Written by Uchenna Awom and Andrew Oota:

The issue of ‘cabal in government’ took centre stage as the Senate began screening  ministerial nominees amid a raucous session yesterday when former Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili, pointedly told the senators that she was never a member of the cabal in the presidency that surrounds ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Also the immediate past Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Adetokunbo Kayode, acknowledged that the ‘doctrine of necessity’ which threw up the acting presidency of Goodluck Jonathan was applied at the most plausible time in the country’s moment by the National Assembly.

He added, “That was the reason it was widely hailed not only in Nigeria but by the international community as a bold measure to move the country forward”.

Meanwhile, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday presented another list of five nominees for screening and confirmation by the Senate for appointment as federal ministers.

This was contained in a letter addressed to Senate President David Mark and read  to senators at yesterday’s extraordinary session of the Senate.

Akunyili, who also told the lawmakers that her patriotism has never been in doubt, having taken the war on fake drugs right to the doorstep of her people in the South-east when she was the Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) denied ever cooking food for Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua, wife of President Yar’Adua.

“The distinguished Senator said that I was supposed to be part of the cabal. 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 he became ill, I organised a fast with my staff and my household and the DG of the FRCN was part of the fast. I also booked 90 days novena prayers for him at St. Leo Parish, 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.

“I have always tried to be nationalistic right from the time I was in NAFDAC. I took the war against fake drugs even to the doorstep of my people in the South-east.”

She spoke while responding to questions posed to her by the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Kanti Bello (PDP, Katsina).

Akunyili had on Wednesday, February 3, 2010, urged members of the disbanded Federal Executive Council to face up to the leadership vacuum created by the absence of ailing President Yar’Adua and declare him incapacitated.

The then Information and Communications minister, who said that Nigerians had been taken for a ride for too long, had requested her former colleagues to prevail on Yar’Adua to step down.

Her memo had generated harsh criticisms from a cabal loyal to Yar’Adua, especially former Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa.

Senator Bello, who was apparently emotionally-charged, told Akunyili yesterday that he learnt that she was a member of the so-called cabal in the presidency who also at one-time usually cooked for Mrs. Yar’Adua. He asked her whether her actions in government were not meant to divide the country rather than unite it, thereby raising questions on whether she was patriotic enough in taking the position she took on the Yar’Adua issue.

He said: “I thought you are patriotic, you were earlier a member of the cabal, that even used to cook for the first lady. Do you think your action in government was to unite the country or divide it?”

But the Senate president interrupted him amidst other points of order raised by senators wishing to stop Bello. Mark cautioned the senator to moderate his words and stop being emotional and ask straight questions. He reminded him that the issue of cabal was not constitutional and that he should also be specific on which action the former minister took that appeared divisive.

The senators voted against extending the session beyond 6 p.m. in what was seen as a deliberate effort by most of them to stop further questioning of the former minister. The Senate president had to stand on his feet to calm the lawmakers who were visibly agitated over the barrage of questions coming from Bello.

An angry Senator Mark had to warn the senators that he would not stand on his feet again to calm them, reminding them of a standing rule of the Senate which provides that when the Senate president stands on his feet every senator must sit down. He then asked Akunyili to continue with her response to the question, which was however stopped when it was 6 p.m. on the dot.

The significant thing was that she had taken her turn and would not be invited back to field further questions from the senators

Meanwhile, Chief Kayode’s reponse was sequel to a question posed by Senator Garba Lado Danmarke (PDP, Katsina), who sought to be lectured on the legality of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ and when it was the right time to apply the doctrine.

“I have not heard about the doctrine of necessity before, which position of law permits that and in what circumstance can it be applied”.

But Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu) raised a point of order 53 (6) of the Senate rules. He was supported by Senator Joel Danlami Ikenya, who said that Senator Danmarke’s question was against the Senate rules since it did not come through a substantive motion. They were however overruled by Senator Mark.

The Senate had slated 14 nominees for screening but ended up screening only three: Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, Chief Adetokunbo Kayode and Prof. Dora Akunyili. It will continue with the rest this morning.

Those nominated for screening and confirmation are Humphrey Abba (Kogi), John Odey (Cross River), Adeyemi Babalola (Oyo), Isa Ibrahim (Kwara) and Sam Odeh (Benue).

Four out of the five nominees served in the dissolved cabinet set up by President Yar’Adua. Mr. Odeh is the only new face who will replace the former Attorney-General for the Federation, Mr. Micheal Kaasa Aondoakaa.

Until this nomination, Odeh was the Special Adviser to the Benue State governor.

Benue and Kogi states were not represented in the first list submitted to the Senate for screening.

Also, the Senate yesterday referred to its standing Committee on Ethics and Code of Conduct for investigations  a newspaper publication that senators were being bribed by some of the ministerial nominees in order to clear some ministerial nominees.

The report said a senator from Katsina and another from Kebbi were involved in the money-sharing, which ran into millions of US dollars.

Senator Lado Garba Danmarke raised the matter before the Senate, relying on Order 14 of the standing rules of the upper chamber, arguing that his privileges were breached.

Responding, Senate president David Mark said there was no such situation of senators being bribed to clear some of the nominees.

Meanwhile, petitions in support and against some candidate kept flooding the Senate. Expectedly, the nominee from Benue State, Mr. Sam Odeh, seemed headed for trouble, but support came his way yesterday when Dr. Dabo Adzuana wrote a personal letter to the Senate President, appealing for his clearance.

Dabo-Adzuana said he was aware that a group of Nigerians from Benue State plans to oppose his nomination on silly, flimsy and totally unjustified grounds.

“We Tiv cannot take everything all the time. We are one people, we must do all things as one people. Odeh as a good Christian is an Idoma with  a Tiv mother, and all Benue political leadership supports him,” he said.

Also, a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bolous Indiamaowei, from Bayelsa State, petitioned against the nomination of Mrs. Dieziani Allison-Madueke.

According to him, Mrs. Allison-Madueke, having been indicted for fraud and embezzlement, was disqualified from election as a member of the House of Representatives, and as such is not qualified for appointment as a minister.

“Senate should therefore not confirm her appointment,” he said.

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