To its credit, the Bukola Saraki Senate did not turn itself into a praise-singing choir in the screening of the ministerial nominees presented by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, that may be the only plaudit critical observers of the ongoing process would give to the Senate underlying the continuing flaws in the country’s leadership recruitment process.
Nigerians who stayed into the night to watch the CNN-sponsored debate for Democratic Party 2016 United States presidential candidates last Tuesday would have been appalled at the way, and manner custodians of Nigeria’s commonwealth are assessed.
Even more, the Saraki Senate has continued with the questionable tradition of not asking former senators questions.
The seeming hollowness of the confirmation hearing were not helped by the president’s failure to affix portfolios to the nominations presented to the Senate.
The president may have acted in accordance with the dictates of the constitution which did not compel him to attach the portfolios. However, given the new administration’s stance on change some had expected President Buhari to depart from the norm and attach the portfolios to the nominations.
Remarkably, one of the more steadfast disciples of the president, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State had taken the unusual step of attaching portfolios when he presented his nominees to the cabinet to the State House of Assembly. In the words of the governor, the attachment of the portfolios was “in the interest of a transparent screening process.”
Regrettably the president, however, decided to follow the custom of the preceding Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidents in refusing to attach portfolios.
It was as such not surprising that senators were left in the lurch in their screening of the nominees.
Maybe because of his rich background in advocacy in environmental issues, Senator Uche Ekwunife asked the nominee from Plateau State, Solomon Dalong “if you are appointed minister of environment what would you do to improve the sector?”
Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the double nominee for commissioner in Ogun State and minister, was quizzed largely on finance apparently because of her background in the sector.
The confusion was, however, most apparent in the screening of the lawyers who by far constituted the largest majority of the nominees.
Among the lawyers so far screened were Raji Fashola, Udoma Udo Udoma, Lai Mohammed, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Aisha Jummai Alhassan and Solomon Dalong.
It was as such not surprising that some senators kept on asking “assuming you are appointed the Attorney General” or “if you are appointed the Attorney General,” suppositions that do not in any way give fiber to the change and purposefulness that is expected of the Buhari administration. Even worse, it had been expected that after waiting four months to pick the cabinet that the new administration could have easily designated the portfolios for the nominees.
The Senate, however, failed to raise the issue and understandably so, given the cloud over the leadership.
Even if the praise-singing of the past was absent, senators failed to grill the nominees on issues of their past. Expectations that General Abdulrahman Dambazzau would be grilled on how he mobilized the army to fight the Boko Haram insurgency were dashed.
There was no doubt that Dambazzau just like Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Lai Mohammed, Chris Ngige among others have more than enough qualification to hold office, but senators in large part failed to draw out the intellectual quotient of the nominees.
The dubious tradition of not questioning former senators designated for federal appointments may well be unique to Nigeria. Senator Hillary Clinton faced a six-day questioning when she was nominated for Secretary of State by President Barack Obama in 2008 at both the committee level and the plenary.
The lack of preciseness in the screening was also compounded by the failure of the female senators to raise the issue of the poor representation of women among the lot.
Women represent a measly 16.7 per cent of the nominees, a development that has been strongly flayed by the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA).
While drawing the attention of the president to the country’s obligations to women under international conventions, Hauwa Shekarau who is the national president of FIDA Nigeria in a statement said:
“We, therefore, urge President Buhari to ensure that the ‘Change’ we all clamoured for is rather progressive and not regressive. FIDA Nigeria notes that the role and achievements of women in the last administration can never be over-emphasised albeit the challenges currently facing a few of them.”
Even more awkward is the geopolitical reflection of the female nominees as it was pointed out that out of the six female nominees, only one is from the South, a development that may have bemused Buhari’s female admirers in the South.