AMBASSADORIAL SCREENING: NNAMANI DAZZLES SENATORS


He came late to the Senate. He took his oath of office and allegiance on June 26 after his other colleagues had taken theirs on June 5, this year the day the Senate was inaugurated. When he arrived at the Committee Hearing Room 1 of the Senate where the Senators were doing their documentations, it was with pomp and ceremony. His loyalists in the National Assembly, including the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu were on hand to accord the founder of Ebeano (meaning where we are) Political Group in Enugu State, former Governor and current member of the upper Legislative House, Senator Chimaroke Ogbonnia Nnamani, a well deserved honour.

The challenges he had to contend with in recent times had taken him out of the Senate most of the time. He became more frequent to the Senate in the past two or three weeks. He would sit calmly in his seat on the back row like someone who is trying to rediscover himself. Perhaps, like someone who is trying to solve a political jig-saw puzzle of seeing his former loyalists – Ekweremadu (Deputy Senate President) and Ayogu Eze (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Information) holding strategic positions in the same chamber in which he is just a Vice-Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
For a man who looks sedate but who is said by his close watchers to be highly fecund, time and chance brought out the best in him on Thursday when he was given he task to present the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the screening of ambassadorial nominees. The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Jubril Aminu was apparently not enjoying the best of health. He had walked into the chamber that morning with the support of a walking stick. Aminu was accorded the privilege to sit in his seat to address the Senate. He had sought the leave of the Upper Legislative Chamber to call on the Vice Chairman of his Committee (Nnamani) to present the Committee report.

Nnamani clad in a blue-black suit, stood up, dropped the report he was holding on his seat, locked his two hands in front of him as a gentleman preacher and began to speak on his assignment of the committee. Many of his colleagues were amazed to see him make his presentations without reading from the report, yet everybody including the Nigerians in the public gallery, thought he was reading from the report. He reeled out dates of when the Senate mandated the Committee to go ahead and screen the 62 Ambassadorial Nominees, the dates of the Committee’s sittings, the modalities, the findings and recommendations. He had said that he was going by the synopsis of the report. It was indeed synoptic and yet all embracing. He did not falter in is speech. The eloquence and the language of presentation almost drew applause.
He stepped out to lay the report on the table. And as he returned to his seat, his colleagues followed him to his seat with their heads and eyes turning in the direction of Nnamani.
A member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Anthony George Manzo stood up, walked up to him and pumped his hand in appreciation of the brilliant outing that dazzled the senators. It was in fact the first time since 1999 that any Senator would present a Committee or even the synopsis of a committee report off-hand (without reading from the report).

The presentation set the stage for the consideration of the report and subsequent confirmation of the 58 Ambassadorial nominees that were screened by the Committee. They included, among others, the National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ahmadu Adah Ali, Senators Musiliu Obanikoro, Dalhatu Tafida, Abdallah Wali, Professor Joy Ogwu and Brigadier General Oluwole Rotimi (rtd). But the confirmation of the 58 persons did not end the controversy over the screening at the Senate. Three of the nominees, namely former Lagos State Military Adminstrator, Brigadier General Buba Marwa, (rtd), former Aviation Minister, Dr. (Mrs) Kema Chikwe and Third Republic Senator, Polycarp Nwite were precluded form the screening on the ground of some unfavorable security repots.

That became a point of contention. Senators had argued that the senate should not surrender its constitutional power to screen nominees to the Executive via some unfavorable security reports. When the Senate President, Senator David Mark saw that senators were pressurizing the Committee Chairman to divulge the content of the security report, he (Mark) suggested that the Senate should resolve into a close session. Senator Aminu had also suggested a close session to enable the Senate iron out the issue.

