• Saturday, December 02, 2023
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How Senate’s ‘bow and go’ screening tradition denies Nigeria of quality ministers

Nosa Igbinadolor

Over the years, the Nigeria’s Senate has adopted what many observers have termed a negligent and unproductive screening method for ministerial nominees.

The nominees are neither sufficiently investigated to find out their professional competence for the jobs they are being interviewed for, nor are they in any way adequately interrogated to determine their moral and ethical aptitude to serve as servants of the people.

Many of them are simply told to take a bow and go, while others are merely asked laughable questions like reciting the national anthem and how many children they have.

“At a time when the country needs competent people to revive the economy and make Nigeria work again, Nigeria’s Senate has turned its screening powers into a laughable jamboree that ensures that incompetent and corrupt former governors and unproductive MDA chiefs walk boldly through the process to become ministers because they are not being sufficiently asked critical questions,” a concerned Nigerian said on condition of anonymity.

This long but dangerous tradition has continued and it is hurting the country.

There is a prevalent understanding among Nigerians that the country’s legislature is not a fit-for-purpose body capable of efficiently executing the requirements of its mandate.

The belief is simply based on the fact that the members of the bicameral legislature that make up the National Assembly have not sufficiently demonstrated commitment to the job they so campaigned for.

For a body more than keen on “investigating” and “oversighting” the activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, their reticence to properly evaluate nominees for public office is described by many as almost felonious.

Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives have been consistently accused to using their investigative and oversight powers to “steal from MDAs.”

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has unswervingly ridiculed the National Assembly, saying it is largely an assemblage of looters and thieves.

“Apart from shrouding the remunerations of the National Assembly in opaqueness and without transparency, they indulge in extorting money from departments, contractors and ministries in two ways,” Mr. Obasanjo said.

“They do so during visits to their projects and programmes and in the process of budget approval when they build up budgets for ministries and departments, who agree to give it back to them in contracts that they do not execute. They do similar things during their inquiries,” he also said.

In 2016, the former president argued that the purpose of election into the Legislative Assembly particularly at the national level was to give service to the nation and not for the personal service and interest of members at the expense of the nation which seemed to have been the mentality, psychology, mindset and practice within the National Assembly since the beginning of this present democratic dispensation.

He asked pointedly, “Where is patriotism? Where is commitment? Where is service?”

He stated further, “The beginning of good governance which is the responsibility of all arms and all the tiers of government is openness and transparency.

In 2019, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in a report, accused federal lawmakers of working in connivance with executing agencies to steal billions of naira under the guise of constituency projects.

“Screening is supposed to be the period by which the legislative branch of government will inquire, scrutinise, and interrogate those people that will be conferred with the secrets and thoughts of the people,” Daniel Bwala, a legal practitioner and spokesperson of the Atiku Abubakar presidential campaign during the 2023 presidential election, told a TV station recently.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a legislative branch in this dispensation,”

“The essence of the three branches of government is to exercise independence for the good of the country. The legislature is the core, equal branch with the executive.

“As a matter of fact, the very foundation of democracy started first with the legislature.”

By turning its offensive ‘bow and go’ practice into a tradition and model for screening ministerial nominees, the Senate’s ritual is at variance with global best practice.

In the United States after which Nigeria’s presidential system of government is largely modelled, the vetting process for individuals seeking political appointment can be long and difficult. And the more senior the position, the more scrutiny appointees receive.

Unlike in Nigeria, there is an ethics system that filters who should go into the government and who should not.

Robert Rizzi, an Attorney and Law Lecturer at Harvard, noted about nominees’ screening in the United States, “There are often tax issues that trip up nominees, classically nanny taxes. Those and other kinds of unpaid taxes are a constant problem. Taxes are complicated. People make mistakes. They find those mistakes during the vetting and that creates some significant issues. One of the other problems that we deal with constantly is financial conflicts of interest.”

In Nigeria, federal lawmakers seem neither to care if nominees are embroiled in disturbing financial conflicts of interest nor are they alarmed by allegations of corruption and other miscellaneous crimes against the nominees.

