Expectations that the Senate would screen the immediate past Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi were dashed on Thursday, when the upper chamber of parliament deferred further screening of ministerial nominees to next Tuesday primarily due to a division in the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on the petition against the ex-governor’s confirmation.
Of the 21 ministerial nominees whose names were submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 30, only those of Amaechi and Adebayo Shittu from Oyo State have not been screened.
The Senate had considered it imperative to exhaust the screening of the first batch of nominees before commencing on the second list.
Amaechi was initially slated for screening on Wednesday but this was deferred to yesterday following the non-submission of the report of its ethics committee on the petition against Amaechi’s confirmation.
The petition submitted by the Integrity Group had alleged fraud and diversion of N70 billion by the former governor.
The Senate did not give a reason for the second deferment but THISDAY learnt that the decision might have stemmed from the fact that the committee is divided over Amaechi, resulting in the delay in the submission of its report clearing him for screening.
THISDAY was informed by Senate sources that Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members of the committee are vehemently opposed to his screening and confirmation.
Amaechi had on Monday appeared before the Senator Samuel Anyanwu led-committee, where he told the members that it would amount to subjudice to consider the petition on alleged corruption submitted by the group since the case was in court.
However, the Chairman, Senate ad hoc Committee on Information and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye, explained yesterday that further screening of nominees would resume on Tuesday.
According to him, nine of the nominees including Amaechi would be screened on Tuesday, adding that the ex-governor’s lawsuit challenging his indictment by the Rivers State Judicial Panel on his stewardship, forced the ethics committee from considering the petition against him.
“Further screening and confirmation of the remaining ministerial nominees has been slated for Tuesday next week. We are going to screen nine of them on Tuesday and the remaining nine will be taken on Wednesday. The confirmation of all the nominees would be taken on Wednesday.
“The committee has a one-line report (on Amaechi): that the matter is in court and that in compliance with our laid down rules and regulations that any case that is undergoing judicial remedy cannot be discussed and that is why we have distanced ourselves from it and the report will be presented on Tuesday by the grace of God and I assure Nigerians that former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, by the grace of God, will be screened on Tuesday,” he said.
Also wading into the matter, the All Progressives Congress (APC) yesterday denied reports that the Integrity Group had secured a court injunction to stop the Senate from screening Amaechi.
The Rivers State chapter of the party, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt on Thursday by its Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, said it had searched the registry of all the Federal High Courts across the country and did not find any such proceeding pending or an order before any court in the country.
The party further noted that the state High Court has no power or jurisdiction under the constitution to determine any matter that relates to the functions of the Senate.
The party stated that the Federal High Court is the only court that has jurisdiction to determine any matter in which the Senate is made a party, pointing out that judges of the Rivers State judiciary were aware of the constitutional provision in question.
The party said it was aware of the desperation of the PDP to stop Amaechi’s nomination as a minister at all cost.
The Integrity Group had approached the Rivers State High Court to stop Amaechi’s screening and confirmation as a minister.
One report claimed that the group was able to secure an order stopping the Senate from going ahead with the exercise.
APC’s assurance on the issue notwithstanding, a fresh petition against the nomination of the daughter of Alhaji Alhaji Abubakar, a former Minister of Finance, Miss Aisha Abubakar from Sokoto State, was presented to the Senate yesterday by Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto East).
Coming under Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules, Gobir said the petition was “against Aisha Abubakar, a nominee from Sokoto State, demanding her replacement with a more competent person”.
Gobir later told THISDAY that the people of Sokoto State were unhappy with her nomination because she had made no contribution to the APC in the state, neither was she known to the governor or the party before her nomination.
He also said none of the three senators from the state knew her nor had she met any of them.
Despite all the shenanigans surrounding some of the nominees, Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday wrote the president notifying him that the Senate had confirmed 18 of the nominees whose names were forwarded to the chamber on September 30.
Saraki, according to a statement by his media aide, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, sent the letter through Senator Ita Enang, the president’s aide in charge of legislative matters for the Senate.
The statement said Saraki informed the president that the Senate had found the 18 nominees suitable to serve as ministers of the Federal Republic in accordance with Section 147(2) of the constitution.
He listed the confirmed nominees to include Senator Udoma Udo-Udoma, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, Chief Audu Innocent Ogbeh, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Danbazau, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Hajiya Amina J. Mohammed, Mr. Suleiman Adamu and Alhaji Ibrahim Usman Jibril.
Others are Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, Alhaji Abubakar Malami (SAN), Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, Senator Aishat Jummai Al-Hassan, Mr. Solomon Dalong, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun and Senator Hadi Sirika.