Before then, Senator Chris Anyanwu (Imo State) had expressed concern that the Committee did not screen Chikwe from the state on the ground of security reports and wondered what manner of report it was that would stop the screening of “the nominee who is very qualified and has served the nation well.”
Responding to the inquiry by the Senate President, Vice Chairman of the Committee, Nnamani said that there was communication between the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and the Committee on the three outstanding nominees, adding that “we have decided to seek out the nominees to screen them.” He had said that the nominees were not screened because the Committee did not get security reports clearing them. According to him, “Now, we have decided to screen them irrespective of the fate of their security reports”

Senator Aminu had said that the security report was brought by Senator Ita-Giwa. He said that she brought only a copy which he passed round to members of the Committee to sight and read. The trend of contributions on the issue was veering in the direction of laying blame at the doorsteps of Senator Ita-Giwa, but the decision to go into close door saved the day for her.

Further discussion on the issue moved into a close session which lasted from 1.20 pm and ended at 1.35pm. The matter was discussed in 15 minutes. THISDAY gathered that at the close session, the security report was discountenanced, even as the Senate directed the Committee to go ahead and screen the trio of Marwa, Chikwe and Nwite.

It was learnt that initially the Senate President had wanted be report to be circulated to senators to read, having been read by the eleven members of the Committee, but he was said to have argued that since the Senate was not hampered by the report from performing its constitutional role of screening the nominees, the committee should be asked to proceed with the exercise. Sources at the close session said that the security reports were neither circulated nor read out.

But feelers said that there were no negative security reports against Senator Nwite for instance. Nwite in a letter of complaints to the Senate President had challenged the Senate to publish the security report against him so that he could clear his name. It was gathered that the Presidency had to intervene in his case, asking the SSS to clarify to it the security report against Nwite and the response was in his favor. Nwite had admitted that he had worked as a security agent before and there was nothing against him. It was learnt that there was no security report against him.

There were indications that the Presidency might investigate the matter with a view of finding out if any of its top officials was trying to use his or her office for personal vendetta. THISDAY gathered that the Senate President took charge of the close session and put a note of finality to the position that the so-called security reports should be pushed aside.

He was said to have reasoned that if there were reports to the effect that the nominees had committed crimes, then it would be an indictment on the capacity of law-enforcement agencies of the Executive arm not to have charged them appropriately to court with their offences. He said that the fact that they are still walking freely indicated that there was nothing serious against them. Therefore, he did not want the Senate to dissipate its energy on the issue more so when the reports cannot stop the Senate from performing its constitutional function of screening the nominees.

When the Senate reconvened at 2.30 p.m, in plenary to approve the votes and proceedings of last Thursday because the Senate wanted to suspend plenary till December 11 in order to allow the Appropriation Committee to consider the 2008 budget, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Abubakar Sodangi, speaking for the Committee, assured the Senate that the trio of Marwa, Chikwe and Nwite would be screened last Friday in concurrence with the decision of the Senate in close session. Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Information, Senator Ayogu Eze said that the Committee’s report on the trio would be submitted when the Senate resumes plenary on December 11.

According to him, “It was the decision of the Senate in close session that we are not security agencies; we are not the appointing officers and that we have no business with security reports. If the Executive was not pleased with the nominees, they had the option to withdraw them, but since the nominees are with us, we are going to go ahead and screen them and clear them.” Eze said the Committee on Foreign Affairs was also cleared of any wrongdoing in the close session.

Hear him: “last week, there was an attempt to bring a motion to the effect that they overreacted themselves in maybe talking to the press, but we found out that their proceedings were held in open court. It was an open hearing and whatever was picked by the press was picked in the open just like anybody. So, we found that the Committee had not done any wrong and we put it on record and cleared them of any wrongdoing.”
The Committee on Foreign Affairs has the ball in its court to screen the trio of Marwa, Chikwe and Nwite. With

the leeway provided by the Senate that it cannot be hampered by security report from doing its job, the Committee will go ahead and screen and most likely recommend them for clearance. The position that the Senate has adopted is to leave the nominees once cleared at the mercies of the executive that appointed them to do whatever it (executive) likes with them.

 

 


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