The Senate on Wednesday screened and confirmed the seven persons whose names were forwarded to the parliament by President Muhammadu Buhari for confirmation as ministers.
The nominees were screened individually on the floor of the Red Chamber in an exercise that lasted for over four hours.
President Buhari had, in a letter dated June 15, 2022, requested the Senate to confirm the nomination of seven ministerial nominees.
He explained that the confirmation request was in accordance with the provisions of section 147, subsection 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
Those screened and confirmed as ministers-designate are Henry Ikechukwu Ikoh (Abia), Umana Okon Umana (Akwa-Ibom) and Ekumankama Joseph Nkama (Ebonyi).
Others are Goodluck Nana Opiah (Imo), Umar Ibrahim El-Yakub (Kano), Ademola Adewole Adegoroye (Ondo), and Udi Odum (Rivers).
They will replace six former ministers who left the federal cabinet to contest the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The seventh nominee is to replace the former Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono, who was sacked in September last year.
Six former ministers who resigned to contest for primaries include; Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio; Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu; Minister of State, Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah; Minister of State, Education, Emeka Nwajiuba and Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Tayo Alasoadura.
Screening or praise-singing?
However, the screening, which was expected to be a rigorous exercise with probing questions on the nominees’ antecedents and their plans for the administration could be passed as a praise-singing session.
Aside few nominees that were accorded the privilege of “take a bow and leave,” a tradition granted to former federal and state lawmakers, others were asked random questions.
Senators mostly from the nominees’ constituents or states did not only rise in their defence but also passed a high encomium on them, with passionate appeal to their colleagues to endorse their nomination.
The Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, set the stage for the praise-singing session when he said Ikechukwu Ikoh, a nominee from Abia State, was “fit to be minister,” having served different governors in the state in different capacities. Other senators followed suit.
Theodore Orji (Abia Central) said Ikoh, his constituent, “is a good man, an industrialist,” whose foam manufacturing firm, located in a village, employed many youths.
The lawmaker further expressed happiness that the nominee’s “suffering for democracy” had been rewarded with ministerial appointment, assuring his colleagues that Ikoh would do well if confirmed.
Enyinnaya Abaribe from Abia South also praised the nominee.
Lawmakers from Akwa Ibom State spoke in favour of the nominee from the state, Umana Okon Umana, whom they described as a performer.
Senator Albert Bassey Akpan said the nominee was a “man of excellence and impeccable character and a performer who leaves offices better than he meets them” while Senator Christopher Ekpeyong described him as a “consummate technocrat.”
Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege said President Buhari made a good choice in picking Umana, who, he argued, would add value to the administration beyond measure.
After the 46-year-old Ekumankama Joseph Nkama from Ebonyi made a brief presentation, his senators, rising in his defence, appealed to the chamber to allow him take a bow and leave, assuring that he is up to the task.
“When good nominees come up we should rally around them and suggest to the government to send them to more tasking ministries,” Senator Rochas Okorocha (APC, Imo) said while hailing the Ebonyi nominee.
Senator George Thompson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) said despite being in opposition party, he and other lawmakers from the state endorsed the nomination of Udi Odum, who he said, possessed sterling qualities.
“We trust his capacity and have full confidence in him. He is humble, focused and a goal getter,” he said.
However, a mild drama played out when Senate President Ahmad Lawan switched off the microphone attached to Okorocha’s seat as he attempted to question a nominee from Imo State, Goodluck Nana Opiah.
The Senate president’s action did not sit well with Okorocha, who, in a visibly angry mood, demanded to know why Lawan would allow another Imo senator, Francis Onyewuchi Ezenwa to speak but prevented him from doing so.
Lawan may have acted on the belief that Okorocha was going to bring up issues against the nominee based on his differences with Governor Hope Uzodima.
Countering Okorocha’s appeal to question the nominee, the Senate president cautioned him not to go against the agreement reached by the Senate during a closed-door session.
Speaking to newsmen after his screening session, the nominee said there was no ‘bad blood’ between him and Senator Okorocha, insisting that the former governor meant well.
“There is no bad blood between me and Senator Okorocha. What happened on the floor of the Senate today is an extension of that kind of rumour. I can tell you that Senator Rochas Okorocha meant well. I think he wanted to add his voice to my nomination,” he said.
During their presentations, the nominees spoke on how to address the numerous challenges facing the Buhari government, as well as their plans as federal cabinet members if confirmed by the Senate.
I’ll protect your interests, Opiah tells senators
Opiah from Imo assured members of the National Assembly that their interests would always be protected in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari if confirmed.
Opiah, a former member of the House of Representatives, served as Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly.
Before he was asked to take a bow and leave, the nominee said he had the highest regard for the legislative arm.
He said that as a former lawmaker he would be an ambassador of the legislature in the executive arm of government.
“Since the legislature is not tenure-based, there is always room for someone to come and go, several times. Being a former member of the House of Representatives I will always be an ambassador of the legislature in the executive.
“I will always protect you when legislative matters arise in the executive arm of government,” he said.
Grant licences for modular refinery operations – Ikoh
A nominee from Abia State, Henry Ikechukwu Ikoh, said to address the high rate of unemployment, efforts must be made to establish and grant operational licences to operators of modular refineries in the country.
“I will advise that the federal government should establish refineries in local communities where crude is produced. This will checkmate the alarming rate of unemployment in the country,” he said.
Another nominee from Akwa-Ibom State, Umana Okon Umana, who is the managing director of the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, said for Nigeria to boost its foreign exchange earnings and reduce reliance on importation, there is the need to step up its production capacity for local consumption and exports.
How to end ASUU strike – Nkama
Ekumankama Joseph Nkama from Ebonyi State said there would be need for both federal government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to reach a compromise to address the incessant shutdown of universities.
He also asked the National Assembly to provide additional funding for the educational sector to meet some of the needs of the union.
He said, “There will be the need for compromise. For a very long time, the ASUU has been sticking to their guns that all the agreements reached earlier must be implemented.
“And we know that from the same source – the same national purse – there are several contending interests seeking for attention.
“My advice will be that the federal government and the ASUU would have to come to a compromise, and through this, we would be able to solve the issue of ASUU strike once and for all.
“I know the importance of budgetary provisions, so I want to appeal to the Senate that when the budget is being made for the coming year, there would be adequate provision for the education sector, so that some of these needs the ASUU members are asking for as a union would be met.”
Lending his voice on the need for an end to the ASUU strike, Ademola Adewole Adegoroye, said the action by the union was against the interest of Nigerian students, adding that more efforts must be made by the government to find a lasting solution to it.
Umar Ibrahim El-Yakub, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), said that when sworn in as a member of the Federal Executive Council, he would sustain and consolidate on the harmonious working relationship between the executive and National Assembly.
Senate President Lawan urged the ministers-designate to “work with our committees during oversights because we are working for the success of the same government.
“The fact that you have less than one year to proof your worth, your impact in your respective ministries can be felt for life, so make sure you write your names not only in gold but in platinum.”