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Alex Osondu Atawa-Akpodiete

Since President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) announced his initial ministerial list on September 30, 2015 and the subsequent nominees, the new and old media have been awash with insinuations and counter-insinuations about who is really qualified to be a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

For the first time since the return to democracy in 1999, we had heated discussions in the red chambers about confirmations of a few ministerial nominees. This could be because there is a change of guard at the Presidency or because for the first time, the incumbent came into power under an anti-corruption manifesto. Those of us that have been privileged by the grace of God to travel outside Nigeria and interact with foreign government since May 29, 2015, cannot but admit that there is a renewed hope in the international community that Nigeria may finally be on the road to fighting corruption.

When the President said he was taking his time before submitting his list of nominees, ostensibly it was believed that he was searching for people with a squeaky clean record. Even the initial selection of his close aides was greeted with approbation by some because none were tainted with corruption allegations. Of course, the naysayers criticized the supposed lopsidedness of those initial Special Advisors and Senior Special Assistants.

Under the Federal Character provision of the Nigerian constitution, there must be a Minister from each State, whether it is a principal Minister or Minister of State. The actual provision is in Section (14) (3) which states that “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.” So absent a constitutional amendment, there will be at least 36 ministers.

Usually, the party hierarchy (stakeholders) in each state submits the name(s) for their respective states. The President and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have still not fully recovered from the fiasco (Saraki/Dogara coup d’état) concerning the leadership of the National Assembly. As a result, the party needed to collaborate to produce the Ministers in a democratic system that requires give and take.

The immediately glaring fact was that the President could not go it alone to produce his ministers since he was not elected as an independent candidate. In fact, Independent candidature is not allowed in the Nigerian constitution, but was one of the changes recommended by the last National Confab. Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is emphatic that “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if – (a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) he has attained the age of forty years; (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and (d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”

Pursuant to Subsection (c), the President is a member of APC and was sponsored by the party. The President’s inauguration speech about belonging to everybody but belonging to nobody has no application here. He belongs to the APC, at least politically. What this means is that even if a potential nominee has corruption allegations, he may be compelled to accept that person, especially if he has been cleared by the Secret Service.

Also, truth requires that we admit that several political appointments are compensations for party loyalty and working for the election of the person making the appointment. They say, “If we have helped cook the food, we must partake in the chopping.”

It may actually be impossible to find a politician in Nigeria who does not have “allegations” of corruption, especially if he has held elected office in the last sixteen (16) years. These could just be rumors, actual fabrications or social media propaganda. On the other hand, there could be documents and other evidence that may substantiate the allegations. The point is that mere allegation is different from actual convictions in a court of law.

We should always remember that in a civilized society, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If anyone could be precluded from consideration based on unproven corruption allegation, it could become a political tool in the hands of the person’s political opponent. Although there are no permanent enemies in politics, even the temporary ones can be exceedingly vicious and vindictive.

Now that the nominees have all been cleared, much to the chagrin of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’ Senators, who staged a walk-out, we can get on with the business of governance. In a way, that is the essence of politics and democracy. Of course, in some places, any nominee that has any hinge of stain would have voluntarily withdrawn his name from consideration in the interest of the reputation of the party and to save the country any iota of negative image. Such is not the case in our politics of cash and carry with overbearing self-interests.

Nevertheless, should the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC) file charges against any siting minister, and they are sustained by a court of competent jurisdiction, I am sure our uncompromising President will not hesitate to shove the person out of Aso Villa and show that person the door leading to another villa starting with “K”.

In the interim, it is good for our country to finally have a Federal Executive Council (EXCO) to be sworn-in momentarily.

Atawa-Akpodiete wrote from Washington DC.

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