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Friday, October 23, 2015

Finally, Amaechi Screened By Senate

Ex-Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi
  •   Claims Rivers panel never indicted him, he is not corrupt, Jonathan lacked capacity to rule
  •   PDP senators boycott his screening 
  •  President asks Senate to confirm Yakubu INEC boss

The immediate past Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi must have heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday, when his ministerial screening which has been the subject of controversy for three weeks eventually took place amid the protest staged by senators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who boycotted the process.

Amaechi, who was ushered into the chamber at about 11.30 am, was accompanied by the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun, Senators Olorunnimbe Mamora, Victor Ndoma-Egba, Domingo Obende and Hon. Dakuku Peterside, among others.
Before the commencement of the screening, the Senate had dissolved into a closed-door session where it sought to secure a consensus on Amaechi's screening with a view to making it rancour-free.
Both the APC and PDP caucuses in the Senate had been polarised along party lines, with the APC senators calling for his screening without any hindrance while the PDP senators pushed for the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition which had recommended the suspension of Amaechi’s screening in view of the suit in court over allegations of corruption.
The committee had suspended investigation into the petition against Amaechi submitted by The Integrity Group. The group had accused him of diverting N70 billion of Rivers State money into his private account.
Consequently, the committee recommended the suspension of his screening in accordance with Order 53(5) of the Senate Standing Rules which prohibits the consideration of any matter that is pending before a law court if in the opinion of the Senate president it is considered sub-judice.
However, Senate President Bukola Saraki knowing the insistence of PDP senators that the report should be debated, only asked the committee chairman, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, to lay it without allowing him to read it, neither did he open the floor for its debate.
Eventually, when Amaechi was ushered into the chamber, he was asked by the Senate president to address the Senate on any issue he wished to speak about.
He was still speaking, when he was interrupted by the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who cited Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules, which gives senators the opportunity to make a personal explanation provided it is not on a controversial issue.
Akpabio then announced the boycott of Amaechi’s screening process by PDP senators, hinging the decision on the Senate president’s disallowance of consideration of the report submitted by the Ethics Committee on Amaechi.
“The PDP caucus will not ask the nominee any question. The report of the fraud against him, we have not debated that report. We’ll have nothing to do with this screening. Is that the wish of this caucus?” he asked, to which his colleagues chorused “no”.
But the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, swiftly reacted to the protest by Akpabio, saying that the report had been laid in accordance with procedure.
He argued that it would be APC senators’ pleasure if their PDP counterparts withdrew their participation in the screening, adding that since Amaechi was once a speaker of a state house of assembly, he could just be asked to bow and go.
He said: “The report has been laid according to procedure. This is a confirmation hearing. We are glad you said you would not ask the nominee a question. We could as well ask the former speaker to take a bow and go. My responsibility is to market him here. You people...”
But by addressing the opposition senators as “you people”, the infuriated PDP senators asked: “Who are you people? You have to withdraw that language.”
Seeing that tempers were about to flare up, the Senate president saved the day when he asked Ndume to take his seat, apologised on his behalf and thereafter proceeded with the screening.
Despite his apology, the PDP senators kept their word, as they remained indifferent to Amaechi’s screening throughout, with most of them later walking out of the chamber but later returned to participate in the screening of other nominees.
With the PDP senators boycotting the screening process, Amaechi had a field day on his favourite subject of taking potshots at former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Amaechi said he joined the move to oust Jonathan because of the massive corruption in his government, alleging that the former president was not fit to rule the country.
“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 was to put a new government in place.
“And we had to get a signpost candidate. The signpost candidate was a man who the Nigerian public had seen as an incorruptible president. And that was why the party had to put President Buhari forward.
“We also thought that there was a need to do things differently. I think that as good as the former president might have been, I don't think he was suitable enough for the growth and development of Nigeria.
“So we needed to offer the opportunity to somebody we believed was better than the former president,” he said.
On his alleged indictment by the Justice George Omereji’s Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the Rivers State Government to investigate his administration, Amaechi claimed that he was not indicted by the commission’s report, saying he had an aversion for corruption.
“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 do not like corruption.
“I came here with a copy of the so-called panel report. There is nowhere that the 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 the Senate can juxtapose it with the white paper.
“However, because there are challenges, people in Nigerian politics believe that there is the need to compromise and be able to manage yourself; I will do that but where it clashes with my principles, I find it a bit difficult to do what people expect me to do.
“So if you ask me to advise upcoming politicians, I will find it difficult because most politicians will like to survive but I don’t toe that line,” he said.
When asked to contextualise the term “corruption”, Amaechi said doing so was a difficult task, claiming that all his life, he had never taken any bribe.
“Corruption is very difficult to define. If you are a public officer and you don’t take bribe: I've never taken bribe in my life. But if they send a girl to you and you sleep with the girl and do her a favour, you are corrupt.
“Corruption is a very wide concept. If people are contesting for a position and you offer your son, brother or sister an opportunity to hold that position, probably when the person is not qualified, you are corrupt. So it is difficult for me to define corruption," he said.
Amaechi also spoke on the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF), saying he was pressured not to seek a second term as its chairman, but he disagreed because he believed he had the right to exercise his rights.
