‘Candies’ For Nominees, By Dele Agekameh
The list of ministers, especially the returning ones, shows that not much has changed. And whatever the chess game was in 2015, the same tactics are being employed again in 2019… While the screening lasted, it was clear that what the lawmakers did was to give each nominee a piece of candy to lick, instead of really grilling them hard.
Politics in Nigeria is like a game of chess, where the rush and excitement is thick at the beginning of a new game, as experienced players make brisk and familiar moves to open their game. The action soon slows down as the game progresses, and more studied moves may be required. Perhaps, one can liken this to the euphoria of election results and the (re-)inauguration of the winners’ governments. In other words, the frenzy that greeted the 2019 elections may have piped down in the minds of Nigerians, but the excitement in government circles is still palpable. ‘Chess moves’ have been made since the elections, and those moves continue even as I write.
Nigerians are now eagerly waiting for their new ministers. And mind you, the time or ‘season’ of ministerial appointments is like a call for bazaar. Although President Muhammadu Buhari said that he would choose people that he is familiar with, the game remains the same. Based on the president’s word and his seeming eagerness to choose those he can really work with, it is assumed that the 43 names sent out for Senate screening recently are names of people he can really vouch for. But this may not be so. Before many (or all) of the names finally made it to the list, a lot of water may have passed under the bridge.
My eye opener came when a former governor, now an elder statesman, told me last weekend that those close to the president may have ‘grilled’ the nominees to know if they will tow their lines if they make it to the list. At least, he said, that is the way things have always been done. Such grilling, according to him, could include some inducements. In addition, the nominees may be made to pledge to play ball even after getting the nod.
According to the ex-governor, when the names are finally submitted to the Senate, the nominees are exposed to the second part of the racket. This time, some unofficial agents could spring up to ‘advise’ that certain things should be set aside for the screening proper. This, as they would claim, would go to those that would be involved in the final screening. Other committees and principal officers of the Senate who will confirm their eligibility or otherwise may not also be left out.
While all the racketeering is going-on, the president may be made to believe that he has made the right choice of cabinet members without the least suspicion that he has only been made to indirectly support the candidates of other people. This is why the president’s comment about “people familiar to him” may be a leap. Also, with the structure of Nigerian politics, names usually come in from every state, picked by the state governor or some other more favoured power brokers.
…how can one justify the addition of people who are known to have cases with the anti-graft agencies hanging over their heads? Some of the nominees have had controversies of all kinds trailing them through their political lives. Some are also dogged by allegations of using calculated membership of the ruling party to shield themselves against proper prosecution.
The elder statesman who provided this expose particularly narrated how he was urged to become an ambassador some years back. He said when he considered his age and all that, he declined. However, rather than lose the slot, he requested that he should be allowed to nominate somebody who he thought was capable and knowledgeable enough to occupy such a post. He finally nominated one brilliant school principal that he knew very well. He said that he was shocked when the man came back to inform him that he was asked to cough out a frightening sum of money for the screening.
The principal, being a conservative man, told his nominator that he sat down to calculate what he would make in the four years that he would be an ambassador and discovered that his emoluments during the period would be a far-cry from what was requested of him for ‘screening’. The man simply decided to continue as principal, rather than break his neck running around looking for upfront kickbacks in order to be made an ambassador. That is the trend in the appointment of senior officials in Nigeria.
Although ministers are chosen from all states, the same system probably applies, either directly to the nominees or to those backing them. Either way, ‘something’ may have changed hands at some point in the process, and the godfather will only join the growing list of vested interests that sometimes hinder a minister or other appointee from carrying out his/her duty judiciously.
Besides the possible racket that may have gone on behind the scenes, the evidence before the eyes of the public is not encouraging either. Over half of the 43 ministerial nominees that were recently screened by the Senate were asked to “bow and go”. Where exactly are they going to? However, this trend, which has been described as a “tradition”, did not begin with the Ninth Senate. One senator claimed that the house had resolved to automatically confirm all ex-lawmakers, ex-governors, women and, apparently, those who have been vouched for by one senator or the other, without any regard to their competence or otherwise.
I specifically recall seeing a clip recorded during this last Senate screening, where a senator from Enugu State laboured so hard to sell a nominee to his colleagues. He suddenly launched into a recanting of the similarity between his family and that of the ministerial nominee. He jokingly reeled out real or made-up traditional titles of the nominee, in a bid to convince his colleagues to pass him without any scrutiny. This, he did, despite the fact that Nigerians still cannot precisely point out what policy the nominee initiated in the past four years as a minister. Other senators openly and shamelessly sought the same treatment for nominees considered to be “party men” or the “president’s man”.
In law, it is said that it is not only important for justice to be done, but also for it to be seen to have been done. With what the public can see, it does not seem like justice was done to the recent ministerial appointments and subsequent confirmation.
Even when some lawmakers tried to pose questions to the nominees, others in their rank complained audibly about being tired. They simply said “let him/her bow and go, so we can finish”. These antics do not really portray our lawmakers as those who know what their job is or ones who are ready to take it serious. Only nominees like Babatunde Fashola, and some others, were put to the test with questions that suggest that the senators can find their rhythm if they so choose. Such is the nature of screening in this clime.
Perhaps the possibility of racketeering behind the scenes and the reality of a rubber stamp Senate somehow explain why we have not always gotten it right at that level. Some names, which gladly did not make it back on the list of nominees, especially prove this point. Even some that did make the list makes one wonder if the racketeering is not, indeed, going on right under Mr. President’s nose.
For instance, how can one justify the addition of people who are known to have cases with the anti-graft agencies hanging over their heads? Some of the nominees have had controversies of all kinds trailing them through their political lives. Some are also dogged by allegations of using calculated membership of the ruling party to shield themselves against proper prosecution. In law, it is said that it is not only important for justice to be done, but also for it to be seen to have been done. With what the public can see, it does not seem like justice was done to the recent ministerial appointments and subsequent confirmation.
The list of ministers, especially the returning ones, shows that not much has changed. And whatever the chess game was in 2015, the same tactics are being employed again in 2019. This means that the results we have had these past four years will most likely be the same. While the screening lasted, it was clear that what the lawmakers did was to give each nominee a piece of candy to lick, instead of really grilling them hard. May God save Nigeria!
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