Super Minister’ this time around. Recall that Buhari had merged the three ministries in 2015 with Fashola as the head.

There have been calls in many quarters asking President Buhari to unbundle the Power, Works and Housing Ministry for effective service delivery.

Stakeholders at the third edition of BusinessDay Real Estate Roundtable and Exhibition last month added their voice to this issue.

Pundits have also stridently decried the non-attachment of portfolios to the ministerial nominees by the President.

Proponents of attachment of portfolios have argued that it would not only help the Federal Government put round pegs in round holes for good governance but also enable lawmakers ask nominees specific questions.

Frank Tietie, executive director, Citizens’ Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), shares in this school-of-thought.

The Abuja-based legal practitioner described the ministerial list as ‘uninspiring’, even as he condemned the controversial ‘bow and go’ tradition of the Senate which excluded some ministerial nominees from the rigours of extensive questioning.

“The whole process was faulty from the beginning in the sense that since the nominees were not attached to a portfolio and that there would be blanket screening by the Senate, it is an indication of unseriousness on the part of those who want to put together a cabinet for change or for Next Level,” he told BDSUNDAY in an interview.

Tietie said he had to turn off his television set when he noticed the charade going on; that most nominees were asked to ‘bow and go’.

“This is a sad development that points to a government that will not live up to a high standard. It is not good enough that the nominee-list is lacklustre. It is uninspiring. There is nothing fresh about it. Rather, I join all those who see the nominee-list as a reward list.

“But government is beyond that. Government is about delivering services. It is about competence. But what the National Assembly has done by asking former lawmakers to take a bow means that it has thrown competence to the wind. It is of no consideration.

“And so, when they start by not attaching portfolios, it means that competence and compatibility will not be considered. But to further nail the coffin on competence, the National Assembly has decided to be lax in its demand for competence by serious questioning and process of scrutiny. This is not a good sign that this government will deliver on competence,” he added.

Speaking on the ‘bow and go’ screening method, Odinka noted that it did not start with the 9th Assembly as it had been a tradition; he however, pointed out that the current lawmakers may have “taken the joke too far.”

“I must point out clearly that it did not start today. We are used to it; but it appears that the 9th Senate has added a childish colour to it, and it is very dangerous for the country. In the past, it used to be one or two, and for specific, cogent reasons, but today, we have a crowd of those who should bow and go. That does not make sense at ll. By the way, this screening, for me, is just a fulfilment of righteousness and I am wondering why the waste of time,” he said.

In the same vein, Markson Prince, a political analyst, expressed concern over the trend.

He noted that the session would have provided opportunity for nominees to proffer solutions to national issues like housing deficit, diversification of the economy, maternal and infant mortality, insecurity, among others.

“The Presidency should have given out the portfolios of all the nominees before presenting them to the Nigerian Senate for confirmation. If I may ask, what are the cogent questions asked by the Senate so far? No relevant question because without the portfolios, nothing to be asked about.

“That has brought about the screening process so low.If the portfolios were assigned to the nominees, we would have heard important questions such as what the nominees have to offer in their respective ministries.

“We seem to have people that have inclined in their academic pursuits but it is an academic knowledge without practice. No one in the Senate was able to figure this out. We now screen based on their appearance and not based on what they have to offer…. Too bad!”

Speaking with BDSUNDAY also, Austine Aigbe of the Centre for Democracy and Development, lamented the use of recycled politicians in the list.

His words: “When you look at the ministerial nominee-list, Mr. President did promise 35 percent Affirmative Action in his campaign. Which means that there will be 35 percent women, youth representation and persons with disability. But as we speak, there is even no person with disability in that list, no young person. That is people around 35 years and below. Which means even though he said he was going to use ministers that he personally knows, Mr. President can only know people who are also old. You don’t expect Mr. President to know people around 35 years, except those he just knew recently.

“But it is more worrisome when you see former senators, former governors, ministers. So, the question that comes to mind is how do we ensure some level of inclusion?

“Apart from the new faces, particularly the women who are coming in. Someone like Sharon Ikeazor who changed the face of PTAD and one or two other folks, even though we know the antecedent of the Delta State nominee, Festus Keyamo, a lawyer who prosecuted an alleged corrupt person will now be sitting in the Federal Executive Council with the same person he had prosecuted.

“When we say, corruption is fighting back. Sincerely, corruption is actually fighting back in the Federal Executive Council”.

But speaking on behalf of the Ninth Senate in an interview recently, Chairman, Senate Adhoc Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Dayo Adeyeye, said it was not mandatory for the President to attach portfolios to the list.

He argued that presidents of advanced countries like the United States which subscribed to the practice, still reserved the right to swap the portfolios of their nominees before and after their inauguration.

He noted that the late Obafemi Awolowo, a lawyer, performed well as minister of finance, while the late Aminu Kano, a teacher, also excelled as minister of health.

“It is not a constitutional prerequisite, neither is it mandatory for the president to assign portfolios to the ministerial nominees. Also, Senate up till now has not made any law or any regulation that would insist on that. There is nothing, either in the Senate rules or in the Constitution, that will compel the president to do that. Our major concern is to identify the leadership qualities in the nominees being presented to us for screening,” Adeyeye said.

 

OWEDE AGBAJILEKE Abuja and INIOBONG IWOK, Lagos