By Kola King
The Senate has concluded the screening and vetting of ministerial nominees. Whether the screening was adjudged comprehensive or not remains a moot point. But it is clear that the screening excercise conducted with the speed of light, as it were, has cast a shadow on the senate as a major safeguard for the advancement of good governance.
The senate leadership has shown that it’s eager to genuflect and do the bidding of the president. A pliant and malleable senate is a far cry from what the electorate envisaged. For most observers the screening excercise was more of a charade than a sober and serious undertaking. The whole excercise was perfunctory. Be that as it may, the upper chamber of the legislature has forwarded the verified list of ministerial nominees to the president. By the recokning of the senate 45 nominees received a clean bill of health, while three others were placed on hold for further security clearance.
No doubt, the Federal Executive Council when eventually inaugurated would turn out to be the largest assemblage of that august body since the return of civil rule in 1999. The jumbo-sized cabinet trumps President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet of 42 members constituted after he won reelection in 2019. Perhaps due to the unwieldy number of cabinet members Buhari had directed his ministers to channel all their communication via his Chief of Staff, the late Abba Kyari. Of course, because of this innocuous pronouncement by the president, Kyari wielded so much power and was perceived as having an outsized influence in the Buhari administration.
But what could be the reason for the nomination of 48 ministers in an economy that’s bleeding and virtually on its knees? It’s difficult to divine the reason behind this unprecedented move, except perhaps the motive is purely self-serving, which is to reward the party faithful. No matter what Tinubu’s jumbo-sized cabinet fails to take cognizance of the fact that the economy is in dire straits with about 90 percent of government revenue channeled to debt servicing, yet President Tinubu has turned a blind eye to this most important factor. It seems politics will always override economics. On the other hand, Tinubu has demanded sacrifices from the populace, yet the political class are not prepared to make any adjustment to their opulent lifestyles. Our current political class are in many important ways unlike the Nigerian people as a whole, who dwell in want and misery. Indeed, the lifestyles of the political class are in sharp contrast to the life of penury of fellow compatriots. But then it’s acceptable to squeeze the life out of the poor masses trying to eke out a living.
Agreed the Constitution provides that the 36 states must be represented at the Federal Executive Council, but Tinubu’s bloated cabinet is the largest since the return to civil rule in 1999, especially during a period of economic downturn. The bloated cabinet does not square with the economic realities staring us in the face. The point is, can the fragile economy withstand the weight of Tinubu’s battalion of ministers and their retinue of aides as well as a full complement of 469 members of the National Assembly and hundreds of legislative aides. All the talk about sacrifice seems to be mere claptrap and does not seem to apply to the political class who must be placated and compensated one way or another for their various roles in the emergence of Tinubu as president. The expectations were for a compact, nimble, and high-powered cabinet. Without a doubt, there are some who parade glittering credentials and pedigree, but generally, the list is uninspiring.
What’s more, President Tinubu promised reforms but apparently judging by his bloated cabinet he plans to run a big government instead of cutting down on costs, and waste as well as streamlining and merging some Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. In fact, there are reports indicating that new ministries will be created by the new administration. More importantly, he gave the impression that he would constitute a government of national competence. He emphasised that he was more disposed towards a government based on merit, capacity, and competence. In short, he promised to give us the brightest and the best. Instead, what we have is a hotchpotch of nominees comprising nine former governors, with some of them still being investigated by the EFCC; one of them had failed in his reelection bid, while other nominees have provided doubtful credentials. Also, some of the nominees are an unknown quantity with scant pedigree.
In any case, the screening of ministerial nominees by the Senate has thrown up some revelations and exposed the level of preparation by the presidency which was middling. The screening of the president’s nominees points to the fact that the selection process was anything but rigorous. It seems to lack due diligence and thoroughness despite the much-touted report that the delay in submitting names of ministerial nominees to the Senate was due to the rigorous vetting process being undertaken by the Department of State Security, DSS. In fact, Tinubu nearly missed by the whiskers the Constitutional provision which stipulates that names of nominees must be submitted to the National Assembly within sixty days of the inauguration of the president. In the end, the vetting was neither rigorous nor diligent, judging by what transpired at the screening of the nominees by the Senate. The process for the nomination easily qualifies as being shoddy.
One of the nominees from Benue State, Professor Joseph Utsev could not convince Senators who asked him about a gap in his curriculum vitae which shows that he started primary school at the age of 3. Also, Bello Mohammed Goronyo, a nominee from Sokoto State was discovered to have gained admission into the university with two WASC credits. The nominee was asked, which other certificate he has apart from the one where he passed only two subjects out of five subjects he registered for. When questioned on this anomaly by Senator Allwell Onyesoh, representing Rivers East, Goronyo responded by saying that he has another school certificate result, which he did not border to attach. According to him, the constitution only requires a secondary school certificate and not his university qualification. This made Senate President Godswill Akpabio ask whether he was at the senate for screening to become a minister or he was at the senate to contest an election. The senate president thereafter said the nominee must forward his certificates for the final vetting of all nominees by the Senate.
