‘bow and go’ screening policy of Senate received criticism
• 15 of 23 nominees enjoy controversial privilege
• It whittles quality of confirmation process, say CSOs
• We are not compromising standards, Lawan insists
• Women angry at Buhari’s ‘biased’ cabinet list
The condemnation of the Senate’s ‘bow and go’ screening policy, which shields ministerial nominees from rigorous questioning, intensified yesterday.
About 15 of the 23 nominees assessed so far have been accorded the controversial treatment. The policy which began in 2003 as a privilege strictly for nominees who had served in the Senate has now been extended to everyone with legislative experience at federal and state levels.
Other categories of persons who also enjoyed the luxury are female nominees, all nominees from the state of origin of the incumbent Senate President, and national officers of the ruling party.
The late Senator Wahab Dosumu, who represented Lagos Central Senatorial District between 1999 and 2003, was the first to enjoy the privilege when he was appointed a minister in 2004 after defecting from the then Alliance for Democracy (AD) to the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Some of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 43 nominees who have tasted the indulging pie are Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), George Akume (Benue), Emeka Nwajuaba (Imo), Adeleke Mamora (Lagos), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Tayo Alasoadura (Ondo), Mustapha Baba Shehuri (Borno), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Chris Ngige (Anambra), Muhammadu Musa Bello (Adamawa), Sa’adiya Umar Farouk (Zamfara), Sharon Ikeazor (Anambra), and Ramatu Aliyu (Kogi).
The pastry was also extended to Abubakar Aliyu (Yobe). Although he is not a former lawmaker, Senate Leader Abdullahi Yahaya urged colleagues to grant him the privilege on the grounds that his brother was not only an ex-lawmaker but also a member of Senate President Ahmed Lawan’s constituency.
But some civil society organisations expressed disappointment about the Red Chamber for deploying the policy. Frank Tietie, Executive Director of Citizens’ Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) said: “The Senate is confirming the fear of all those who thought that this current leadership of the National Assembly would be a rubber stamp.
“The citizens of the country should now be more afraid that when legislative scrutiny appears to be lax, what will suffer is the principle of checks and balances which would have improved the performance of government, ultimately translating to the well being of the people.”
He continued: “This is a sad development that points to a government that will not live up to a high standard. It is bad enough that the nominees list is lackluster. It is uninspiring. There is nothing fresh about it. I join all those who see it as a reward list.
“But government is beyond that. Government is about delivering services. It is about competence. But what the National Assembly has done by asking former lawmakers to take a bow means that it has thrown competence to the wind. It is of no consideration.
“And so, when they start by not attaching portfolios, it means that competence and compatibility will not be considered. But to further nail the coffin on competence, the National Assembly has decided to be lax in its demand for competence by serious questioning and process of scrutiny. This is not a good sign that this government will deliver on competence.”
Also condemning the policy, Austine Aigbe of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) noted: “What we see now is that as a former senator, a former House member, you bow and go. The funny one is that your brother used to be a member of the National Assembly and you come from the area where the Senate President is, and because of that, you take a bow! What does that add up to the Nigerian state? It is a weird scenario we find ourselves.”
Aigbe further said: “I think the Senate owes Nigerians a duty to engage these nominees on topical challenges that the country faces. There is insecurity, corruption, and poverty. We need to address all of this. The nominees must be able to tell us how they will address the economy so that Nigerians can follow them up.
“As journalists and civil societies, that is the only way you can follow them up. From the way it is now, we can’t follow them up because they never said anything. So, we can’t engage them. The Senate is not helping the Nigerian people to have the good governance that we all yearn for. I think we are in a very pathetic situation.”
Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe also expressesd reservations. He noted that in global parliamentary practices, confirmation hearings are conducted for nominees to assess competence and qualifications. According to him, confirmation hearings are not for endorsement but assessment.
Lawan however sustained his defence of the policy. “We have agreed on a policy on how we will go about the screening. I just want to reiterate that policy and say that we will extend the privilege to members of the legislature even at state level. The procedure we have adopted is to ask the two leaders in the House, the Senate Leader and Senate Minority Leader to speak on our behalf and then I round off,” he said.
When former Gombe State Governor Danjuma Goje drew the Senate’s attention to Order Three of the Standing Rules, noting that it never recognised those who had served in state Houses of Assembly as befitting of automatic confirmation, Lawan replied that it didn’t matter, even if the Senate Rule disallowed it.
In a specific reference to former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi who had served as Rivers House of Assembly Speaker, Lawan explained: “We are not doing it for him. He is going to benefit (from) this, not because we came out with this policy to support him. The present nominee is going to be a beneficiary by chance. We are doing it not for him alone. Any nominee who passed through the state Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate will benefit.”
He explained that the Senate enjoys the privilege of changing its regulations at all times.
Goje had said: “Our Order here does not recognise the state House of Assembly. When I came to this Senate, I raised the issue, having been in the House of Assembly. But they said the Order of the Senate does not recognise House of Assembly. I don’t know if we are changing this rule. If we are changing this rule, let us know.”
Meanwhile, some women yesterday condemned what they described as low representation of their gender on the list of cabinet nominees submitted to the Senate.
Oduduwa Women Advocacy Group (OWAG), a pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation frowned on the inclusion of only seven women (16.2 per cent) on the list and the non-inclusion of any woman from the southwest geopolitical zone, despite the fact that women account for 47.14 per cent of registered voters.
OWAG National President Modupe Akindele-Martins therefore appealed to the Federal Government to consider appointing more women into positions, stressing that the group would continue to cry out against the marginalisation of women, especially the Yoruba, in participatory electoral processes and the sharing of the benefits of democracy.
The group further enjoined other women groups to work together for the actualisation of the 30 per cent inclusion of women in policy making. It also congratulated the female nominees, urging them to be good ambassadors of Nigerian women.
Women in Politics (WIP) also expressed concern. Its president, Mrs. Ebere Ifendu, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that the number “is low and very poor.” She said women were not happy with the list, though the few listed therein were of good character and had achieved much for society.
“We are saying we have many more women that should also be part of this list, considering the promise the president made to women. He said he would work with the Nigerian gender policy, which is about affirmative action. So, what happened to the promises he made to women?”
She said there was the need for the president to fulfil the promise, given the already low number of women in elected offices following the 2019 elections.
According to her, 2,970 women contested different positions in the general elections but only 67 were elected across the nation. She said no woman was elected as president, vice president or governor, while only seven were elected to the Senate. Ifendu added that 12 were elected to the House of Representatives and 44 to state Assemblies, and that about 11 states are without female members.
The League of Women Voters of Nigeria (LWVoN) also joined in the criticism, saying: “We are very disappointed that only seven women were on the list of 43 ministerial nominees sent to the Senate for screening and confirmation.