Senate drops El-Rufai, Danladi, Okotete, okays Keyamo after apology

Senate, yesterday, confirmed the nomination of 45 of the 48 persons sent to it by President Bola Tinubu.

However, the names of former Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai; former deputy governor of Taraba State, Sani Abubakar Danladi, and Stella Okotete from Delta State were dropped from the approved list.

Senate President Godswill Akpabio disclosed, at the end of yesterday’s session, that the three persons whose names were not mentioned were awaiting security clearance.

Tinubu had on July 27, 2023 – the expiration of a 60-day deadline imposed by the Constitution – transmitted the names of 28 nominees to the Senate. He later forwarded another 19, and again two others, after replacing a nominee from Kano, Mariam Shetty.

Those confirmed include nine former governors and serving members of the National Assembly.

The chamber also confirmed the nomination of Bunmi Tunji-Ojo, the nominee from Ondo State and a serving member of the National Assembly, against whom allegations were made that he forged his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate.

Some senators, who spoke to reporters in defence of Tunji-Ojo, described him as one of the young people identified and nominated by the President.

Tunji-Ojo, who chaired the House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the 9th Assembly, spearheaded a probe that led to reforms and compelled the Buhari administration to constitute a new board for the commission.

Also confirmed was former Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo. The nod, however, did not come without drama.

The screening became tumultuous, following widespread rejection of Keyamo’s nomination.

After a brief introductory remark by Keyamo, Akpabio had recognised Deputy Minority Leader, Darlington Nwokocha, who raised a point of constitutional order, when Senator Usman Jibrin (APC, Kogi East) raised his hand to lead the confirmation hearing.

Nwokocha, citing Section 88 of the Constitution, swiftly and eloquently drew the Senate’s attention to the fact that Keyamo had, while serving as minister, disregarded the constitutional power of the National Assembly on investigation, and refused to honour invitations.

He said: “At a point, we thought it was our responsibility because if some people can use the instrumentality of law, can’t we use the instrumentality of the legislature to support our people and the populace which we represent.

“At that point, being a subject of controversy and public debate, we wanted to know and possibly give him fair hearing about what happened to our constituents. So, we invited him to come and tell us. What is the structure? What are the indices for carrying out this, because our people are on our necks?

“When he was invited, what we were talking about was N52 billion appropriated by the National Assembly, and the right of appropriation resides in the legislature.”

That is our right; the right of oversight resides with us. Whatever thing we are appropriating, it is our right.

“And when he was invited, he expressly told the public that we want to hijack his role. He blackmailed us that we are corrupt; that we wanted to hijack his role. I know that he midwifed the process. Nobody is against that, and it fell within his own area of operation as junior minister for labour and employment.

“Not only that, when he was asked: ‘Which indices?’ he went to the public to say that ‘they are not from the moon’ because we were talking about what will help our people. Anything outside that, I will walk out of the chamber.”

“I am of the opinion, so strongly, that he has to tell us what happened but not here. We have to step it down a little bit, then we can reconvene, because we would not like what happened during the last administration, when some people thought that the President was in charge and so many things were happening down there. We would not take it this time around.”

Recall that during the Buhari administration, Senator Chris Ngige had once apologised to the National Assembly over an altercation between Keyamo and members of the National Assembly’s joint Committees on Labour, regarding the 774,000 Special Public Works initiative of the Federal Government.

While Ngige, the then substantive labour minister tendered the apology, Keyamo, who was at the centre of the crisis, kicked against the move, hours after, vowing to continue implementation of the project, against the wish of the National Assembly.

Yesterday, after a persuasive narration on Keyamo’s ‘un-parliamentary’ conduct as a public official, Nwokocha moved a motion requesting the Senate to stand down the nominee’s screening.

But Akpabio, who noted the point of order, said the motion was yet to be seconded. The comment drew uproar from senators, as many spontaneously raised their hands to second Nwokocha’s motion.

Former Senate Minority Leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe, who eventually seconded the motion, stressed that Keyamo’s nomination must be stood down to allow the Senate conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the former minister’s alleged misconduct.

When Akpabio pushed the question whether the screening of Keyamo should be stood down, the response, in the affirmative, was overwhelming.

Akpabio, however, did not hit the gavel. The delay caused a great uproar, with senators shouting on him to announce his ruling and hit the gavel.

The Senate President later rose to his feet and tried to pacify the lawmakers. He called on Majority Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, to lead the way, and moments afterwards, a long convoy was seen moving out of the National Assembly to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.

Akpabio met with Tinubu, ostensibly to seek intervention, following the heated session on the floor of the red chamber.

He was accompanied to the Villa by Bamidele.

They two were chauffeur-driven as they departed the Villa at 3:55 p.m. through an exit reserved only for service chiefs and other high-profile government officials.

When plenary resumed, Keyamo apologised over the allegations of misconduct.

Senator Godiya Akwashiki moved a motion to allow the nominee to leave the chamber and sin no more. Ali Ndume asked Akpabio to put the question on whether senators had accepted the apology or not. The Senate President asked him to move a motion to that effect, and Ndume complied. Senator Brinada Mpigi seconded Keyamo’s apology to be accepted.

Akpabio, consequently, asked the nominee to take a bow and go.