Last Sunday being 18th October 2015, on our way to the church, a fierce argument erupted between my younger cousin and me regarding the nomination of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, immediate past governor of Rivers State, Nigeria for a ministerial position. His argument was that President Mohammadu Buhari should not have nominated Amaechi for ministerial position given the government’s anti-corruption stance and the corruption allegations against Amaechi.
Mine was that nominating or in fact appointing Amaechi a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not exonerate Amaechi from defending himself anywhere in the World on allegations of corrupt practices leveled against him while serving as the governor of Rivers State. Moreover, President Buhari would have erred on the part of morality if he abandons Amaechi who worked so hard for Buhari’s election success as President of Nigeria.
We recall that Amaechi was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but later decamped to the All Progressives Party (APC) which was an amalgam of over five political parties. As the then Rivers State governor, he supported the APC during the last elections that saw the emergence of President Mohammadu Buhari as the winner of the Presidential Election held on 28th March 2015. In fact Amaechi was the Director General of the Presidential Campaign Organisation for President Mohammadu Buhari. And the President won!
One of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution is that the President must appoint at least one minister from each of the states of the federation. Amaechi is from Rivers State, a state currently under the leadership of the rival PDP. Notwithstanding the corruption allegations against Amaechi, the President nominated him to become a minister and his name was among the first names sent to the Senate for confirmation. Though I am not a fan of Amaechi, but I consider his nomination as sufficiently proper both as per the quota for Rivers State and to compensate him for a job well done for his new political party APC.
One of the conditions of the Senate to confirm a nominee is that the nomination must be supported by at least two of the three senators from each state. This requirement appears a little apolitical and unreasonable. Can a minister be successfully appointed from a state where all three senators are from the other rival political party to the nominee’s party? One of the Senators representing the people of Rivers State, Senator George Sekibo, petitioned the Senate complaining that the people of Rivers State are not in support of Amaechi’s nomination chiefly because of the allegation of about N70 billion missing from the funds of the State under Amaechi’s regime in Rivers State.
We are also aware that Amaechi refused to appear before a panel set up by the state to investigate this and other issues against his government in the state; and also that Amaechi is in court against Rivers State. The Senate referred the petition to its committee on Ethics and Privileges which for the third time could not produce a decision on Amaechi since last week. This has frustrated the Senate from confirming him.
The news we hear from the Senate is that Senators are doing everything possible to clear Amaechi and confirm his nomination. This interrogates the essence of the entire confirmation exercise by the Senate. Does the Senate have any authority to investigate and exonerate Amaechi from the accusations leveled against him? The answer is simply no; because the Senate does not have any power of adjudication in such matters. It is the courts that can do so. Secondly, in the process of confirming a nominee, the Senate would like to confirm the state of origin of the nominee and whether the nominee had paid his/her tax up to date.
Reasonableness requires that the President should have checked all these basic requirements before nominating Amaechi and indeed any other nominee. As per appropriate work experience, the Presidency should have also ensured that the nominee is qualified and has deep understanding of the sector or portfolio where he/she would be assigned. This reminds me of the Presidential error of not indicating the ministry a nominee would be deployed at least to properly guide the Senators on interviewing the nominees.
It is also a mockery of the confirmation process to, for whatever reasons, allow a nominee to “bow and go” without questions bothering on his/her qualification and competence to become a minister. In all, I do not see any serious work done by the Senate in assisting the President to determine whether or not a nominee is competent of being appointed a minister. Well, if it is to make assurance double sure, it is okay.
Fundamentally, was Buhari right to have nominated Amaechi for a ministerial position? My answer is yes. Amaechi deserves to be nominated because he worked hard for the successful election of President Buhari and also to fill Rivers State quota. Moreover Amaechi has not been found guilty by any court to warrant being disqualified; all we hear are rumours, “k-legs” (according to former President Olusegun Obasanjo who judged Amaechi in about 2006 based on allegations), allegations and accusations; these are not facts.
Yet Amaechi should not in any way be exempted from defending himself before the court on these allegations against him. If found guilty (while serving as a minister), he should be moved from the ministry to the prison. As a corollary, his nomination has popularized the allegations, energized the plans to prosecute him and as such, thanks to President Buhari for nominating him. If Amaechi is not found guilty, it will strengthen his political carrier. It will also make-strong President Buhari’s crusade against corruption, showing the smartness and ingenuity of Buhari to tame corruption in Nigeria.
May I suggest also that the check for corrupt practices by public office appointees be extended to all public officers before they come into office: councilors, local government chairmen, governors, deputy governors, state house of assembly members, national assembly members (Senate and House of Representatives), president and vice president.
It is a disservice to public morality to see public officers who may be richly guilty of corruption interviewing would-be public officers on allegations of corruption. Are we saying that all the Senators are corruption-free and therefore have moral justification to interrogate Amaechi on corruption allegations?
Okachikwu Dibia, Abuja, Nigeria