Weeks after he was tipped as a minister by President Muhammadu Buhari, former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s nomination is still generating ripples at the Senate.
He is billed for screening tomorrow – six days after 18 of the 21 ministerial nominees on Buhari’s first list were cleared.
Senators, it was gathered yesterday, are set for an epic battle over his screening.
Amaechi and Adebayo Shittu, a former member of Oyo State House of Assembly in the Second Republic, are the ones remaining on the list to be cleared.
The president has since replaced the 21st person on the list and the immediate past deputy governor of Niger State, Musa Ibeto.
Some of the minority Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators are spoiling for war – initiated from outside the Senate – vowing to stop Amaechi’s screening, but their All Progressives Congress (APC) counterparts are set to ensure his clearance.
“We are allowing the minority to have their say. We will have our way,” Senate Leader Ali Ndume, (APC, Borno North), said last night.
He said: “This issue of Amaechi is generating unnecessary tension. I think being a two-term governor and a former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, he is qualified to be a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The report of the Senate Committee is ready and we will go ahead with the screening of the nominee. Our responsibility lies in ensuring that Amaechi has met the requirements of the constitution.
“We have to confirm if he is truly from Rivers State, his agenda for the nation and if he has the capacity to serve this country.”
Ndume added: “There is no provision in the 1999 Constitution or the Senate Standing Orders that says you must disqualify a nominee because of a petition.
“If anyone has issues or allegations against Amaechi, let the person go to court to prove these. Under normal circumstance, Amaechi ought to take a bow in view of his past records.
“But we will want to hear from him what he has in stock for the nation which he wants to serve.
“ We will consider the report of the committee on Tuesday or any time in the week. But this noise from PDP cannot stop Amaechi’s confirmation.
“We have 58 APC Senators (excluding the President of the Senate who has no vote unless there is a tie) and we are all united behind Amaechi. The PDP has 48 Senators. Assuming that all the PDP Senators are against Amaechi, the majority will still have its way.
“Section 5 of the constitution is very clear on the powers of the President. President Muhammadu Buhari has exercised his powers by appointing his nominees. Those aggrieved should go to court.”
It was learnt that members of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions have sorted out their differences and finalised the report on the petition against Amaechi.
A member of the committee said: “We have completed our assignment and we will present our report to the Senate on Tuesday.
“I will not tell you our recommendation but we have been fair to the petitioner and the defendant based on issues and precedents.
“This petition gave us a tough time because a lot of legal intricacies are involved. Nigerians are becoming more interested in who leads them.”
Ahead of Amaechi’s screening, there has been a division in the rank of PDP senators.
Some of them were said to have told their colleagues that they may not support the position of the party to “halt the screening and confirmation of Amaechi.”
It was gathered that the PDP senators backing Amaechi based their decision on personal grounds.
One of them said: “I think on a personal note, he is qualified for the job. He has the capacity to deliver on any assignment given to him.
“Some of us also do not believe in politics of tit-for-tat. Amaechi worked against our victory but politics is fluid, he might be with us tomorrow.”
Another PDP senator said: “I think the interest of the nation should be paramount. This screening of Amaechi is assuming a personal dimension. We should be concerned more about his ability for the job than anything else.
“As for the allegations of graft, the court will always be there to prove Amaechi guilty or otherwise. Stopping him will amount to arrogating the powers of the court to the Senate.
“My position is that a minister does not have immunity. So, he can still be prosecuted while in office.
“I think Governor Ayo Fayose set a template for our caucus in the Senate by directing the three senators from Ekiti to support ex-Governor Kayode Fayemi’s nomination.”
Also yesterday, two groups defended the nomination of Hajiya Aisha Abubakar as the first female ministerial nominee from Sokoto State.
They urged the Senate to ignore the petition from some politicians in the state.
A group, “The Concerned Sokoto People”, said it was uncharitable to embark on such an act against a morally upright woman.
It said: “We will sadly add that it is a grave disservice to Nigerians, to President Buhari, to the APC and to Sokoto people, that it is only from Sokoto State, that an APC chieftain, a defacto leader will sponsor, in whatever guise, a frivolous petition challenging the carefully selected nomination of a minister from his own state by his own President.
“President Buhari has made it clear that he and he alone will be responsible for who serves in his government. All APC leaders across the country have accepted this position and have supported the president to succeed so that this country, can move forward.
The group described the nominee as a role model of gender equality in the predominantly conservative northern state of Sokoto.
It added: “She is not only an international banker and top manager of human and material resources, she has dedicated herself as an employee in national and regional institutions to the promotion of developmental issues that target the low and middle income earners in Nigeria and Africa”.
Another group, “Concerned Stakeholders for Good Governance”, dismissed issues raised against Hajiya Abubakar, saying the allegations were not tenable.
The forum described as worrisome, the move by interest groups discriminating against President Buhari’s choice of a ministerial nominee based on gender.
The forum said: “Having served in various organisations in the public service with over 20 years’ experience in banking and investment, rural enterprise development and micro-credit administration, international development, policy analysis and business support, she is adequately qualified.
“There is no legal requirement under any Nigerian law that a person must be a member of a political party before they can be appointed Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or to any other executive position and it is in this regard that the appointment of Abubakar has in no way contravened any legal provision as far as party membership is concerned.
“Aisha is a daughter of ex-super Permanent Secretary and Finance Minister Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji and current Sardauna of Sokoto and heir to the sultanate throne which makes her a seventh generation descendant of Sheikh Usman Danfodio, the 18th century founder of the Sokoto Caliphate.
“Also from the maternal side, she is a granddaughter of his Eminence, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto.”