On the other hand, Maryam Shetty, a nominee from Kano State was awaiting her turn at the National Assembly when she got the most embarrassing moment in her life after she was informed that her name had been withdrawn and she had been replaced by another candidate, Mariya Mahmud Bunkure, a former commissioner in Kano State.
The untidy manner that attended the nomination of the president’s picks speaks volumes about the slipshod manner in which this important exercise was handled, especially against the background of reports on the nomination of Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, a former minister of state for Labour. According to reports, the president had reportedly picked Keyamo but his name was omitted twice in the list sent to the Senate. It took some form of high-powered lobbying for Keyamo’s name to resurface along with the final list which included the replacement for the Kano nominee dropped by the president.
Still, Shetty’s nomination, which generated excitement and created social media firestorm among her supporters, also provoked intense criticism and condemnation. The backlash against her nomination forced President Tinubu to rethink and he later dropped her like a hot potato.
As it happens, the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje revealed a lot in radio interviews monitored by Premium Times where he said he had no hand in the replacement of the nominee from Kano State, adding that he had no input into the candidate picked but respected the judgment of the president. But he expressed regret that he was not consulted before the nominee was picked by the president who later dropped her after torrents of criticisms from party faithful in Kano. Ganduje felt President Bola Tinubu, was “misled” into nominating Maryam Shetty. It was after the backlash that greeted the nomination of Shetty that the president consulted Ganduje and he directed him to recommend another female nominee from Kano. Thereafter Ganduje recommended Dr Mariam Mahmud Bunkure who served in his cabinet as commissioner for Higher Education in Kano State.
But it is distressing that the president had to drop Shetty after public outcry about some of her posts on social media and doubts cast on her capacity and competence by the people of Kano State. Clearly, it shows a lack of adequate consultation and due diligence on the background of the nominee in question. However, there are unconfirmed reports that Shetty’s troubles were said to have emanated from the fact that she was seen as a staunch supporter of former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Shetty is a physiotherapist and social media influencer and a party stalwart in Kano. Even Ganduje acknowledged her contribution to the success of the party in Kano.
“In the selection of ministerial nominees, the president has people that are giving him advice across States, and the president has the power to nominate whoever he likes, and he also has the power to make consultations on the persons he had chosen to serve in his cabinet from the people of that particular state,” Ganduje said.
“You know, in a palace (presidency), some people claimed to know much about something, but they did not; we just saw Ms. Shetty’s name like any other Nigerian; we are followers of the president, we are careful, we did not challenge the choice of Ms. Shetty because we did not know much about her personality and capabilities to deliver on the job that makes us remain mum.
“This is how the issue came around. I am not involved in it, but the president was disturbed about it, and he later contacted me and asked whether I nominated her (Ms Shetty). I said no, and he queried how she was nominated.”
Former Governor Ganduje’s interview is an eye-opener on the selection process that was expected to be a rigorous exercise to determine those who would help the president manage government business. Even the president had no inkling as to how Maryam Shetty was featured among the nominees. Also, Abdullahi Ganduje who’s the party leader in Kano was at sea over Shetty’s nomination. So who nominated Maryam Shetty and how did her name get on the list of ministerial nominees? The way and manner Maryam Shetty was nominated and later dropped raises more questions than answers. In short, it calls to question the integrity of the entire process. No doubt, the president has to rely on the recommendations of associates and supporters to be able to form his team. As it so often happens, those who make recommendations to the president do so not out of national interest but to satisfy parochial and self-serving reasons.
Basically, one would have expected that the presidency would have its own internal mechanism for getting adequate information and also conduct background checks before the names of the nominees were forwarded to the National Assembly. Really, it is not possible for the president to know all the nominees but he has all the machinery of government at his disposal to conduct a thorough check on his potential nominees. Perhaps the party should have been part of the process and it may as well have served as a clearinghouse, and by this, it would have helped sift the chaff from the wheat.
At bottom, both the recruitment and selection process ought to be more thorough because expectations were high that President Tinubu will come up with a credible and inspiring team. Many view the jumbo-sized cabinet as jobs for the boys. Essentially, it is seen as a form of payback by the president to those who campaigned for him and contributed to his victory. But many are miffed over the preponderance of former governors and politicians in the list, which is seen as mere recycling of superannuated politicians and spent forces instead of injecting fresh blood into the cabinet. Tinubu raised so much hope for his potential ministerial nominees, but hopes for change have come to nothing. So instead of a bang, we got a whimper. Things are more of the same. No wonder they say the more things change, the more they stay the same.