Written by Abdul-Rahman Abubakar & Turaki A. Hassan:
Akunyili: ‘No, I didn’t’
The first day of the Senate screening of ministerial nominees in Abuja recorded high drama and much excitement yesterday when Senate Chief Whip Senator Mahmud Kanti Bello (PDP, Katsina North), accused former Information and Communications Minister Professor Dora Akunyili of being part of the cabal that allegedly hijacked affairs of state in the absence of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. He said Akunyili was at one time very close to the Yar’adua family and that she went so far as to cook food for the First Lady Hajia Turai Yar’adua in order to ingratiate herself with the First Lady.
Senator Kanti Bello strongly condemned Mrs. Akunyili for alleging that a cabal was ruling the country due to Yar’adua’s illness. He said, “You were a very close friend to President Yar’adua and his family and I know that from your background as a pharmacist you have been preparing some nice dishes for Madam and you were a member of the ‘Cabal’ you referred to. Based on these, do you think what you have done is to the best, in your knowledge, intended to foster unity of this country or an attempt to disunite the country?”
In her response, Akunyili denied ever cooking dishes for Hajia Turai. She said, “Sir, I never cooked for Madam. I was not in any way part of the cabal. I want to state here very clearly that President Umaru Yar`adua my boss, my big brother, and he remains my brother and everybody knows that he is a fine gentleman and with beautiful spirit and I am loyal to him.”
Senator Kanti Bello’s heated questions and Akunyili’s response threw the Senate into a rowdy session, with several senators talking at the same time, and Senate President David Mark had a hard time restoring order to the chamber. At one point, Mark stood up, and he said, “Once the Senate President is standing, everybody must stop talking. This is the first time I am standing up as Senate President.”
In the midst of the rowdy session, at 5.50pm, Senate Leader Teslim Folarin moved a motion for extension of time so that the Senate would sit beyond 6pm, but the motion was shouted down. This forced Akunyili to round up her appearance peremptorily, after a much shorter time spent on the Senate floor than the first two nominees.
Former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Chief Adetokunbo Kayode, SAN, who was screened just before Akunyili, had an easier time, though he was asked many important questions. He was asked by Senator Garba Yakubu Lado [PDP, Katsina South] to explain if the ‘doctrine of necessity’ relied upon by the Senate to transfer full presidential powers from ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’adua to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan had any constitutional backing. Kayode defended the principle, saying it is an international principle adopted to be able to be able to wriggle out of tight situations when there is a lacuna in the law. He also praised the National Assembly for adopting the principle, saying it was first used in Nigeria in 1973.
Kayode said, “It is a matter of necessity to make progress and move forward and the doctrine is not our creation but an international creation. It was first applied in Uganda in the early 60s and we have applied it before in Nigeria. And what it means is that when there is a vacuum within the law, just jump over that bridge to make sure you do the right thing and there is a ruling in the Senate few weeks ago but some of us who studied the doctrine of necessity believed that it was rightly applied for the right thing to be done for the country to move forward and I think the whole of Africa would be grateful to the Senate for the application of that doctrine in that circumstance.”
Soon after yesterday’s screening, Daily Trust learnt that several senators had earlier expressed opposition to Akunyili’s nomination and have vowed to stop her confirmation. Her confirmation is likely to divide senators along the lines of pro and anti-Yar’adua.
However, one of the staunch anti-Akunyili senators told Daily Trust last night that the emotion expressed by Senator Kanti Bello during screening of Akunyili gave her a soft landing. He said, “Most of us were prepared to really grill her, but the way he (Kanti) started with emotion as if it was a personal issue gave her soft landing. You can see now she answered only one question and when senators refused to support extension of time, she just took a bow and left. I will surely vote against her confirmation.”
He also said Akunyili is through with the screening because “if you want to bring her back now, it must come through a substantive motion supported by majority senators.” On whether the controversial Professor of Pharmacy will scale the screening, another senator said, “I will not vote for her, but I will tell you that the voting could be affected by this National Interest Group (NIG) in the Senate. The issue is not about region; there are several southern senators that are against Akunyili and there are some Northern senators that I know will vote for her.”
As yesterday’s Senate session was ending, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu summoned a meeting of the South East Caucus. Senator Annie Okonkwo (PDP, Anambra) said, “There is no need for campaign for her (Akunyili) because she is qualified. Her record speaks for her, she has done good works in the past for Nigeria and I know she will be confirmed.”
The first ministerial nominee to face screening, Mrs. Fidelia Akuabata Njeze said the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources has commenced the process of disbursing N200 billion agriculture loans to farmers. She said the problem of the agriculture sector in the country was as result of poor packaging of agricultural products.
The screening continues today with the re-appointed ministers being screened first. They include Mr. John Odey, Alhaji Isa Bio, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke, Mr. Godsay Orubebe, Mr. Remi Babalola, Senator Alabi Olasukanmi and Mr. Humphrey Abah.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday sent 5 additional ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.
Reading a correspondence from the Acting President, Senate President David Mark announced the names of 4 re-appointed nominees and 1 new nominee.
The re-appointed nominees are former Minister of Transport, Ibrahim Isa Bio (Kwara), former minister of state finance, Mr. Aderemi Babalola (Oyo), former minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey (Cross River) and Barrister Humphrey Enemaku Abah (Kogi).
The new ministerial nominee is Mr. Sam Ode from Benue state who is a Special Adviser to Governor Gabriel Suswan.
This brings the number of ministerial nominees so far sent to the Senate to 38. They are expected to join in the screening exercise that commenced yesterday.
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