By John Alechenu and James Azania:
There was an uproar in the Senate on Monday during the screening of ministerial nominees by members of the upper arm of the National Assembly.
The screening had began smoothly with Mrs. Fidelia Njeze and Chief Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN) but when it got to the turn of Prof. Dora Akunyili, the atmosphere changed with Senator Kanti Bello accusing her of exhibiting divisive tendencies shortly before the return of President Umaru Yar’Adua from Saudi Arabia.
“I thought you were nationalistic and close to the cabal( in the Presidency) but your views tended to be divisive, and if you looked at Sections 15 and 20 of the 1999 Constitution, your actions as a minister would portray you as being divisive,” he told Akunyili in a near combative form.
Sensing that Bello’s attack could scuttle the exercise, the President of the Senate, Mr. David Mark, reminded him that he was expected to ask direct questions.
The senator then calmed down a bit but when he began to speak again, he fired another salvo at Akunyili, a former Minister of Information and Communications, by restating that her actions were not aimed at uniting the country.
“Your actions did not seem to unite the country. You called some people a cabal but you were a part of it,” the visibly angry Bello added.
The senator also claimed that he had information that Akunyili was so close to the Yar’Adua’s household that she cooked meals for the First Lady, Turai.
He added that the former minister was not eligible for the post because there were claims of over-concentration of federal appointments in the Anambra Central District, where Akunyili hails from.
At this point, tempers ran high and Senators began to speak up depending on which side of the divide they belonged.
Senator Lee Maeba obviously trying to save Akunyili from further attacks raised a point of Order, asking that Bello should not impute improper motive to the nominee.
The session became rowdy, prompting the President of the Senate, Mr David Mark, to stand up to call the Senators to order.
Mark said, “For those (senators) who are new on the floor here, whenever the President of the Senate stands up, you must stop talking, let me just remind everybody please. We must conduct ourselves in a manner…we are on live television.
“Whatever views you have, you have an opportunity to express them; and this is the first time I am going to stand up as the President of the Senate. I wouldn’t want this to happen again. We have got a guest, a nominee, in our midst and we must conduct ourselves properly, please, whatever our views.”
While answering Bello’s question, Akunyili said, “He(Bello) said that I was cooking dishes for Madam. Sir, I never cooked for Madam.
“Again, I was not in any way part of the cabal. I want to state here very clearly that President Yar’Adua, my boss, my big brother …well he remains my brother, and everybody knows he is a fine gentleman with a beautiful spirit.
“But when we started having issues in the system, when we started having problems, I …I decided… (murmurings get louder).
“When he (Yar’Adua) became ill, I organised a fast of my workers and my household and the Director-General, Federal Radio Corporation was part of the fast.
“I also booked 90 days Novena masses for him in St Leos Parish, Ikeja. It can be crosschecked, when he went to the hospital. So that shows you that I have nothing against our President. I am loyal to him, I am loyal to the Nigerian constitution, and I am very loyal to the country — Nigeria. What I did ….”
After Mark spoke, the Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Teslim Folarin, moved for the Senate to extend the screening beyond 6pm.
Three times, the President of the Senate asked his colleagues if they should do so and three times they answered “No.”
Akunyili later numerated some of her achievements in the information ministry to include the digitalisation of national television stations, which she said would be fully operational by 2012; establishment of a website; and the Nigeria Rebrand project.
After her presentation, Mark asked her to take a bow after which the Senate adjourned at exactly 6pm.
Before, Njeze was screened, there was a minor stir in the Senate when a member drew his colleagues’ attention to a publication in a national daily (not THE PUNCH) that some senators received $100,000 each to ensure that some ministerial nominees did not scale through.
The senator, Alhaji Garbo Lado, had raised a Point- of- Order on the allegation that a number of senators distributed the money to some of their colleagues.
The President of the Senate sustained the Order but said he was unaware that any senator received such money.
Mark said, “It (allegations) is totally unfortunate. I have not received $100,000; no Senator has recieved or distributed $100,000.”
He added that such allegation would not help the system and appealed to the media to remember that they (media) were an important part of the democratic process.
Njeze, a nominee from the Enugu State, had advocated the setting up of a drug mart to check the influx of fake and substandard drugs into the country.
She observed that most countries of the World had a drug mart with which they were able to control, to a large extent, the quality of drugs that reached the populace.
“Every country has drug marts where they check the quality of drugs, even drugs manufactured in their country pass through this drug mart before they go the public,” Njeze said.
In response to a question by Senator Uche Chukwumerije, who expressed worry over the poor implementation of government policies under the dissolved Federal Executive Council, she blamed the frequency of change in government policy for the anomaly.
She explained that policy reversals had not helped the system, in the sense that each time a new person came on board he/she would reverse a policy to suit his style even when such reversals were clearly unnecessary.
“Policy reversals have caused a lot of problems for us in the system. A new person comes in and before you know it, he changes the policy,” she said.
She gave an undertaking not to reverse any policy that was good if she returned as a FEC member.
At best, she advised that minor adjustments could be made where necessary to strengthen existing policies to achieve the desired results.
While responding to a question over the quality of fertiliser pumped into the Nigerian market, she explained that during her time as minister of state in the Ministry of Water Resources, efforts were made to ensure that Nigerians got the best.
Before the screening of the three nominees ended, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan sent a fresh list of five ministerial nominees to the Senate. With the five names, the number of nominees before the Senate is now 38.
The new list consists of four former ministers and one new one.
They are former Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Humphrey Abbah (Kogi State); former Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey (Cross River); former Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola (Oyo); former Minister of Transport, Mr. Isa Bio (Kwara); and Mr. Samuel Odey (Benue).
Until his nomination, Samuel Odey was Special Adviser, Local Government Affairs to Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam.
During his screening, Kayode said that in an effort to reinvigorate the anti-corruption war, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, had given approval to a frame work to establish special courts to deal with corruption related cases.
Kayode, who is the Ondo State ministerial nominee, said the Acting President was also concerned about the state of the anti-corruption war and had given his support to efforts aimed at making it effective.
He was responding to a question by the Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba SAN, who expressed the view of that Nigerians were disillusioned because the anti-corruption war had lost steam.
Kayode said “We must have a dedicated court even if it means they have to sit every six months to deal with anti-corruption cases especially as it relates to politically exposed persons.”
He also stressed the need for the National Assembly to move quickly in these areas by passing legislation that would speed up the process.
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