by Stanley Azuakola
The screening of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees by the senate is finely poised at the mid-point. With 19 nominees screened and cleared so far and 17 more to go, we are now straddling the space between the political heavyweights and the so-called technocrats who populate the second list. There are still folks like Rotimi Amaechi and Adebayo Shittu, who are carryovers from the other list, but that’s a matter for the future.
We have rated the 19 nominees screened and cleared so far based solely on their performances when they appeared before the senate. The ratings have been broken into two parts – those screened on Day 1 and those screened on Day 2. This first part is for the nominees screened on Tuesday 13th October. We have rated them from 1 to 10 where 1 = kindergaten performance; 5 = secondary school leaver; and 10 = Professor.
UDOMA UDO UDOMA
When Sen. Udoma stepped into his old hunting ground on Tuesday, the senators were looking at a man who is a step ahead of his old peers. Usually in Nigeria, when a politician leaves public office, the next stage is decline and atrophy – but not so for Udoma who went back to his thriving law practice, became chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) along the way and is currently the chairman of two legacy companies in Nigeria.
He was only allowed to respond to one question because as a former senator, he was entitled by convention to take a bow and go. His knowledge and confidence were on display as he responded to the question by Senate President Saraki on policies to attract foreign investment. For a man who has been so consistently excellent, one line of his response was particularly fitting: “There has to be consistency. Investors like consistency, not chopping and changing. You must tell them where you stand, what your plans are,” he said.
Fayemi’s performance at the screening showed the one reason why it was impossible for Buhari to build a team without including him. The man knows the APC’s promises and manifesto inside out and kept referring to it as he spoke. It’s not difficult to know why he had such a good grasp of the APC programs – he authored a chunk of it. Fayemi was Buhari’s lead policy guru during the campagn, writing many of Candidate Buhari’s big speeches and policy messages (some of which the presidency is now denying).
Fayemi was sharp, knowledgeable and shone with his responses to issues about his tenure as governor from the Ekiti debt burden to the Government House project. His responses on foreign and education policies showed a deep understanding of the challenges; and even his response to a petty, self-absorbed question like the one asked by Sen. Shehu Sani about operating an “illegal Radio Kudirat” and escaping through “non-conventional borders” were smart.
The format of the screening made life easy for Fayemi as there were no opportunities for followup questions, otherwise it would have been nice to grill him further on some of his so-called Ekiti legacy projects which everyone but him knows were an immodest waste of meager resources.
The screening of the man who would be the oldest minister in the Buhari cabinet was a low energy affair. Coming after the 50-minute Fayemi show, the senators had already become tired. Widely respected as a principled politician, Ogbeh said he would have turned down the president’s nomination if he did not believe he could do it. His response on why politicians defect so easily was apt. “As long as internal democracy is scarce in political parties and party leadership surrenders to the president and governors, defections will carry on for a while in Nigeria,” he said.
As a self described “common farmer”, Ogbeh is being tipped to head the agric ministry but his views on Tuesday were analog when compared to the relatively high standards set by his predecessor in office, Akin Adesina. Ogbeh proffered ‘subsistence’ solutions to ‘mechanised’ challenges. He dodged Sen. Bwacha’s question on the agric e-wallet system initiated by Adesina. He ought to have been grilled some more but the uninterested senators asked him to take a bow and go because he has “been a leader of the two main parties.”
Onu’s brief screening had nothing notable about it. This was partly the president’s fault for not including portfolios when he forwarded #TheList to the senate hence they couldn’t ask pointed questions; partly the senate’s fault for being so uninterested in the process that they were in a hurry to ask Onu to take a bow and go; and partly Onu’s fault – he failed to impress in the one question he responded to. “What will you do for power generation?” Sen. Utazi asked him. “We need to diversify sources of power generation in Nigeria,” he said. That’s it? I see.
The one revelation from Osagie was that he is the biological sister of former Sen. Daisy Danjuma, the wife of former defence minister, Theophilus Danjuma. “I realised that I can do more for my country than fixing broken bones and belly ache,” said Osagie, who is a surgeon.
As the first “non-mainstream figure” to be screened, a bit more was expected of Osagie than he delivered. Osagie’s understanding of the issues facing the public health sector seemed limited and his solutions were surface deep. “How would you solve the issue of medical tourism as more and more Nigerians flock abroad,” he was asked. “People have lost confidence in what goes on here and the trend is increasing,” he said. “I know funds allocated are not enough but I don’t think they are being efficiently used.”
Dambazau would hold his own in any cabinet. Apart from the tons of experience on defence issues which he possesses as a retired general, he is a true intellectual. It is not for nothing that the textbook he authored in 1999 – Criminology and Criminal Justice – is one of the main books used in university criminology departments across the country today. His knowledge of the issues showed during the screening but he hardly proffered solutions. Most disappointing was his flawless understanding of the perennial herdsmen/farmers classclass accompanied by an inability to enunciate a solution of any sort.
What Mohammed went through was more of a comedy interlude than a serious screening for a ministerial nominee of the federal republic of Nigeria. His appearance just gave the “little boys” in some of our senators the opportunity to ply and faff about. Mohammed is a smart man and would almost certainly have been able to hold his own before the senators. His opening statement also showed his ability to disarm foes – not a skill to be taken for granted. However his session really had no substance.
Ms. Mohammed’s nomination raised eyebrows simply because the presidency could not be bothered with the simple task of including the state of origin of the nominees when the list was forwarded to the senate. She however put any doubts over her state of origin to rest when she recognised her three Gombe senators.
By the time Ms. Mohammed’s screening began, the senators were already tired. They certainly were not prepared or interested in anyone wishing to go deep into policy. But Amina Mohammed is a wonk; diving into policy is what she does. By the time she started going into the policy specifics of conditional grant schemes and SDGs, a murmur was heard in the senate. The senators did not even let her finish with her responses before they began to cry: “take a bow and go”.
SULEIMAN ADAMU AND IBRAHIM JUBRIL
Two relatively unknown nominees rounded off the action on Day 1 (Jubril was the last to be screened. The were not as lively and engaging as the two men who started the process, but were capable in their delivery and showed a masterful understanding of their areas of specialisation. When Adamu talked about the life cycle of roads or the time and resource constraint which makes us use the same thickness to construct a long stretch of road, it was clear that this was a thoroughbred civil engineer. The same could be said about Jubril whose work in Nasarawa as project lead for the state’s Geographic Information System saw revenues to the state from lnd sales alone rise from N32m when he started about four years ago to over N600m now.
RATINGS: ADAMU 7; JUBRIL 7
That’s the end of Part 1. The second part which will feature the nominees from Day 2 of the screening, including Fashola, Kachikwu, Malami, Alhassan, Ngige, Dalong, Adeosun, and Serika.
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