Has the emergence of ministerial nominees, forwarded penultimate week, to the senate, by President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB),after a long wait, finally reconciledthe presidency and the embattled senate leadership, led by the senate president, Bukola Saraki? Maybe. So, can we now say, what political expediency has joined together, the war against corruption, should not put asunder? Time will tell.As the ministers’ list made the news, the senate leadership, which emerged in complete defiance of the preferences of the All Progressive Congress (APC), which commands majority in the senate chambers, finally held a closed-door meeting with PMB, with photo-ops to show.
For whatever it is worth, the senate president, and his supporters, are basking in the euphoria of the new rapprochement. In the days ahead, wewould know theprice for the ‘new entente’, as the ministers’ screening gets underway; and as the senate president, returns to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for his trial. As a sign of what is to come, the senate leadership has in its manoeuvre,raised the ante of political negotiation, by providing stringent measures that could unravel the ambition of some ministerial nominees, if the upper chambers would have the courage, to insist on those terms. But can they?
The two prominent conditions listed by the senate are,that a nominee must secure the support of at least two senators out of three, from the home state of the nominee; that the nominee must produce the asset declaration certificates, issued by the Code of Conduct Bureau;with few other requirements. The senate also gleefully announced theirwillingness to receive petitions, while threatening to thoroughly screen all the candidates, regardless of previous political standing or privileges. As expected, the petitions have started pouring in, and the reasons offered by the petitioners, why the candidates should be disqualified, are as varied as the petitioners.
In raising the standards, for the screening starting this Tuesday,the senate leadership claimed to have relied on the constitution and the precepts of the upper chambers. The principal constitutional provision on the nomination and confirmation of a ministerial nominee, is section 147(2); which provides that “any appointment to the office of minister of government of the federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the senate, be made by the President”. The major requirements listed under section 147(3) and (5), are that the appointment shall conform to section 14(3), which provides for observance of the principle of federal character, and furthermore, that a nominee shall be qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives.
The requirement that at least two senators from the nominee’s home state, must support the nominee, which was occasionally applied in the breach, by the former senate, is therefore not based on the constitution; but rather on the whims of the senate. Considering that the support or denial of support by the two senators, is a subjective decision, the chances of abuse, remains high; especially in the states where the senators and the ministerial nominee are from different political parties. That requirement,which has no objective standards, could encourage corrupt inducement or demands.
This column had previously written on the constitutional powers of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), to help rein in corruption, before its Tribunal summoned the senate president, overan alleged breach of the laws, on asset declaration. The powers and ancillary provisions on CCB are provided for, in the fifth schedule, Part 1, of the 1999 constitution, titled, Code of Conduct for Public Officers. Following Senator Bukola’s arraignment, he had strenuously canvassed, that he was being persecuted, because he emerged the senate president in defiance of some interests; contendingthat many other political office holders, have similarly offended the same laws.
Ironically, while the senate president is yet to acquit himself of the charges of breach of the laws on asset declaration, the senate which he heads, has chosen to be the chief promoter and defender of the same laws, which their leader had allegedly breached. So, for the first time since 1999, a certificate of asset declaration, by ministerial nominees, have become one of the documents to be submitted to the senate, before any nominee can be confirmed.In fairness to the senate, what is good for the goose, is also good for the gander. I only hope that in seeking their Shakespearian pound of flesh, the senate leadership would apply the laws, and not their whims and caprices.
By the provisions of paragraph 11(1) of the fifth schedule, Part 1, the requirement of the asset declaration certificate, will apply only to the ministerial nominees who were previously public officers as contemplated by that constitutional provision. Thus all the nominees who had held public office, for instance the two term former governors, who are supposed to have declared their asset “immediately after taking office” and thereafter “at the end of every four years”, as provided by section 11(1), may have multiple asset declaration certificate, or ‘written declarations’ to tender to the senate.
Considering that many of the senators had argued that other political actors have lived in defiance of the asset declaration requirement of the constitution, are we likely to see some of the nominees capitulate, without any appearance? Assuming the senate leadership carries out this threat, would the president be prevailed upon to seek a political resolution of the trial of the senate president, to assuage the senate to gain his preferred ministers? Should the nominees brave the odds, are we likely to have future allegations of false or forged declaration of assets?Will the imminent imbroglio over the confirmation, signal the end of PMB’Swar on corruption? Questions.
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