Former state governors, Babatunde Fashola and Rauf Aregbesola, were two of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees screened by the Nigerian Senate on Monday, July 29, 2019.
President Buhari sent a list of 43 nominees to the Senate last Tuesday, and dozens of them have been screened since the exercise commenced on Wednesday, July 24, 2019.
When he made an appearance before the Senate on Monday, the fourth day of the screening exercise, Fashola reeled out a list of his achievement as the Minister of Power, Works and Housing during Buhari’s first term.
The former Lagos governor went on to express frustration with Nigeria’s capacity to fund important projects in the country.
He said, “It is common knowledge that no ministry has received all of the resources for its budget.
“So, yes, we gladly announce that the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has N500 billion budget, but we seldom get more than N250 billion, N280 billion at peak.
“So, Nigeria is not yet the rich nation that I know it’ll be. It isn’t yet.” Explaining further, Fashola said it’s impossible to change the state of the nation’s infrastructure in just four years, saying more time is needed.
He also expressed displeasure with Nigeria’s public procurement process which he said excludes some of the most vulnerable Nigerians.
“They can’t benefit because the conditions are too onerous. They have to bring all sorts of documents which they never had. The cost of getting those documents becomes something that makes them unable to benefit,” he said.
He declared that the Act is holding the country back and urged lawmakers to rise to the challenge and review the issue “as a matter of expedition”.
During his screening, Aregbesola vowed to pioneer a system of heavy taxation on wealthy Nigerians when he’s inaugurated as minister.
The former Osun governor said Nigeria has neglected to compel rich people to discharge their responsibilities to the nation, and promised to advocate a just taxation system that’ll bridge inequality.
“I’m going to pioneer privileged taxes for those who have huge resources or wealth from which Nigerians must tap.
“I’ll recommend serious taxation for wealthy people in Nigeria,” he said. Suleiman Adamu told senators how, as the Minister of Water Resources during Buhari’s first term, he championed an action plan to make Nigeria open defecation free by 2025.
“Before I left office, we were already working on a new launch of a new drive following the Indian example to make sure Nigeria is open defecation free by 2025.”
The former minister also revealed that the ministry, under his stewardship, deliberately avoided new projects because he inherited 116 ongoing and abandoned projects, some as old as 1992.
He said, “We decided to prioritise those projects, abandoned those not viable and pursued the most serious projects.
“I’m happy to say that in three and a half years, we were able to complete 17 of these projects.
“We commissioned 12; and between this year and 2020, we hope to complete another 19.”
He promised to continue to place priority on abandoned projects. Adamu also said that despite the fact that water has been declared as a fundamental right of every human being, it is also an economic commodity that must be paid for.
“The cost of providing that water is significant, and people should be able to pay for it,” he said.
Goddy Agba also faced questions from the senators on the oil and gas industry with topics ranging from oil subsidy, bunkering, importation and refineries.
“The solution to ending subsidy corruption is to revamp the refineries. Subsidy will disappear by itself when refineries are working,” he told senators.
Clement Agba, another nominee, said a similar thing about fixing refineries while answering a question on the supply chain of converting crude oil to refined fuel.
“We need to fix our refineries. It is doable and we have the resources in-country. We don’t need to bring in expatriates to have it fixed. We have the capability and ability to do the work,” he said.
He also spoke on how Nigerians can make adequate use of environmental wastes, advocating for the proper separation of biodegradable wastes, plastics, and medical wastes.
“Once we do that, then it becomes easy and less expensive to create wealth from waste,” he said.
Geoffrey Onyeama, the Minister of Foreign Affairs during Buhari’s first term, also appeared for screening on Monday to give an account of diplomatic issues he faced during his first stint.
He said President Buhari has shown himself to be one of the strongest brands Nigeria has on the foreign scene culminating in his appointment as the African Union’s Anti-Corruption chairman, as well as the chairman of the Authorities of Heads of States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Onyeama said he assisted the president to fight corruption on the continent and mediate in political issues in some neighbouring African countries.
The former minister noted that, going forward, the most important thing is the need to bring the whole architecture of Nigeria’s foreign policy to the 21st century.
“With that in mind, I started the process of a desk-to-desk gap analysis of the ministries, agencies and all our embassies around the world to look at the human resource needs and gaps, the work procedure, ICT, the whole gamut.
“The purpose of this is to now have a road map for the modernisation of our foreign service and foreign policy architecture,” he said.
Onyeama also answered questions from senators on xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, welfare of Nigerian workers in Nigerian embassies abroad, the financial exploitation of Nigerians applying for visa with foreign nations, as well as the vibrancy of Nigeria’s foreign policy.
The nominee said the welfare of Nigerian embassy staff is a real challenge that is being addressed.
“The amount appropriated to our embassies is usually just a fraction of what we’ve identified as the needs of these embassies, and then they’re not paid on time,” he said.
As has been practiced since the screening commenced, nominees who have previously served in the National Assembly or State House of Assembly were not questioned by senators, as is tradition, and were simply asked to ‘take a bow’ and leave after they were introduced.
Mohammed Mahmood and Gbemisola Saraki were two of the nominees who enjoyed this privilege on Monday.
Female nominees have also been allowed to enjoy a similar privilege, allowing Mariam Katagum to also escape questioning from the senators.
During her opening presentation, she appealed for the government to make education work for the Nigerian children and youth.
“And what that means is we need to invest more in education and particularly more in teachers,” she said.
A total of 40 ministerial nominees have now cleared by the Senate since the screening exercise commenced last week.
The remaining three nominees, including former Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, are scheduled to be cleared on Tuesday, July 30, bringing an end to the exercise.