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Ministerial screening: Strange times, strange things

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Who can honestly swear that the circus that has been happening inside the upper chamber of the National Assembly since last week Tuesday is indeed a screening?

But, before I’m mischievously misinterpreted, let me make haste to note here that I have enjoyed every bit of the ‘screening’ and was actually looking forward to the concluding part of it this week.

The sacrifice made by the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate in suspending the senate rules to enable the senate sit all week (and for longer hours too) to expedite action on the screening is very commendable. The gesture means this senate appreciates the urgency of the matter at hand, and the need to quickly form the federal executive council.

However, since the major change to the process we were all canvassing for – attaching portfolios to the ministerial nominees, was still not done, one did not expect anything radical from the screening, other than a ritualistic going-through-the motions, to fulfill all righteousness. For the state security services had already done the actual screening.

And since, in spite of that screening, several people with questionable pasts, including corruption issues, still scaled that security hurdle, then there was really not much the Senators were supposed to do. This is even more so when we consider the fact that many of the senators, interrogating the nominees are potential prisoners, who just happen to be on the favourable side of the prison gates for now. Some are there in the senate because of dubious state pardon, plea bargain, criminally slow justice system, miscarried justice, party cross-carpeting and outright political manipulations.

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The result was that, instead of properly drilling the nominees, what we saw were what the war commanders call ‘friendly fire’. Each nominee was given ample time to say nice things about himself, with their friend-senators reminding colleagues the other nice things the nominee forgot to say about himself or herself.

Since we live in a country where nobody can become anything without having been something before then, it turned out that all the nominees were ex-this and ex-that (with many of them being former lawmakers or returning ministers), which meant that they benefited from the House convention of not drilling one of their own. Most of the nominees thus took a bow and left.

In instances when tough question was asked, the House was either reminded that time was running out for the nominee or protest murmurs would break out, forcing some of the questions to go unanswered. Consequently, AGF Malami is now telling us about protection of human rights of Nigerians, in a season of Zakzaky and Shiites demonstrations.

In fairness to the Senate, however, Enyinnaya Abaribe and Opeyemi Bamidele did fire a few probing questions. It was the same arrangement that allowed Ngige celebrate and gloat over a new miserable N30, 000 minimum wage that has yet to be implemented, and took a bow (as ex-Senator). Similarly, Hadi Sirika was allowed to get away with the Air Nigeria scam. Of course, the women were given a rather patronising gender-sensitive pass, when we know that they are made of better stuff than their male counterparts.

But I must not fail to mention the sterling performance of Dr. Sunday Dare. It is when I see people like Dare, Fowler, Osinbajo, Fashola, etc. that I forget all the warts of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and say a prayer for this famed Lion of Bourdillon. But for Tinubu, we would probably have never discovered Sunday Dare. Oyo State, which slot he is taking up today would never have nominated him. Plateau State, which should have ideally been his home would remind him that he was only born and raised there, but that he’s not an indigene and cannot, therefore, take their slot. But thank God for Tinubu, we can beat our chest and celebrate a Sunday Dare today.

In saner climes, we would have been discussing how suitable for what portfolios the nominees are. But here in Nigeria, after screening, we have to go back and begin another round of lobbying for portfolios – which explains why cronies of a particular nominee are now all over the social media, trying to twist our hands into handing him a particular portfolio. And when a particular nominee, a retired General, mounted the dais, all the questions were about Boko Haram insurgency, as if PMB could not wake up next week and assign him to Solid Minerals.

Or Transport. After all, Gen. Dambazzau was not Defence Minister. For me, it just seemed as if the senators were all careful not to annoy PMB with their screening. It seemed that before every senator spoke, especially those of them in the APC, he first ran the speech in his subconscious, carefully removing those things that would not be pleasing to the ears of the Rock Deity, which they all seem to worship. But that would be suggesting that the senate is a rubber stamp, right? Well, it is not. Because Sen. Ahmed Lawan said so.

However, if you asked me, I’d say that not too many of the key people around President Muhammadu Buhari feel there is any need for any further screening of ministerial nominees after the president had released the list. In the days of yore, which the president is more familiar with, the head of state would have just announced his appointees and ordered them to their duty posts with immediate effect and automatic alacrity. Even if anyone was appointed in error, a General would never go back on his word. The appointee would have to go and learn on the job – even if it was a case of appointing an Engineer Ogbonnaya Onu, as Attorney-General of the Federation.

That is why I would sympathise with Buhari if he gets impatient when some ‘rascals’, who were yet to be weaned off their mothers’ breasts when he was appointing his first batch of ministers, now insist that they must vet his ministerial list – just because one equally rascally constitution, which could ordinarily have been suspended with just one decree (or Executive Order), said so.

Sorry, Mr. President. Those are some of the symptoms of the strange times we now live in. In fact, sir, if you look around you more closely, you’ll see that stranger things continue to happen. Yes. Can you imagine that, in a country where we once harangued a public officer for stuffing a few bribe money dollars in his cap, we now turned round to troop out in our millions to re-elect another public office holder, who stuffed more bribe dollars in his babanriga? Strange!

And as if that wasn’t strange enough, in Ondo State, snakes have chased away the lawmakers from the premises of the state House of Assembly and have taken over the legislative functions there. Yes, Hon. Python and Hon. Cobra are in the House. Don’t be surprised if a few serpentine laws begin to emerge from those hallowed chambers soon, especially now that lawmakers may be compelled to be making laws from hotel rooms.

Your Excellency, as a man who is not worldly, you may not be abreast with all the things that go into the hotel rooms with our politicians. I’m even more scared with this Ondo matter because this is the same state where the authorities are toying with the idea of legalising the cultivation of Indian Hemp, as a cash crop. Yes, I learnt that many cocoa farmers have long cut down their cocoa trees and replaced them with the cannabis plant.

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Somewhere around the same Ondo State, Fulani vigilance operatives have just emerged out of the blue. Armed with rifles, swords and digital identity cards, they have put themselves in charge of forest and neighbourhood watch in the South-west, even against the wish of the locals, who have been calling to rid their forests of killer herdsmen.

And this is happening at a time government is contemplating commandeering land all over the country to set up Ruga for Fulani nomads, most of whom, rumour has it, are yet to arrive Nigeria from their bases in other West African countries – since we are told that genuine Nigerian Fulani have long settled down in the country and stopped roaming.

This is why PMB and members of his kitchen Cabinet (I won’t call them Cabal) insist that the killer herdsmen attacking Nigerian villages are actually from outside the country, prompting the rest of us to conclude that the Ruga idea is essentially to a address the genuine Fulani migration crisis that has suddenly come upon the whole of West Africa.

Of course, it’s not a bad idea if we decide to accept our homeless brothers. But it’s only fair we do so willingly, not by coercion. And, as Sen. Arthur Nzeribe would say, ‘a ga akpa ya akpa’. For instance, rather than seek to radically upstage our demographics across the country, we can, if we have no hidden agenda, begin by settling the new arrivals in areas where they have the most cultural affinity.

But then, who am I to question the presidency on this matter? After all, we live in strange times, and strange things are happening.