On receiving President Bola Tinubu’s first tranche of nominees, the Senate had vowed that it would not be business as usual but would thoroughly screen the nominees.

Senate Majority Leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, and Senate spokesman, Yemi Adaramodu, had stressed that the Senate would be thorough while screening the nominees.

Specifically, Bamidele had said that the upper legislative chamber would scrutinise the ministers thoroughly to ascertain their competences and capabilities to serve Nigeria diligently and in such a way that will bring dividends of democracy to the people.

“Let me assure Nigerians that the screening won’t be only bow and go, except for those who had been members of the National Assembly and whom we knew and appreciated that they have the wherewithal to give Nigerians qualitative leadership.

“Nigerians expected us to be thorough. They are expecting us to do a thorough screening. But take a bow and go is not an unparliamentary convention, it has become a practice all over the world and that person must be a former member of the parliament who is well known to us. Somebody we have confidence in his ability,” he had said.

The Senate’s claim that its bow and go practice is a globally accepted convention is demonstrably untrue.

In March 2021, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico made history when the U.S Senate confirmed her as President Biden’s Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.

Haaland in 2018 became one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S House of Representatives. Her nomination was a subject of intense Republican opposition which centred on Ms. Haaland’s history of fighting against oil and gas exploration.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said supporting her confirmation “would be voting to raise gas prices for families who are already struggling, to raise fuel and heating bills for seniors on a fixed income, to take the tough times we’ve been going through and make them even tougher.”

She was confirmed on a 51-40 vote. She wasn’t asked to take a bow and go because she was a federal legislator.

Nasir El-Rufai, the immediate past governor of Kaduna State has been consistently accused of ethno-religious bias during his time as governor. He has also been accused of turning a blind eye to the unprecedented murders of southern Kaduna indigenes in the state.

In 2022, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA), upbraided Mr. El-Rufai over the killings of residents by Fulani bandits and terrorists.

HURIWA lamented that Kaduna had become a killing field for marauders under El-Rufai’s watch while the governor had failed woefully as the chief security officer of the state with the cardinal responsibility to protect lives and property.

HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said, “The massacre that has been going on in Kaduna under Governor Nasir El-Rufai is condemnable and shows crass failure of the governor who is supposed to be the chief security officer of the state charged with the duty to protect lives and property.

“However, the body language of the governor continues to enable the guillotine of residents of the state, particularly in Southern Kaduna which has been the most hit victim of terrorism and banditry since El-Rufai became governor.

“For instance, in 2021, the state government said a total number of 1,192 people were killed by bandits and 3,348 abducted across Kaduna. In 2020, at least 937 people were killed by bandits and terrorists, the state government reported.

“Aside that these figures must have been doctored and reduced, yet the stark reality in Kaduna confronts any sane person. One thing is, however, certain: Kaduna is a place of sorrow, tears and blood as marauders with religious and genocidal agenda continue to hide under communal clashes to maul innocent Christians in Southern Kaduna.”

Nigeria’s Senate in screening Mr. El-Rufai refused to entertain a petition Senator Sunday Karimi (APC Kogi West) said had written against the former governor.

Read also: Senate against military intervention in Niger Republic

Godswill Akpabio, the Senate president, whose membership of the upper legislative assembly is alleged to be a subject of controversy, refused to take the petition, asserting that the chamber would not entertain petitions against any nominee.

Almost exactly twenty years ago, El-Rufai, while being screened for a ministerial position, had claimed that then deputy Senate president, Ibrahim Mantu and another principal officer of the Senate had demanded a N54million bribe from him to clear the opposition to his ministerial nomination by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003.

Almost all former governors nominated by Mr. Tinubu as ministers have corruption allegations levelled against them with investigations started on some of them by anti-corruption agencies.

Unsurprisingly, Nigeria’s Senate would allow them walk past the process to assume their new offices. For as the Senate president said, Nigeria’s Senate does not entertain petitions against nominees.