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AFTER a two-day screening, the Senate yesterday confirmed 18 ministerial nominees, among them former Governors Babatunde Fashola (Lagos) and Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti).

The other ministers-designate are Senator Udoma Udo Udoma (Akwa Ibom), Chief Audu Ogbeh (Benue), Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu (Ebonyi), Dr. Osagie Ehanire (Edo), Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Kwara), Lt. Gen. Adulrahman Danbazzau (Kano), Amina Ibrahim Mohammed (Gombe), Mr. Suleiman Hussaini Adamu, Mr. Ibrahim Usman Jibrin, Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigeria National Corporation (NNPC) Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) , Senator Chris Ngige, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, Mr. Solomon Dalong, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and Senator Hadi Sirika.

The confirmation of Mohammed, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Publicity Secretary, was as dramatic as his screening on Tuesday.Mohammed’s screening  on Tuesday was an exchange of banters between him and the senators.   But yesterday, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) senators shouted ‘nay’ when Senate President Bukola Saraki called out his name for confirmation. But APC senators rose stoutly in his defence with  their ‘yes’ shout.

Eight of the ministersl-designate were yesterday screened. The Oyo State nominee, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, was not screened apparently for lack of time. He is likely to be screened today.Former Rivers State Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi’s screening was deferred because the petition against him had not been considered by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.  Amaechi is also likely to be screened today.

Musa Ibeto’s nomination was withdrawn by the President. He replaced the Niger State nominee with Bawa Bwari, a former House of Representatives member.Ministers-designate such as  Ngige, Sirika and Alhassan were asked to introduce themselves, make some remarks and “take a bow and go” being former senators.They spoke on a number of issues.

Kachikwu

The NNPC GMD told the senators that President Muhammadu Buhari is insisting on putting necessary palliatives in place before considering oil subsidy removal.If any person from the private sector is asked whether subsidy should be removed, the categorical answer, he said, would be yes.

He said the President was particularly concerned about the provision of necessary palliatives especially in the areas of transport, health and education, when the issue came up before him.Kachikwu said he agreed with the President that unless necessary palliatives were in place “you cannot just remove subsidy.”“The NNPC is working to establish the actual volume of PMS the country consumes monthly and the actual amount the country spends on subsidy to determine the direction to go”, he said, adding:“If you don’t handle it with palliatives, you create problem.”To encourage the use of domestic gas in the country, the Federal Government, he said, would begin the distribution of free gas cylinder next year.

The NNPC GMD said the country loses about $15 billion yearly because of the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).The minister-designate noted that the NNPC is perfecting the policy of free gas cylinder distribution to encourage the use of gas and also reduce the use of kerosene.

Kachikwu said he has been in the oil industry for 30 years covering all sectors.On the perennial scarcity of petrol and high cost of kerosene, he said NNPC was working to ensure that fuel scarcity becomes a thing of the past.He said there was no plan to reduce the pump price of petrol as being speculated by some people.

Kachikwu said: “We have come out very clearly that there is no such plan. In the next one, two days, you will find that individuals will open their stations and products are there. We have enough storage in this country that will last us for the next 40, 50 days”.

On production level of refineries, he said: “Refineries are operating today at about 25, 27 per cent capacity. I know that there had been this whole number bandied around to the fact that we are at 65 per cent performance level; that is not true and I have advised His Excellency as such. “He insisted that if the country can’t run the refineries “then we need to get out, make adequate arrangement to privatise them and take them out.”

On why refineries are not producing at optimal capacity, he said: “Over the last 10 years, we have not really done a serious shut down routine maintenance.”Most of the refineries, he said, were 30 years old and above when refineries have a lifespan of 50 to 60 years if maintained constantly.“Kerosene is a different ball game. You will notice that only NNPC for now, imports kerosene. And that is because the sale prices are such that nobody can bring in kerosene and make money.

“As a matter of fact, 50 per cent of NNPC’s subsidy charges come from importation of kerosene. So, the first thing is how do you make kerosene easily available? “If the refineries work and produce more kerosene. If you begin a good deforestation and afforestation programme, you can begin to take our people away from kerosene”, the NNPC GMD said.On the PIB, he said he promised himself not to be constrained by the lack of PIB in finding holistic solutions to the industry’s problems.

“So, using existing laws, we have continued to make changes. Because at the end of the day, whether or not PIB is available and passed, it really doesn’t lie within the umbrella of the executive, it lies with this revered Assembly. But I also do not think that the problem with PIB has been the facts of the versions. By the time the last Senate was rounding off, it had got a version that was clearly the version that both houses were looking at. Am I  going to create a new version? Not really. What I will need to do is take the version that you have, look at it again and make changes”, Kachikwu said.

