Ministerial Screening: 55 Not 2 Senators ‘II Clear Nominees – Gbajabiamila

The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, has stated that 55 senators will determine the fate of any ministerial nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation and not two senators from a state as being postulated by some lawmakers.

Gbajabiamila was reacting to some media reports that due to the rule of the Senate, some nominees including former Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi and former Lagos State governor Raji Fashola who may fail to secure the approval of two of their three senators from their states will not scale through the confirmation process.

In a press statement issued yesterday in Abuja through his media aide, Olarenwaju Smart, Gbajabiamila said the provisions of the 1999 Consistution (as amended) supercede any rule of the Senate and as such, the two senators’ approval rule cannot stand where the constitution provides for simple majority approval of 55 senators.
Citing sections 56, 60 and 147 of the constitution, he argued that though he is not a senator, he is knowledgeable enough from being in the legislature to know that the rule being cited cannot stand the test of constitutionality as the constitution clearly states the process through which any ministerial nominee will be screened by the Red Chamber.

He said, “I am not a member of the Senate but being a member of the National Assembly and part of the leadership of the legislature, I am compelled and duty bound to opine on any matter that touches on it. It is my considered opinion that the above made-up rule by the Senate cannot pass the test of constitutionality.”

He continued, “Whilst Section 60 of the constitution gives the Senate the right to its own rules of business, Section 1(3) of the same Constitution expects such rules not to conflict with any provision in the constitution and declares that where there is any such conflict, the constitution will take pre-eminence and such rule will be null and void.

“Indeed, Section 60 where the Senate derives the powers to formulate its rules declares that such powers are “subject to the provisions of this constitution.”

Dismissing the two-senator rule as non-existent in legislative processes either in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, Gbajabiamila said, “Furthermore, the rules envisaged in section 60 are those codified in the Senate Rule Book and I am not aware that there is anything like the two-senator endorsement rule in the book. It is only when there is no provision or a lacuna exists in the rule book in a given situation that the Senate is allowed by its rules to fall back on a convention. The convention so envisaged is the convention and practice in other legislatures and over time. The two-senator rule is not a legislative practice in any part of the world and not in Nigeria for that matter.

“Firstly, Section 147 (2) of the constitution provides that : “Any appointment to the Office of the Minister of the Government of the Federation, shall if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate be made by the president”. In other words, confirmation or approval is clearly by the Senate (simple majority) and not by two senators from the nominee’s state. Where even all three senators from a state disapprove of a nominee, the nominee can still get the nod of majority of senators and this is what the law requires. The law never envisaged the screening of nominees to be a two-man exercise which is what this is tantamount to.

“Furthermore, section 56 of the constitution is clear on the issue of voting on any issue in the Senate. It says: “56(1) Except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, any question proposed for decision in the Senate or the House of Representatives shall be determined by the required majority of the members present and voting…”

56(2) “Except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, the required majority for the purpose of determining any question shall be a simple majority.

“The above three provisions in the constitution make it abundantly clear that no rule of the Senate can subject the nomination of a minister by Mr. President to the votes, confirmation of just two persons. Simple majority is the law except where the constitution provides for two-thirds majority as in for example, constitutional amendments.”

Warning against turning the screening and confirmation exercise by the senators to an avenue to settle old scores, the House Majority Leader   noted that “to subject a nominee to the whims and caprices of just two senators rather than the constitutional requirement of 55 senators (simple majority) is illogical. He said a situation where two senators from one state decide to play politics and filibuster a competent nominee’s confirmation will not help the country and Nigeria will end up as the loser.

He said, “Confirmation of ministerial nominees is a serious national assignment and not an opportunity to settle individual, personal or political scores. Section 40 of the Constitution guarantees freedom to join a political party of one’s choice and Section 42 is crystal clear that no one shall be discriminated against because of such choice.”

“Any rule that leaves the fate of a nominee to the approval of senators from his state who are of a different political bent or ideology has the potential of running foul of the constitution in its application”.

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