SENATE MINISTERIAL CONFIRMATION CRUDITY. By Ray Ekpu

The 8th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made two decisions on confirmation hearings of ministerial nominees. The decisions were, one, that the President should submit his list of ministerial nominees within 30 days of the inauguration of the Senate. This decision was based on the public outcry in 2015 when it took about six months for the President to submit the list. The President did not meet the 30 days prescription in 2019 but he did much better this time by submitting the list within six weeks of the Senate’s inauguration.

The second prescription was that portfolios should be attached to the names of the nominees so that the confirmation hearings can be meaningful. This was not done and the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who was the Majority Leader in the 8th Senate when the decision was taken did not insist on the President’s compliance with this simple and reasonable requirement. So as it has been since 1999 the so-called confirmation hearings in 2019 were a sham, a parody of the real thing, and an indication that this Senate is likely to be unwilling to do things properly, differently, efficiently, if the morning tells the day.

A 43-person list of potential ministers was submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari. Only seven of them were women and the gender activists have, rightly, condemned the extreme marginalization of women which the list indicates.

The list represents the President’s obedience of the philosophy of tokenism and a patent lack of interest in gender equity, not to mention gender parity. The women in Nigeria have been canvassing for, not 50%, but 35% representation. With the nomination of only seven women what they have got from the Buhari government is a paltry 16% representation even though, Nigerian women have, by education and performance, shown that they can hold their own if given the opportunity. The remarkable achievements of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ms Oby Ezekwesili, Dr. Dora Akunyili and Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, to mention but a few, are significant testimonials for the female gender in Nigeria. But I do understand that the criteria for nomination for such positions are evidently skewed against women because of the nature of our flawed leadership selection process.

Most nominees are chosen by either the Governor or the Party Chairman or some other influential party apparatchik in the State or at the centre. More often than not the decision is based on the votes got by the President in somebody’s constituency or contribution, financial and otherwise to the success of the President or party. Most women politicians fall short on these criteria. In other words, the selection is largely based on concrete contribution to the success of the party and or loyalty, potential or real, to the President. This means that the nominee’s manifest achievement and potential contribution to the nation’s development are quietly relegated to the background. That is why you do not find in Buhari’s team a Bayo Ogunlesi, a Nigerian wizard that United States President, Donald Trump, appointed into his team.

Talking about utilizing the enormous abilities of women whose virtues include empathy for children and the vulnerable and multi-tasking abilities France and Rwanda are examples to emulate. President Emmanuel Macron of France has a 50-50 gender parity in his cabinet. Rwanda which is leading Africa on several fronts also has gender parity as an important ethos of its government. I have no idea whether or not there is a nexus between women inclusiveness and the giant developmental strides made by Rwanda. Whether there is a nexus or not women inclusiveness is a benefit to any society because excluding this large group from the commanding height of any nation’s decision-making process is the equivalent of bursting the nation’s major artery.

Many people including this columnist had condemned the “bow and go” policy of the Senate and we felt that if we had a Senate that was sensitive to public opinion the inane policy would go. But it is obvious that this Senate is neither sensitive to public opinion nor interested in doing its job well, the way confirmation hearings are done in America from where we borrowed this Presidentialism.

This so-called confirmation screening here was a sham and for the period I watched it, I was yawning endlessly but not out of hunger. If you have watched America’s confirmation hearings you would feel shortchanged by the Nigerian Senators and angry that we are paying so much money to get those fellows into that place to perform this act of inanity. People who are looking for jobs in blue chip companies, even at entry level are grilled much more than these ministerial nominees who are looking for jobs at the topmost level in our public service. Most people who look for jobs in the private sector sometimes have to do an aptitude test, and if successful go through three or four interviews before they are selected. This rigorous selection process guarantees that the successful candidate is good enough for the job. The second benefit of the inquisition-style selection process is that the candidate becomes fully aware that the job he will be doing, if employed, is taken very seriously by his employers. He, too, has to come to the table with an equal dose of seriousness.

The bow-and-go philosophy is conceived on the wrongest premise you can think of. It says that is you have been a Senator, a Representative or a member of a State House of Assembly and you are now a ministerial nominee you are not to be grilled. You are only told to bow and go. If you were a sinner in your past life, you are not even told to “go and sin no more”. You are simply told “bow and go” with all your sins locked up and hidden from public view. Perhaps, if these former parliamentarians were being screened for work in parliament you could say that they are familiar with parliamentary procedure so they are, prima facie, qualified and no rigorous interrogation was necessary.

To make the transition from parliamentarian to minister without being asked questions and allowed to supply answers is an undeserved privilege and another evidence that we are an unserious bunch of human beings. Many of these ex-parliamentarians may have stayed in parliament for four years without raising a motion or submitting a private member’s bill. Some were absentee parliamentarians who only showed up there when they liked; some of them just went there, signed the attendance register and went out to comb for contracts in ministries or to sex toy shops to buy equipment for the exercise of phallicism.

Another issue. Why should people who are coming for confirmation hearings be asked to stand as if they are going through a test for sentry duty. The fact that they are asked to stand, instead of sit, automatically means that they cannot be grilled for too long. The second point is that asking them to stand is disrespectful for the office they are looking for and shows, too, whether or not we are truly civilized and courteous. We are not. Elsewhere people for confirmation hearings are allowed to sit comfortably while they face the fire of their interrogators.

Why it is different here is unclear to me. The most awful aspect of the so-called confirmation hearing is the non-attachment of portfolios to the names of the nominees. This is largely responsible for the dumb and irrelevant questioning of the nominees. It is some kind of blind man’s buff, mumbo-jumbo, jogging in the jungle, a trip to nowhere, a fruitless tickling of the imagination, a tilting of the windmills which boils down to an exercise in futility since no one knows to which ministries they will be assigned. If any foreigner watches such a circus show we will all look stupid. Dr. Ahmed Lawan, Senate President, please tell us that you are not going to go on like this for the rest of the four years. The decision to attach portfolios to names was taken in the 8th Senate of which you were an important part. Now, you have thrown it into the refuse bin and carried on in the dumb manner of the past Senates. And you have kept a straight face when you, a well-educated man, should put the Senate on the path of rectitude and respect for public opinion. Haba!

30 July 2019

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