Editor’s note: The ongoing 2015 ministerial screening at the Nigerian Senate has turned a new leaf in the book of Nigerian politics, not only for President Buhari’s slow and steady approach, but also for high levels of tension among Nigerians and the candidates themselves. Who is worthy to occupy this or that ministerial seat? Why this or that candidate is being treated differently than their counterparts? As Nigerians are drawing parallels between the current and previous government officials, Demola Olarewaju, the , compares the screening experiences of Rotimi Amaechi and Musiliu Obanikoro.

Rotimi Amaechi (left), Musiliu Obanikoro

Rotimi Amaechi (left), Musiliu Obanikoro

Senator Musiliu Obanikoro served his state and country at the highest legislative office in the hallowed chambers of the Senate between 2003 and 2007. On the 9th of February ten years ago, in 2005, Obanikoro moved a motion calling for an investigation into the destruction and disrepair of the Velodrome at the National Stadium in Abuja. In January 2014, Obanikoro was nominated by the then-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to become a minister, and he was duly screened and confirmed as a minister by the Senate which included members of the newly formed opposition party the APC and those of the then governing party the PDP.

After serving as a minister until October 2014, Obanikoro resigned to contest for the PDP gubernatorial ticket in Lagos, lost it to Mr. Jimi Agbaje and was recalled by President Jonathan to return as a minister. This recall threw up a small legal dilemma with some legal experts saying Obanikoro did not need to be screened and confirmed by the Senate having undergone same procedure about a year before, while others said another round of screening and confirmation was necessary. In complying with a need to be above board, Obanikoro’s name was sent to the Senate for screening.

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The case of Obanikoro

In June of 2014, Ekiti had gone to the polls to elect a governor, and the PDP candidate Ayo Fayose soundly and roundly defeated the then-incumbent Kayode Fayemi in a free and fair election. Kayode Fayemi is a highly cerebral man but whose interactions with the Ekiti people he governed proved to be his undoing as he was seen as haughty and arrogant. Fayose on the other hand was down-to-earth. Fayemi conceded the elections and congratulated the man who defeated him but his party insisted that Ekitis had voted for “stomach infrastructure”. Not done yet, the party claimed further that the INEC had colluded with the PDP and used a special ink that disappears once a voter votes for the APC while replacing it with the PDP – these allegations were thrown out by the tribunal.

The last strand of reality denial by the APC was an audio recording, alleging that the voices were those of candidate Ayo Fayose and others including Obanikoro. These recordings made no reference to rigging, and if anything, one of the voices actually alleged that the military was colluding with the incumbent Governor Fayemi to sabotage the election. This recording became the casus belli of a few senators to oppose Obanikoro’s second nomination as minister, despite the fact that it was unverified and inadmissible as evidence by any law court. This recording was never tendered as evidence at the Ekiti gubernatorial tribunal, and Fayose’s election was not only upheld by the Appeal Court but the man subsequently proved his dominance of Ekiti politics by leading the PDP to victory in every election thereafter.

Obanikoro reached out to all his party members in the Senate for support and secured it. He further reached out to two southwestern governors who had served alongside him in the Senate between 2003 and 2007 and were now governors of their states. They supported him, and the ranks of the APC senators were broken.

On the day of the screening, as Obanikoro walked in among his former peers, Senator Oluremi Tinubu stood and unleashed derogatory words on him as he graciously bowed to her and strolled away to the podium. Senator Mudashiru Hussein took off his cap and headed towards the PDP side of the Senate as if to attack Senator Smart Adeyemi who was making his point. At the end of the day, few APC senators walked out, the Senate president took a voice vote and Obanikoro was confirmed. Several APC senators remained sitting to participate in the voice vote.

Promise of change or change of promise?

The case against Rotimi Amaechi is based on allegations of corruption and cannot be compared with that of Obanikoro. The case against Amaechi is a matter that was investigated by a Senate committee and the report was clear in its submission. The entire PDP Senate caucus rose in opposition to Amaechi’s confirmation. They neither participated in his screening nor in his confirmation as they all walked out, leaving the APC alone in its negation of the campaign promise of change.

That the APC can recall acts of the PDP as justification of its own actions is a misnomer in itself – where then is the change? How is it change if the best defence of the APC’s actions is neither logical nor commonsensical, but a spurious and condescending “the PDP also did it”? If the PDP realistically admitted to a culture of patronage as a reality of political horsetrading, and the APC condemned it to the highest heavens, why then would a president elected on the APC platform take four months to prepare a list that compensates those who worked for him in not only the 2011 elections but as far back as the 2003 elections?!

The standard for judging the APC cannot, must not be what the PDP did or did not do, but rather the standard that it set for itself – its own campaign promise of change for which 15 million Nigerians voted while a little more than 12 million voted for the PDP. The APC was not voted into office to perfect whatever the PDP was doing, but to deliveron  a #PromiseOfChange. So far, this looks like a #ChangeOfPromise.

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