A former lawmaker, pro-democracy activist, former governor and now President; expectations are rife that Ministerial appointments into the Tinubu-led Federal Executive Council (FEC) would take a different turn. However, with the constitutional window almost closing in on him, what role does the Senate have to play in all of these?
Find out in this special report by OrderPaper’s Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq and Ojochenemi Onje-James.
As the National Assembly and Nigerians in general eagerly, await the list of Ministerial nominees for screening, President Bola Tinubu has a constitutional deadline of three days to make up his mind on his cabinet members.
For economic and political experts, the inauguration of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) will shed light on the direction of Tinubu’s administration. The implication of this therefore is that, the quality of nominees hold a ace in President Tinubu’s plans for Nigeria to become reality.
Majority of Nigerians have expressed surprise that the President have had to take up to fifty seven (57) days of the constitutionally permitted sixty (60) days to announce his nominees for cabinet positions, especially because he had promised to hit the ground running during the electioneering campaigns. For the Senate spokesperson, Senator Yemi Adaramodu (APC, Ekiti South), the Red Chamber has sufficient time to review and screen the nominees in accordance with the constitution.
This is as he emphasised the Senate’s commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities and not disappointing the people.
It is in light of this that the last National Assembly must be given commendation for the crucial amendment it made to the constitution on appointment of Ministers. Prior to the amendment of Section 142 (2), delay in the constitution of a cabinet had been a subject of intense conversations to the point that analysts requested an inclusion of a time frame for the President/Governors to submit their ministerial list.
Ironically, the said amendment by the National and State Assemblies got the assent of former President Muhammadu Buhari who could not make up his mind on who deserved to be in his cabinet for over one hundred and eighty (180 days) in his first term. As have even been argued in different quarters, the development was the bane of the country’s economy under his leadership’ as it sent a wrong message to investors and the market in general.
Under the guise that it took that long previously because he was forced to appoint persons he wasn’t familiar with, then President, Buhari upon winning a second term again, took nearly three months to send his ministerial list to the National Assembly. It is important to add that the Buhari administration largely made important decisions at the ‘dying minute’ yet still turned out terrible or defective.
Given these developments, it was thus a thing of joy that the Ninth National Assembly passed an Alteration Bill to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 requiring the President and Governors to submit the names of persons nominated as Ministers or Commissioners within sixty (60) days of taking the oath of office for confirmation by the Senate or State House of Assembly; and for related matters.
The Fifth Alteration Bill (No.23), sponsored by Hon. Ben Rollands Igbakpa, who represented Ethiope Federal Constituency in the Ninth House of Representatives and a semi-finalist for Nigeria’s first-ever Most Valuable Parliamentarian (MVP) Hall of Fame, is what would perhaps save Nigeria from another ‘endless wait’ for a Ministerial list. Suffice to say, the Delta lawmaker was among eighteen members of the Ninth National Assembly who was recognised by OrderPaper Nigeria for their valuable contributions in the core legislative function of lawmaking in the life of the Assembly.
With the President and the Tenth Senate now faced with the compulsory duty to submit and screen respectively, the long-awaited Ministerial nominees this week, there are a couple of issues to be raised.
The Portfolio Question
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic, the screening of Ministerial nominees in parliament has always drawn criticism as a mere ‘constitutional ritual.’
This is due to the fact that specified portfolios for the nominees are not always attached; leaving lawmakers with the option of asking random questions as a way of assessing their capacity and competence. Thus, there have been various attempts and advocacy in the past; albeit unsuccessful, for the portfolio question to be addressed including during the last Assembly.
In particular, the Ninth Assembly disregarded a resolution passed by the 8th Senate, which mandated the President to attach portfolios, deeming it unnecessary (The Guardian, July 24, 2019).
President Bola Tinubu‘s promise to hit the ground running, especially as one who is acclaimed to have had it as a ‘life-long ambition’ to lead Africa’s largest democracy is again called to question. Would he be bold to take an innovative departure from the past in this light? Having spent this long in submitting his ‘choice men and women’ to join him in the drive to renew the hopes of Nigerians, wouldn’t it be expedient to have these portfolios attached?
Also, compared with an ex-military general who may view the attachment of portfolios of his nominees to the parliament as revealing his card, can we say the same for a thorough-bred politician and pro-democracy activist? Many have argued that Section 148 of the 1999 Constitution states that “the President may, in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of government.”
Importantly, while the constitution empowers the President to assign portfolios to nominees at his discretion, it would be difficult to conclude that the submission of a Ministerial list with two or three possible areas of appointment for each of the nominees robs him of that discretionary power.
The ‘take a bow’ tradition
Learning from the past, another cause for concern in Ministerial screenings is the “take a bow” tradition where sitting or former federal and state lawmakers are allowed to leave the Chamber after introducing themselves without further questioning.
As have been argued by those in the legislature, the privilege extended to these (ex) lawmakers is aimed at avoiding repetitive questions on issues that might have been previously discussed in parliament. In dire need of salvation from economic doldrums and hydra-headed challenges spanning across security, health, educational and infrastructural sectors; efforts must begin from selecting competent hands to provide transformational leadership for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government.
The Tenth Senate therefore has the onerous responsibility of ensuring every nominee present for screening and approval is grilled and seen to possess the skill set and acumen needed to handle the tasks at hand. This must also include serving or past lawmakers so nominated; to show that they are truly deserving of it.
The FCT Ministerial Nominee
The last couple of years have seen a clamour by indigenes and original inhabitants of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for a Ministerial slot as extended to the thirty six states of the Federation by the constitution.
According to those advocating for this, such appointment would be in the interest of fairness and equity amongst all federating units of the country. On the contrary, another school of thought argues that the “concept of catchment areas and Federal Character has had an adverse effect on our socio-economic and political development.”