He said the NGF fought Jonathan because his government was using the federation’s money to fund fuel subsidies.
“I don’t know what I will say that may annoy my political opponents on the side of the PDP. In the spirit of peace, I will like to answer questions that are very peaceful.
“The governors’ forum acted as a check to executive recklessness; we checked the excesses including the expenditure of the oil subsidy.
“There is a case in court up till now stopping the federal government from drawing money from the federation account to fund oil subsidy, because we believed that if we stopped the federal government from spending states’ and local government money, the federal government will not be able to bear the cost and we therefore wanted to remove oil subsidy because of the level of corruption.
“That case is yet to be heard. The radical posture of the governors’ forum led to the former president informing me that I had turned the forum into a union but all we were doing was to defend the rights of the people of Nigeria.
“I think the former president didn’t like that and when my tenure expired as the chairman of the forum, I was requested not to run for a second term and I felt that as a Nigerian, I reserved the responsibility to exercise my rights.
“So I put myself forward and if you saw the forces against me, you would have thought that I would lose, but the rest is history. The reason that happened was because of my radical posture,” he said.
He thereafter proceeded to address the senators on the diversification of the economy and measures that could be put in place to address the menace of unemployment.
Amaechi said: “When you deal with the issue of massive unemployment, you deal with the change in the economic mantra. This mono-economic situation that we have cannot survive; Nigeria cannot continue to be what it is if we continue to rely on oil.
“For me, I agree with the president that there is the need to invest in agriculture. When we went to Germany, there were no natural resources that we met. If we invest in agriculture and technology, you will hire as many workers as possible.
“In the course of campaign, I discovered that in Borno, we saw watermelon that grew naturally. If you plant just 100,000 hectares of watermelon in Borno, you can be sure to engage more than 30,000 workers.
“If you do a similar thing around Kano and other parts (of Nigeria) – look at what crops can be instituted in which area and you encourage farmers with funding because the problem is the fund from the banks and the interest rate. So government must invest in that regard in order to diversify the economy.
“Mining is another area that God has blessed us. And we also need to invest in
education because some of these people are unemployable. We need to invest hugely in education.
“We did that in Rivers State: for four, five, six years, our budget was highest in education in Rivers State. So if this happenened, we will employ quite a number of workers.
“Secondly, we must improve on the social rights of the people. If you improve on the social rights of the people there will be peace. If you have peace, there will be investors.
“You must have power (electricity). If you don't have power, there will be no industrialisation. We don’t need rocket science to solve the problem of power supply.
“We should just look at what the problems are, remove corruption and invest in power. The reason why most people don’t invest in Nigeria is that the cost of production by far outweighs the benefits you will make from your business.
“So I usually say that a Nigerian is a government of his own. He hires his own security, digs his own borehole, hires his own generator, so what is government providing?”
After being asked to take his leave, Amaechi’s supporters who had flooded the lobby of the National Assembly burst into celebration.
During his screening, Professor Omoleye Daramola from Ondo State said the prevalent loss of values in the nation’s universities today was nothing but a spillover effect of the general loss of values in the society.
He also advocated the need to return Nigerian education to the previous levels, when inspectors were deployed to monitor the operations of the school system.
Daramola also harped on the need to re-introduce some subjects such as history into the school curriculum.
“What we have in the universities today is a spillover from the society. Anything happening in the society will replicate itself in the universities. When the values in the society are at variance with what exists in the schools, the child will be disorganised. That is why we need the cooperation of parents.
“We need supervision in our schools. One of the challenges facing our institutions is lack of supervision. If we put measures in place to supervise the schools, education will improve one way or the other. But we have to be careful the way the schools are organised.
“In the 50s and 60s, teachers were taught to be catechists, interpreters and clerks. But today, because our curriculum is dynamic, it also affects our educational system.
“Teachers are not paid for months and we expect them to give their best. We need to train and retrain teachers and pay them regularly.
“Those days, we had civic and history education. Only recently, civic has been reintroduced in schools. History needs to be reintroduced also. Those days, we were taught about Mary Slessor. History needs to be brought back to schools. Our children need to know the history of our heroes and heroines,” Daramola said.
Also screened yesterday was James Ocholi (SAN) from Kogi State, who advocated the need for reforms in the prison system as well as the criminal justice system.
According to him, investigation of crimes needed to be placed above criminal prosecution if the desire for effective prosecution of criminals must be achieved.
“There is the need to bring about reformation in the prisons. Prisons need to be improved upon. Investigations of crimes need to be thoroughly pursued.
Investigations should take time. It’s more costly than prosecution because you can travel far during investigations.
“After investigation, the next stage is the arrest of the accused person. Then you can confront him with the result of the investigation. He will know that you have the facts about him.
“Prosecution should not take delight in getting bail. Putting indigent persons in prison creates problems for the accused. They can’t go to school. Major parts of their lives are wasted. When they come out of prison 14, 15 years later, they have to start all over again,” Ocholi submitted.
Also screened yesterday were Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa) and Hon. Mustapha Shehuri (Borno) who after briefly introducing themselves and asked one question each by the Senate president were asked to bow and go.  Lokpobiri was once a senator, while Shehuri was once a member of the House of Representatives.
Further screening is expected to take place next Tuesday.
Also on Thursday, Buhari wrote the Senate president, asking the chamber to confirm the appointment of Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
[Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja - ThisDay]

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