He described corruption as a major issue in NNPC, saying: “We are working very hard to try and wipe that out. Since I joined, we have literally cut every contract that we found suspicious.”Over nearly 40 per cent of the revenue that NNPC generates, he said, is utilised by NNPC for its own needs, adding: “ If you look at the numbers for NNPC, NNPC spends more than a lot of three or four, five states gathered together in terms of their annual budget.“

NNPC, he said, had downsized at the upper level, moving from nine directorates to four or five.“We have removed from the system about 150 Deputy General Managers (DGMs) and cut that down to about 100 DGMs. We have moved General Managers from a total of about 180 to about 90,” he said.

Fashola

The former Lagos State governor denied corruptly enriching himself in the controversial N78 million personal website deal executed under his administration.

Asked to define loyalty, the former governor described it as a strange concept, saying: “I have always prayed that may our loyalty never be tested.“I pray that my loyalty should not be tested. In my public life, I have had cause to be loyal to causes I believe in”.

Fashola, the first to be screened yesterday said he could not take credit for his work in Lagos, saying it was a team effort. “It was a team work, a pioneering work by all those who served before me and it is a continuing effort.“So, it will be extremely inappropriate and immodest of me and indeed, they would not let me if I had attempted to take personal responsibility for all that happened,” he said.

On the alleged deportation of some Nigerians from Lagos during his tenure, Fashola apologised to those offended by the action, adding that people were rehabilitated and taken to where they called home instead of being kept continuously against their wish.

Malami

Malami spoke on the administration of justice, saying whatever responsibility he is given he would be true to his God, the country and President Buhari.

He noted that justice administration would be incomplete without financial independence of the judiciary.

No person should be detained in criminal matter beyond three months before being brought to court, Malami said, noting that under the Justice administration, criminal cases should be determined within 180 days.

For a proper justice administration, there must be collaboration among the three arms of government, he said, adding that prisoners should be made to acquire vocational skills while serving their terms.

Malami urged the National Assembly to hasten the passage of the bills that would assist the administration of justice.

Hajia Alhassan

She told the Senate that contrary to insinuations, she is still pursuing her governorship election petition at a tribunal in Taraba State. She contested the last governorship election on APC  platform against PDP’s Ishaku Darius.She said: “My nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari has nothing to do with my ongoing election petition. President Buhari will not prevent me from going ahead with the case”.

On corruption in the judiciary, Alhassan said the problem is not only about money. “When a judge exercises his discretional powers injudiciously, it is corruption.“Corruption is perpetrated by judges and lawyers in many ways. Lawyers ingratiate themselves with judges and make friends with them. They then lobby to have their cases assigned to such judges.“We all know that judges are also human beings capable of being influenced by their friendship with their lawyer-friends”, he said.

Mrs Adeosun

To avoid economic recession, she said, the country must increase its revenue base by expanding its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).“There is need to pursue an aggressive cashless system to plug leakages and to explore additional revenue options to augment dwindling oil earnings”, Mrs Adeosun said, adding:

“The economy is slowed down but not in recession. We can avoid recession by creating more jobs, particularly in the private sector”.She added: “Investing in infrastructure will also help in stimulating the economy for job creation and expanding the frontiers of entrepreneurship.

“The Treasury Single Account (TSA) will reduce borrowing by government and if government is not borrowing, private businesses will be able to access loans for investment. The policy may appear harsh in the short run, but it will be beneficial in the long run.“The country must develop its infrastructure to attract foreign investment while interest rate must be brought down to enable legal businesses to access loans.

“Governments at all levels must cut down on recurrent expenditure and increase capital spending in annual budgets. The present situation where government runs budget on 78 per cent recurrent cannot grow the economy.“To avoid revenue leakage, there must be transparency in the waiver regime, while the exchange rate cannot be entirely left to market forces alone to determine.More importantly, we must encourage local industries by patronising made in Nigeria goods. “We should buy made in Nigeria, eat made in Nigeria and drink made in Nigeria products”,

Ngige

Ngige called for peace in the country “because we are through with the elections”.He said there was the need to pay attention to the economy because of the dwindling oil revenue.The former Anambra state gtovernor said the country is in the era of change, adding that the change must be holistic.

Dalong

He spoke on how to decongest prisons.The country, he said, should pay more attention to solid minerals, which he noted had been neglected for long.He said the history of the crises in some states, including Plateau, Benue, Kaduna and the Northeast should be considered in finding lasting solution to them.

Sirika

He spoke about the need to revive the national carrier.The country, he said, should work quickly to revive its national carrier for reasons of national interest.Sirika said most of the bilateral agreements the country signed were lopsided because of lack of national carrier.