By ANIEBO NWAMU

Were the 43 ministerial nominees of President Muhammadu Buhari screened by anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) before the list was sent to the Senate? If they were, then, the nation has no need for the agencies anymore. Not even the security agencies!

President Buhari had told us that, this time round, he would appoint competent people known to him personally. Did he know all of them? If he did, then, he should lay no claim to integrity, nor should he pretend to be fighting corruption any longer. Indeed, anyone who endorses some of the characters on that list is either a fool or a fraud.

There isn’t enough space to put all of the nominees under the klieg lights here. As a literature student, therefore, I wish to employ a device known as synecdoche (using a part to represent a whole) for examining the ministerial list. Let’s use the credentials of just one nominee: Mr Godwin Jeddy-Agba from Cross River State (pictured above).

My witnesses are four APC stalwarts who don’t want Jeddy-Agba as the state’s ministerial candidate. They are Prince Celestine Awoh, Chief Ekum Ekok Ojogu, Hon. Tom Busa Bisong, and Emmanuel E. Odu. The petitioners have not hidden their identities, for each included their full name and their telephone number. In the protest letter by these “Concerned Nigerians” dated July 24 and addressed to the president of the Senate, they based their stand on three grounds: corruption, health, and violation of the Federal Character Principle as it applies to states.

On alleged corruption: Jeddy-Agba, 61 next month, was a civil/public servant for almost all of his adult life and yet he is said to be richer than Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, the poster girl for corruption under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. How was a salaried employee from 1984 to 2014 able to acquire a private jet and a merchant vessel? From what source did he make the money used to buy houses worth hundreds of millions of naira in Nigeria and abroad?

As the group general manager, crude oil marketing, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, from 2010 to 2014, Jeddy-Agba has been linked to many shady deals involving oil sales. “Appointing [him] is [a] tacit support of Diezani Madueke who is a business ally of Jeddy Agba and capable of covering their fraudulent records,” the petitioners wrote.

Our case study here was allegedly under the ICPC investigation until recently. In one bank account alone, ICPC allegedly found more than U.S. $15million. He owned several companies; none except one has paid as little as N1 as tax for many years. The anti-graft agency was about to invite Jeddy-Agba for questioning when the ministerial list was submitted.

Of much concern is the health issue raised by the group. Jeddy-Agba had brain surgery in 2015 and has been going for medical checks abroad bimonthly.  His health challenge was the reason he withdrew from the governorship race in 2015 under the platform of the PDP. “Goddy Jeddy Agba cannot stand the rigour of presenting an executive bill before Council for one hour,” the quartet said. Remember: we’re referring to one of the best that took Buhari five months after his election or two months after his inauguration to find!

If it was political consideration that the maker of the ministerial list relied upon to pick Jeddy-Agba, they apparently goofed. He really has no electoral value, the quartet alleged when each of them spoke on the phone. Each said he emerged as nominee for Cross River simply because of his deep pockets. Money must have exchanged hands in Calabar and Abuja, they claimed. The petitioners belonged to a minority: they were aware of what was going on, but they decided to oppose his candidature on grounds of principle.  “Jeddy-Agba was a PDP member, and he crossed over to the APC obviously when the ICPC was closing in on him,” one said. “We don’t know him in the party. He was the one that sold oil while Diezani was petroleum minister. They should allow Diezani to come back and become a minister or even president. You can’t say she is corrupt while her cronies are saints. Is that a reason for the ‘change’ we clamoured for?”

Considering the Federal Character Principle recognised by the 1999 Constitution, as amended, a minister ought not to come from the same senatorial district as the governor of his state, the foursome alleged. Jeddy-Agba is not just from the same district as Governor Ben Ayade; both are from Obudu local government area. And many other critical appointments made in the state have been in favour of people from the governor’s LGA. A similar situation had arisen in 2015 in Niger State, and the nominee was dropped.

Governor Ayade has congratulated Jeddy-Agba on his nomination. Yet, the same governor, according to two of the petitioners, once compiled a dossier on Jeddy-Agba and sent it to the EFCC for investigation. The game seems to have changed! The governor, in a statement on Saturday, called for the closing of ranks across party divides to give Jeddy-Agba the needed support to succeed. “The interest of Cross River comes first. Let us therefore rise above party and ethnic affiliations to give one of own, our son, the necessary support he needs to succeed as minister,” he stated. “And I have no doubt that he will bring his wealth of experience to bear on any ministry he is eventually assigned to.”

On the phone, each of the petitioners was asked whether they would step forward to substantiate their allegations, and each expressed eagerness to appear before the Senate, a court or the EFCC. But when Jeddy-Agba’s phone line was requested so he could be called as well, to present his defence, none agreed they had it. Further efforts to obtain his phone line on platforms where he has a media presence failed.

Not many expect a “bow and go” Senate to perform magic. In fairness to the red chamber, however, the petition of “Concerned Nigerians” from Jeddy-Agba’s home state has not been completely disregarded. The upper chamber of the National Assembly was to screen him on Friday but had to skip him. He and 12 others left are expected to be grilled this week. While those who viewed the 9th Senate as “rubber stamp” didn’t expect a rejection of any of the 43 ministerial nominees, they saw a ray of hope on Friday. A senator raised a point of order referring his colleagues to the constitution’s stipulation that anyone nominated for any office by the president must submit their asset declaration certificate. Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo (Bayelsa West) wondered why they had been screening nominees who didn’t present their asset declaration certificates as required by law and even as the Buhari administration had laid much emphasis on fighting corruption. Of the 43 nominees, only one has not held public office. Senate president Ahmad Lawan sustained Ewhrudjakpo’s point of order, saying that any nominee who failed to provide their asset declaration certificate risked disqualification.

My assumption – and there is no shortage of Nigerians who think like me – is that Buhari is not in charge of his government. Some of us could be forgiven for campaigning for him in 2015 because the Buhari who now sits as president of Nigeria is completely different from the Buhari we knew as head of state between 1984 and 1985. The story gaining ground since 2016 – that a cabal has hijacked his administration – seems true, after all. Were it not so, I see no reason anyone that wishes to better their country would unashamedly present most of the 43 names as people they have chosen to lead us out of the woods.

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