As the Senate begins the screening of 21 ministerial nominees tomorrow, we strongly support its decision that the nominees, who have held public office before must produce written evidence of declaration of their assets.
We are unequivocal on this stance because the new era of accountability and transparency being championed in the country demands that persons, who would hold high offices must be persons of impeachable integrity who have worked, and can be trusted to continue to work in the public interest without compromising their offices or sinking into the cesspool of corruption.
Although assets declaration was not made a condition for ministerial appointments by the last Senate in 2011, the requirement is in line with Section 120 of the Senate Standing Rules which provides that the Senate “shall not consider the nomination of any person, who has held any public office…prior to his nomination unless there is a written evidence that he has declared his assets and liabilities as required by Section 11 (1) of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution.”
Ministerial nominees are also expected to have the support of, at least two, senators from their states and have a clean bill of health from the Senate public petitions committee.
The list of ministerial nominees sent to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 30, and made public by Senate President, Bukola Saraki on October 6, has been generating ripples in many parts of the country. It is, indeed, controversial. Although it has a number of technocrats who can be described as fresh faces in the public sphere, it is largely a recycling of the same politicians who have been at the helm of affairs at different levels of governance in the country for many years. There are five former governors on the list, with some of them currently battling petitions related to corruption and misappropriation of public funds. A number of the nominees have been in the corridors of power for decades. There are former ministers and federal legislators, a former Chief of Army Staff and well known associates of the president, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
The failure to nominate persons from the younger generation, and the decision to include only three women in the first batch of 21 nominees, is also a minus. It is crass gender imbalance and a disregard of younger Nigerians.
Coming four months after the swearing in of the president, there had been expectations that the categories of persons that would make the list would be a clear departure from the past in which political appointments were seen as a way of rewarding party loyalists. Although some Nigerians, especially chieftains of the ruling APC have in defence of the list argued that the nominees are among the best in the land, the members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been quick to point out that it is not worth the long wait for it.
A lot of petitions against the appointment of many of the nominees as ministers are now with the Senate. The senators have a responsibility to conduct a dispassionate screening and take decisions that are in the best interest of the country.
We hope that the gender imbalance in the ministerial list, and the neglect of younger Nigerians, will be corrected with the selection of the remaining 15 ministerial nominees. Nigeria should stop the practice of recycling old hands in government. Gerontocracy is no longer in vogue and it is not likely to take the country anywhere. The government should devise other ways of rewarding old and established politicians other than naming them as ministers. The president would also have done better to go beyond party lines in his search for candidates.
The failure of the president to submit names from the remaining 15 states of the federation is also not tidy at all.
As the Senate begins screening the nominees tomorrow, we urge it to do a thorough job. We strongly oppose the laxity that characterised screening of nominees in the past. Let there be an end to the “take a bow” culture.
In this regard, the impression that has been created that former members of the National Assembly will be given automatic “smooth rides” during the screening process should be corrected. The announcement by the Chairman of the Senate ad hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye, that nominees who are former members of the National Assembly “will not be exposed to the same rigorous screening as other nominees” is a great disservice to Nigeria.
As he explained, the ex-federal legislators will be screened first and may be given a modification of the “take a bow” treatment. They may also only be questioned during screening by the Chairman of the Committee, who is the Senate President. They may in addition not be required to provide evidence that they have declared their assets because “to become members of the House of Representatives or senators, they must have done so before”.
We take strong exception to this seeming plan to create a super class of ex-NASS members who would ride into public office simply because their ex-colleagues in the Senate are in charge of the screening process. This is not good enough. The Senate must wholly do away with the “take a bow” culture that characterised past ministerial screening exercises. All the nominees should be well scrutinized to determine those suitable for the job and those found unworthy should be screened out. There should be no sentiments or favouritism.
In view of the ongoing campaign against corruption in the country, we expect the Senate to ensure that all nominees are free from criminal cases and not tainted with corruption. This will be in keeping with the Buhari administration’s avowed zero-tolerance for corruption.
Let the screening be handled with dispatch so that the successful nominees can immediately take charge of the ministries to fulfill the administration’s many promises to Nigerians.