The Senate Has No Power To Screen Ministers But Confirm Them, By Okoi Obono Obla
It is well settled that President Muhammadu Buhari sent a list containing 21 names of his Nominee for Ministerial appointment to the Senate President, Dr. Olubukola Abubukar Saraki in compliance with Section 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) for confirmation of appointment as Ministers of the Government of the Federation.
Since then the media is awash with stories and speculation on the procedure the Senate intends to adopt in carrying out its constitutional responsibility.
However because of the intense speculation and the interest this very important function of the Senate has generated there has been an avalanche of opinion expressed both in the print and social media whether the Senate is actually supposed to screen or confirm the Ministerial Nominees that has left many Nigerians confused on what the Senate is actually supposed to do.
Also because of the many petitions that were sent to the Senate by some people to the nomination of some of the Nominees containing allegations of criminality and corruption some people think that the Senate is going to subject some of the Nominees to intense screening in order to determine the propriety or otherwise of the allegations made against some of the Nominees.
The pertinent question is: Is the Senate supposed to screen or confirm the Ministerial Nominees?
To answer this poser or question, it will be necessary to read through Section 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to see whether or not the Draftsmen of the Constitution intend the Senate to screen or simply confirm Nominees put forward by the President.
A cursory perusal of Section 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) reveals that no where did the writers used the word “ screening” to describe what the Senate is required to do when the President transmits a list of those he has nominated as Ministers of the Government of the Federation.
It is clear as the crystal that the writers of Section 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) used the word “confirmation” not “screening”.
I submit without fear of contradiction that there is absolute and clear distinction between the word “confirmation” and “screening”.
The Drafts men of the Constitution did not define the meaning of the word “confirmation”, so there shall be a recourse or call in aid to the dictionary meaning of the word in order to discover the intention of the Drafts men of the Constitution.
The Encarta Dictionary defines the word “screening” thus: inspection, assessment, vetting, investigation, examination and inspection.
On the other hand, the Encarta dictionary defines the word “confirmation” thus: verification, substantiation, authentication, evidence, affirmation validation, authorization, approval, sanction, endorsement, ratification.
It goes without saying that from the above there is a world of difference between the word ‘screening’ and ‘confirmation’.
The Drafts men/writers of Section 147 (1) of the Constitution deliberately choose the word confirmation rather than screening.
We cannot import into Section 147 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) what the writers never contemplated.
One of the canons of the principle of statutory or constitutional interpretation is that words used in a statute or the Constitution must be given their ordinary or natural meaning in order to infer the intention of the legislature that enacted the statute or the writers of such a Constitution.
Undoubtedly the President is the Chief Executive of the Federation and the Head of Government. Accordingly, by the Constitution, the President is required to make nominations of those he considers worthy of appointment as Ministers of the Government of the Federation.
However, by Section 147 (3) of the Constitution such nomination by the President for Ministerial appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.
For the purpose of clarity, it is necessary to reproduce Section 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria thus:
”Any appointment to the office of 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.
I do not therefore think that it is in the purview of the Senate to investigate a Petition against of the Nominees. The Senate is not an investigating body or even a Court of Law. If there is any Petition against any of the Nominees, the Senate is required to send such Petition to the Police, EFCC, ICPC or CCB for investigation.
Also where a criminal imputation is made against any of Nominees by any petitioner such an allegation must first be investigated and the nominee charged before a Court of competent jurisdiction, it is certainly not the business of the Senate to constitute itself into a Court to hear and determine such criminal allegation made against any nominee in a Petition.
There is division and separation of powers inherent in the Constitution. The Senate as a part of the National Assembly is vested with the power primarily to make laws. It is the judicial branch of government that is conferred with the power to interpret the law.
It will therefore constitute an infringement of the Constitution for the Senate to dabble into the sphere that is outside the province of the power conferred on it by the Constitution under the guise of confirmation of those nominated for appointment as Ministers of the Government of the Federation.