From FRANCIS AWOWOLE-BROWN, TESSY IGOMU and NDUBUISI ORJI:
…As Senator hits ex-information minister
Drama and intrigues pervaded the floor of the Senate on Monday as members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly commenced screening of ministerial nominees. Former minister of information and communications, Professor Dora Akunyili was literally on the firing line at the screening, with Senator Kanti Bello (PDP Katsina North) pointedly accusing the former boss of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) of belonging to the “cabal”.
Emotions ran high and at a point the session became rowdy and uncontrollable, a situation that force the Senate President, David Mark to rise up on his seat to enforce compulsory silence. He had to bang the gavel several times before silence could be restored.
Apart from Akunyili, other nominees screened by the Senate were former minister of state (Agriculture), Mrs. Fidelia Njeze (Enugu State), former attorney-general and minister of justice, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (Ondo)
After Mrs Njeze and Prince Kayode, SAN had taken their turn, it was Akunyili’s. The mood in the chamber changed as she filed into hall led by the Special Assistant to the Acting President on National Assembly, Cairo Ojuigbo.
Expectedly, the Senate President asked her to say something about herself and her performances as a minister of the Federal Republic and Akunyili, clad in light green and yellow Ankara began to reel out how she performed as NAFDAC director general and minister of information and communication.
Tempers rose when it was question time and Senator Kanti Bello began his question citing portions of the constitution especially section 15 on the expectations of public officials to at all times maintain peace and unity in the country.
An obviously angry Bello said Akunyili was very close to the Yar’Adua family, asserting that she was, at a point, cooking for “madam.” He wondered why she did not consider herself part of the “cabal.”
“I thought you were patriotic,” Bello told the former NAFDAC boss. “I was made to understand that you were close to the Yar’Adua family, that you were a member of the cabal. You are very close to the Yar’Adua family but you didn’t consider yourself a cabal. Do you think what you’ve done is in the interest of this country, or you’ re one of those sycophants who want to destroy this country?”
Bello’s questions immediately provoked uproar in the chambers. The senate president intervened. He urged Senator Bello to be calm and not to be unnecessarily agitated or emotional.
As soon as he finished, Senator Lee Meaba (PDP Rivers South-East) raised a point of order, citing order 53(7&8) of the Senate rules. He stated that the rules forbid senators from using abusive language on other senators.
Amidst the deafening din in the Senate chambers, the Senate president said the rule actually referred to senators, reminding Senator Meaba that Prof Akunyili was not a senator. He, however, admonished Senator Bello against getting emotional. According to him, Monday’s event was just the screening. He told the senators that they would still have another opportunity to bare their minds after the screening.
But Senator Bello wasn’t done. He said he had a petition before him which stated that whereas Section 14 of the constitution states that appointments should reflect federal character, all the appointments from Anambra were done from Anambra Central where Dora hails from. He noted that Anambra North had no appointments. His outburst provoked another round of chaotic noise in the chambers.
After the Senate president had called for calm, the Senate leader, Senator Teslim Folarin then moved a motion. According to him, in view of the nature of the screening, the Senate should sit beyond 6:00 p.m. The motion was, however, rejected by the senators after three consecutive voice votes.
The Senate President then asked Akunyili to give her response to Senator Bello’s questions. He urged her to finish her statement before 6:00 p.m.
In her response, Akunyili denied ever belonging to the cabal. She also emphasized that she never cooked for Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua.
Her words: “I have always tried my best to be a nationalist, right from my days at NAFDAC. The war against counterfeiting of drugs was a difficult one.
Those that were involved in counterfeiting were my own people and I did not spare them. I want to reply to the question asked by my distinguished senator that I was part of the cabal and that I was cooking for madam.
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 is my boss, my big brother, and he remains my brother and everybody knows that he is a fine gentleman and with beautiful spirit. When we started having problems…..” Again she was cut short by the shouts from the senators, and the session became rowdy again.
At this stage, all pleas from the Senate president for calm fell on deaf ears and he had to stand up to force the senators to maintain the peace. (Senate Order 63 gives the Senate President power to force any senator to sit down and keep quiet when he stands up. With the invocation of the order, the Senate President can send any lawmaker out of the chamber)
An angry Sen. Mark said anytime he stands up everybody must sit down and keep quiet. “For the benefit of those who are new in this chamber, whenever the Senate President stands up, everybody must stop talking why can’t we conduct ourselves. This is the first time I am going to stand up.” Silence returned and he asked Prof Akunyili to continue with her response.
With a pin drop silence, Prof. Akunyili continued, “The President is my boss and I am loyal to him. When he became ill, I organized prayers and fast with my staff and my household and the Director-General of the FRCN can bear me witness. I also booked a 90-day Novena prayer for him at St. Leo Catholic Church, Ikeja, it can be cross-checked, when he went to the hospital and that shows you that I have nothing against our President. I am loyal to him, I am loyal to the Constitution and I am very loyal to the country.” After that, Akunyili took her bow and left.
The session came to an end and further screening adjourned till today (Tuesday).
However, observers believe that the inability of more senators to participate in the screening of Prof. Akunyili could turn out a disadvantage for her or blessing in disguise as her fate lies in the hands of the senators, most of whom did not throw questions at her, for confirmation.
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