By Emmanuel Ogala
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed the nomination of seven of the 34 ministerial nominees sent by President Goodluck Jonathan following a screening process that lasted for hours.
Mr Jonathan had, last Tuesday, sent the list for confirmation. The approved nominees include Emeka Wogu (Abia), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Diezani Alison-Madueke (Bayelsa), and Godsday Orubebe (Delta). Others are Onyebuchi Chukwu (Ebonyi), Caleb Olubolade (Ekiti), and Ruqayyatu Rufai (Jigawa).
Although the screening exercise generally took place without drama, it was evident Mrs Alison-Madueke and Mr Mohammed received preferential screening.
Mrs Alison-Madueke was listed third on the order of appearance by the Senate, but she appeared on the sixth turn, four hours after her turn had passed.
She was meanwhile outside the door of the Senate chambers, meeting and lobbying senators one after the other.
The opinion-swaying session was mediated by Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi State) who recently claimed some major oil dealers have been lobbying some senators to block Mrs Alison-Madueke's nomination. Mr Adeyemi had also staged a counter lobby to ensure Mrs Alison-Madueke's chances of confirmation by the Senate are not hurt by reports of corruption against her.
Mrs Alison-Madueke, 51, from Bayelsa State, an architecture graduate, is pencilled for re-appointment as petroleum minister where she has spent the last one year. Her one year reign at the petroleum ministry is characterised by series of corruption allegations serially reported by this paper in several editions.
At the rostrum before the Senate as the sixth candidate, Mr Adeyemi was the first senator the Senate president, David Mark, called up to question her. Philip Aduda Taminu (FCT Abuja) was next. They had all met the nominee outside the chambers before her screening.
Ahmed Lawan (ANPP, Yobe State) interrupted by asking the nominee questions bothering on her disregard for due process. Thereafter, the Senate president returned to picking for her senators who carefully avoided questioning her about all the allegations against her in the media.
Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu State) led that batch. He had also met Mrs Alison-Madueke outside the Senate chambers during her lobbying session on the invitation of Mr Adeyemi.
Mr Ayogu praised the nominee for having "thick skin" to absorb the "barrage" of "blackmail" in the media arising from her stance on the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
"I have found it most unfortunate," Mrs Alison-Madueke said, while denying allegations against her for the first time since she was first mentioned in a corruption scandal in 2008.
She denied reports that any Senate report indicted her for corruption and said she has documents to prove she followed due process in all her dealings as petroleum minister.
"There is nothing as a briefcase company, as has been alleged in some papers," she said, adding that she was just following the Nigerian Local Content Law which, according to her, encourages any Nigerian with the basic requirement to participate in Nigeria's oil industry.
"We are opening up the gas sector to all Nigerians who meet the basic criteria, and that is the way it should be and that is the way it would be going forward," she said.
Further questioning by Abdul Ningi bothering on her integrity was shouted down by some senators who quickly added "bow and go" chants and the Senate president eased her off the chamber.
Mrs Alison-Madueke was not the only candidate given preferential treatment in an obvious contradiction to claims by the Senate leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, that the Senate was going to thoroughly screen the nominees and treat them all equally.
Mr Mohammed, the former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, also received the "bow and go" treatment from the Senate. Mr Mohammed, before his appointment into the executive cabinet, was an opposition senator representing Bauchi State.
Promises for Nigerians
Mrs Alison-Madueke attributed the scarcity of kerosene nationwide to activities of some independent marketers.
She said because kerosene imported into the country for household use had the same specification as the aviation kerosene, some marketers were buying the product at the household rate and re-selling to consumers in the aviation sector at a more expensive rate. She, however, gave the assurance that the scarcity would ease off in no time.
She also said the Nigeria Content Act had opened a new vista for Nigerians to participate in the oil and gas sector, although some multinational companies were adverse to its implementation.
"The Act has encouraged every Nigerian to come into the oil and gas sector," she said. "I must say that the Act has opened up oil and gas industry to Nigerians who have the capability to invest."
She said with the sustenance of the present reform in the industry, one million jobs would be created in the oil and gas sector over the next five years.
Mr Chukwu, who spoke about the need to review the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), said it was regrettable that less than two per cent of Nigerians were presently covered by the NHIS. He said if the percentage could rise to 30 by 2015, "we would have achieved a major feat."
Mr Mark wished the confirmed nominees well in their endeavours, saying he would make more comments after the exercise.