By Gbade Ogunwale:
• Senator accuses nominee of betrayal
• Babalola, Odey, Abbah, Bio nominated
It was a mixed grill – of fun and fury – yesterday at the Senate’s screening of ministerial nominees.
Mrs Akunyili, who was the third of the 33 nominees to face the lawmakers’ scrutiny, was bombarded with questions bordering on her loyalty to ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua who appointed her minister in 2007.
Senator Kanti Bello (Katsina North) threw the first salvo when he questioned Mrs Akunyili’s patriotism and her genuine commitment to the country’s unity through her words and actions at a critical point in Yar’Adua’s infirmity.
The senator accused her of being a member of “the cabal” only to turn round to deny the cabal, accusing it of attempting to frustrate the process of making Jonathan Acting President.
Bello also insinuated that Mrs Akunyili was cooking meals for Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai, at certain times before the President’s illness worsened, only for her to turn against the first family at the most critical point in their life.
He said: “I was made to understand that you were very close to the cabal which is against Section 21 of the 1999 Constitution, which preaches unity.
“I also learnt that you were very close to the wife of the President to the extent that you deployed your skills as a chemist by cooking for madam…”
Bello became emotional and Mark intervened.
Mark advised Bello to ask a direct question and helped him to re-phrase the question.
“I think what Bello wanted to ask is: Did you think your actions helped to unite or divide the country?”
But Bello insisted that Mrs Akunyili must answer why she ditched the cabal and why she chose to refer to some of her colleagues in the cabinet as members of a cabal.
Chairman of the Petroleum Resources (Upstream) Committee, Senator Lee Maeba rose at this juncture, citing Order 53 (7) (8) of the Senate Standing Rules.
He said Bello’s actions were “a clear violation of our rules because the person standing before us is a woman of international repute.”
Mark noted his Order 53 (7) but overruled him on 53 (8). He asked Mrs Akunyili to answer the question.
She replied: “I’ve always tried my best to be a nationalist. Even in Nation Agency for Food and Drugs and Administration Control (NAFDAC), I served Nigeria not myself even when those who involved in fake drugs and we had to deal with them were my people. I didn’t spare them.”
Mrs Akunyili denied being a member of the cabal or ever cooking the First Lady’s meals, saying: “I never cooked for madam … again, in any way, I was never a part of the cabal.”
She said: “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 was my boss, my big brother, and he remains my brother and everybody knows that he is a fine gentleman with beautiful spirit. When we started having problems……”
“When he became ill, I organised a fast with my staff and my household and the Director-General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) was part of the fast. I also booked 90 days novena prayers for him at St. Leos Parish, Ikeja. It can be cross-checked. 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.”
Mrs Akunyili said she had always tried her best to be a nationalist, adding that as Director-General of NAFDAC, she waged the anti fake drug war against her own people from the South-East who were neck deep in the illicit business.
At this point, the session became rowdy. Senators loyal to President Yar’Adua felt, apparently, betrayed by Mrs Akunyili. They were poised to pummel the former minister.
The atmosphere was charged and many members started shouting. Then, there was calm. The situation was brought under control when Mark stood up and pleaded with members to be orderly.
He reminded the senators that whenever the President of the Senate stands up in the chamber, no member is permitted to speak or move around. Calm returned to the chamber.
Immediate past Attorney-General Adetokunbo Kayode was momentarily put on the spot when another pro-Yar’Adua senator, Garba Lado, sought to know the place of doctrine of necessity in the constitution.
Kayode explained that the contrivance was usually adopted to address an urgent necessity and that it was meant to fill a vacuum created in leadership.
He said: “It was 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 in Nigeria before.”
“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 a few weeks ago but some of us who studied the doctrine of necessity believed that it was rightly applied.”
He went on: “It was for the right thing to be done and 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.”
Also screened yesterday was Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, who was the first to face the senators. She answered questions on the N200 billion agricultural loan that the Federal Government promised the agricultural sector.
According to her, N160 billion of the fund was to be released to the large-scale mechanised sector. The remaining N40 billion was to be disbursed to small-scale farmers through the state governments.
Mrs Njeze explained that the Central Bank recalled the fund because of delay in accessing it by the beneficiaries.
The screening continues today.
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