Hence, with conversations heavy around reducing the cost of governance, it would be a case to watch in yet another cycle of Ministerial screening if this President would yield to this demand. Many would also be on the look to see how the lone Senator representing the FCT, Ireti Heebah Kingibe, champions the issue.
Even more interesting to see would be the anticipated reaction of her colleagues in the Red Chamber to all of these. For the first time in at least twelve years, having elected a non-indigene to represent their interest in the Senate, it is believed that she is likely to see this as a opportunity to push for the demand during the entire screening process.
Cost of Governance
Since the coming on board of President Bola Tinubu, Nigerians have had to grapple with hardship occasioned by the removal of petrol subsidy and floating of the naira. The President has thus been encouraging Nigerians to bear the pains accompanying his policy decisions, especially in his Democracy Day speech.
“I admit that the decision will impose extra burden on the masses of our people. I feel your pain. This is one decision we must bear to save our country from going under and take our resources away from the stranglehold of a few unpatriotic elements.
Painfully, I have asked you, my compatriots, to sacrifice a little more for the survival of our country. For your trust and belief in us, I assure you that your sacrifice shall not be in vain. The government I lead will repay you through massive investment in transportation infrastructure, education, regular power supply, healthcare and other public utilities that will improve the quality of lives.
The democracy MKO Abiola died for is one that promotes the welfare of the people over the personal interests of the ruling class and one where the governed can find personal fulfilment and happiness. That is the hope MKO Abiola ignited throughout our country in 1993.”
Many Nigerians will thus expect that this call for sacrifice will also be reflected in the decisions and appointments by the Tinubu Presidency; especially in the formation of a federal cabinet. While Section 147 (3) provides that the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State; which means that he can hardly have less than thirty six (36) Ministers, there are speculations that President Tinubu plans to submit a list forty-two (42) nominees.
This speculation is hinged on the need to reward party stalwarts; especially former governors for loyalty to the governing party, and other primordial factors. While the constitution does not bar the President from appointing as many Ministers as he deems fit, the current state of the Nigerian economy does not support increased cost in government expenditures.
Arguments have also been made in the past that Ministries such as Inter-Governmental Affairs, Police Affairs and Special Duties are interest-based portfolios created for political expediency and as such contributes no real value to good governance.
As the arm of government performing oversight function on the executive, will the Senate therefore be bold to raise eyebrows and decline screening for a huge cabinet nominees?
Coming from the background of former President Muhammadu Buhari‘s eight-year administration where issues of gender inclusion appeared not have been a top priority, Nigerian women will certainly be on the edge of their seats to see what hopes they have under a Tinubu Presidency.
In his two terms (2015 – 2023) as President, women representation in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) did not exceed seventeen (17%) percent at a given time. For his cabinet in the first term, he presented a list of thirty-six (36) nominees for appointment as Ministers, with only six (17%) women. With much pressure from Nigerian women, the slot for women further declined to seven (16%); out of forty-two nominees presented for Senate’s approval in the second term.
Women groups had also expressed reservations about the President’s disposition to women representation even in all the trips he made abroad while he was in office, stressing that women were not represented.
These hapless developments were further worsened with the March 1, 2022 rejection of five gender bills during the clause-by-clause voting by Members of the Ninth National Assembly on Constitution Alteration Bills. This was despite high level lobbying by the trio of then First Lady, Aisha Buhari, Wife of then Vice President; Dolapo Osinbajo, and the then Minister for Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, amongst others. In this light, both the executive and legislative arms can be said to have failed Nigerian women despite the pledge of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to 35 percent affirmative action for women in governance and the APC manifesto which promises equitable gender inclusiveness.
A flashback to previous administrations however, revealed that women had it best under the Goodluck Jonathan administration where over thirty one percent (31%) of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) were women. This is in comparison to the Olusegun Obasanjo adminstration with nine women (second term) and the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration with seven female ministers.
With women representation in the Tenth National Assembly; especially in the Senate at its lowest (3%) since 1999, Nigerians would be looking up to the lawmakers to drum up support for female representation in the Federal Executive Council (FEC). It may be sound to argue that the President holds discretionary powers to determine the percentage of appointment into his cabinet along the lines of gender. However, it would take nothing from the Senate to use the opportunity of the screening to make a strong statement in the event that the list is low on inclusion.
As the apex legislative institution in the Africa’s largest democracy, adherence to 35 percent Affirmative Action as enshrined in the National Gender Policy of 2006 would be an exemplary action among the comity of nation. This would also be sending a strong signal that Nigeria respects its commitment to the seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at transforming the world by 2030 where Goal 5 speaks to the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.
Suffice to say that Nigeria is blessed with competent and capable women in all sectors of our national life to handle such assignments.
In the final analysis, Section 147 (6) provides the Senate with twenty-one (21) working days to complete the screening process. Parliamentary observers have thus argued that this provision suggests some measure of rigour on the part of the lawmakers in carrying out this national assignment.
To achieve this, the expectation is that the lawmakers would be innovative in their screening even if it takes amending their Rules to depart from the tradition of the Committee of the Whole where the nominees answer generic questions during plenary. This could mean screening the Ministerial nominees at Adhoc Committee(s) level (since standing committees yet to be constituted), rather than the ritual of “asking all kinds of questions including why a female nominee was not married as evident during the Obasanjo administration.”
Conclusively, what the Nigerian public expects of the Tenth Senate is a screening process that is patriotic with evidence of transparency and thoroughness in weighing the capabilities of these would-be ministers, given the numerous challenges at hand.
It will also be another opportunity after the recent approval of the President’s twin request for an amendment to the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation (Budget) Act and additional loan facility of eight hundred million dollars ($800m) from the World Bank to prove their mettle as a truly independent arm of government rather than a rubber stamp Assembly.