By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA — The controversy over the screening of erstwhile Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi as a minister, ended in an anti-climax yesterday, when seething senators of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP turned dumb to him.
The PDP caucus kept mum upon the determination of All Progressives Congress, APC Senate caucus for Amaechi, the director-general of the triumphant APC presidential campaign to be screened yesterday.
At that session, the PDP senators it was gathered had again restated their opposition to the appearance of Amaechi, alleging that the issues of corruption raised against him had not been debated by the Senate.The path to his appearance which had in the past been laced with politics was agreed at a closed-door meeting of the Senate that preceded yesterday’s plenary.
That argument was, however, brushed aside by the APC senators most of who read politics into the opposition by the PDP, who they claimed wanted to punish Amaechi for his role in the emergence of the new leadership of the country.
Faced with the determination of the APC Senate caucus to forge ahead with the screening of the former governor, the PDP members it was gathered, were persuaded to backtrack on their earlier pledge of walking out. Rather, the PDP senators resolved not to ask Amaechi any question.
As the Senate resumed plenary, yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Senator Samuel Anyanwu laid the report of its investigations into the petition filed against Amaechi. The report was, however, not debated.
Following other preliminaries, the Senate upon a motion moved by the Senate leader, Senator Ali Ndume and seconded by Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Senate minority leader, resolved to move into the committee of the whole for the purpose of screening nominees of the president for ministerial positions.
Remarkably, Amaechi was the first on the list and he was followed into the chambers by a high-profile delegation of the APC including the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former Speaker Ghali Na‘abba, former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, Rivers State APC governorship candidate, Peterside Dakuku, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State among many others.
Asked for his opening comments, Amaechi started his greetings by acknowledging the three Rivers State senators, all of the PDP, who have been at the forefront of opposition to his ministerial nomination.
He greeted Senator Thompson Sekibo as the senator representing him, forcing laughter from Sekibo, Senator Olaka Nwogu as his long time friend and roommate at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. He also acknowledged Senator Osinakachukwu Ideozu, who he said served under him as a commissioner.
Amaechi’s pace for peace with his senators from Rivers State almost caused a slip as he almost forgot to acknowledge other senators.
He subsequently enumerated his experience as a legislator having served as a two-term speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and then as a two-term governor of Rivers State. He cited his accomplishments as governor to include among others, the building of more than 315 world class primary schools, 140 model primary health care centres among others. He also took pride in his sponsorship of two bills while a lawmaker, the anti-kidnapping bill and a bill that defined the responsibilities of parents, teachers and children to guarantee children access to qualitative education.
PDP Senators fight back
Following the greetings, the minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio stood up to make a personal explanation. He said that upon the fact that the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges had not been discussed that the PDP Senate Caucus had resolved not to ask the nominee any question.
Turning to face his colleagues on the PDP benches, Akpabio said, “Is that the decision of the PDP Caucus?” to which there was a thunderous response of “Yes!.”
Senate leader, Ali Ndume apparently miffed by the action of the PDP senators responded that Amaechi as a former legislator should then be given the privilege to bow and go as is the practice of the Nigerian Senate.
“The gentleman you see here is a nominee, and it’s my responsibility to market him here before the Senate. If you people are given the privilege to ask questions and as you said, “You people decide not to ask questions…”
Ndume was immediately countered by roaring denunciation from the PDP benches as they objected to what they described as the condescending reference. Senator Akpabio immediately demanded a retraction. Senate President Saraki rose to the aid of Ndume as he said that Ndume offered one, but which the PDP senators said they did not hear even as some of them demanded a formal apology.
Panel didn’t indict me — Amaechi
Following Saraki’s intervention, Amaechi was then opened to questions from APC senators. Among those who asked him questions were Senators Nazif Suleiman, APC, Bauchi North, Danjuma Goje, APC Gombe and Gbenga Ashafa, APC Lagos East.
Responding to Nazif’s question on how he has managed to fight political battles, he said:
“I was born to test my rights and fight for my rights, I was once a student union leader and believe me, if there is one man who does not like corruption, I am the one, I do not like corruption.
Noting why he aligned with Muhammadu Buhari against his former party man, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, he said:
“We sold to the public the fact that there was massive corruption in the system. And there was the need to fight that corruption. And the only way to fight that corruption is to put a new government, and we had to get a signpost candidate.
“The signpost candidate is a man who the Nigerian public has seen as an incorruptible president. That was why the party had to put President Buhari forward. We thought that there was a need to do things differently. I thought that as good as the former President may have been, I don’t think he was suitable enough for the growth and development of Nigeria. So, we needed to offer an opportunity to somebody we believe is better than the former President.”
Responding to Senator Ashafa’s question on the allegations pertaining to his indictment over alleged corruption, Amaechi reiterated his earlier claim that the report did not indict him. Flaunting a copy of the report of the panel, he said he was ready to lay it on the table of the Senate for scrutiny as to his alleged indictment asserting that the indictment only flowed from the White Paper prepared by the PDP administration that succeeded him.
“There was nowhere I was indicted (in the judicial panel report). I came here with a copy of the so-called panel report, there is nowhere that panel indicted me, I am ready to tender this report before the Senate. I was ready for the questions on it, and I brought the panel report so that the Senate can juxtapose it with the white paper.
Govs Forum checked presidential excesses
Asked to clear the confusion over his re-election as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, he said:
“The Governors Forum started as a check to executive recklessness. The Senate President (Saraki) was the chairman with other governors who are here today as senators, including Senator Goje, “we checked the excesses, including the expenditure of the oil subsidy. There is a case in court up till now stopping the federal government, stopping the government from drawing money from the account to fund oil subsidy because we believed that if we stop the Federal Government from drawing state and local governments’ money, federal government will not be able to bear the cost and will, therefore, remove oil subsidy which would reduce the level of corruption. Unfortunately, the case is yet to be heard.
“I think that the radical posture of the governors forum led to the former president asking me that I had turned the Governors’ Forum into a trade union.”
“I think the former president didn’t like it, and when my tenure expired as the chairman, I was requested not to run for a second term and I thought that as a Nigerian, I had the responsibility to exercise my right as a governor.
“So, I put myself forward for the election, and if you saw the forces against me, you would think that I would lose. Let me quote my brother and friend, Senator Jang. He said ‘but North East zone supported me, North West zone supported me, North Central zone supported me, and South-South supported me, how did you win? You did not win, you did not win,’ and I said but I won, I have 19 votes and the rest, as they say, is history.
Following the screening, Amaechi was asked to bow and take his leave of the chamber allowing other nominees to appear for the screening.
Others who appeared yesterday were Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, (Bayelsa), Omoleye Daramola, (Ondo), Baba Shehuri Mustapha, (Borno) and Ocholi James, Kogi. Adewole Isaac Folorunso from Osun State who was earlier listed to be screened was left out.