The Senate and an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, Okoi Obono-Obla, on Monday squabbled over the latter’s nomination as a non-executive commissioner of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.
Mr. Obono-Obla, currently Mr. Buhari’s special assistant on prosecution attached to the Ministry of Justice, was one of seven persons nominated by the president in August for the NCC board, Nigeria’s regulatory agency for the telecoms sector.
Others were Olabiyi Durojaiye, nominated for the position of chairman; and Sunday Dare, Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management. Then, like Mr. Obono-Obla, four others – Ifeanyi Ararume, Clement Baiye, Ezekiel Yissa and Aliyu Abubakar – were nominated as non-executive commissioners.
On Monday, Mr. Obono-Obla told PREMIUM TIMES that the Senate President Bukola Saraki included his name among those not confirmed by the Senate after the legislative body had cleared and confirmed him.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained Mr. Saraki’s letter to the President, saying that three persons – Messrs. Yissa, Abubakar and Obono-Obla – were rejected by the Senate.
“This (that he was confirmed) was graphically captured in the Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in pages 880-891 of Thursday 17th November, 2016,” Mr. Obono-Obla said.
“Surprisingly and curiously, the Senate President , Senator (Dr) Abubakar Bukola Saraki in a letter dated 22nd November, 2016 to President Muhammadu Buhari titled ‘’Confirmation of Appointments) falsely stated that the Senate did not confirm the following nominees thus: Aliyu Saidu Abubakar; Pastor Ezekiel Yissa and Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla.”
But the Senate, through its spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi, later on Monday rejected Mr. Obono-Obla’s claim that his confirmation was unilaterally reversed by Mr. Saraki.
In its reaction, the Senate said it acted in error in initially including Mr. Obono-Obla among nominees that were confirmed as recommended by the Committee on Communications chaired by Gilbert Nnaji.
It explained that it reversed itself the following legislative day by amending the votes and proceedings of the previous day.
The Senate said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the nomination of Mr. Obla was never confirmed or voted for since no decision of the Senate is said to be approved if not adopted during the consideration of the Votes and Proceedings of the Senate at the next legislative day.
“The Senate also wishes to note that the business of the Senate can only be binding when the votes and proceedings have been adopted and approved without any objection.
“The implication of the directive by the Senate President to the Secretariat is that Senator Garbai’s observation or correction was correct and therefore the votes and proceedings should be amended to reflect the true situation.
“On that fateful day, November 22, 2016, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, objected to the alleged confirmation of the nominee, saying, ‘My name is Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai representing Borno Central Senatorial District.
‘Mr. President, what is actually reported in the votes and proceedings is not a true reflection of what transpired on Thursday with regards to the confirmation of one of the commissioners under NCC, Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla. The decision then was a resounding Nay. So, because of that, it was a mistake.”
However, this newspaper can authoritatively report that the committee that screened the nominees indeed recommended Mr. Obono-Obla for confirmation alongside Messrs. Durojaiye, Dare, Ararume and Baiye.
PREMIUM TIMES is in possession of the committee’s report.
After the report was presented, Mr. Saraki called for voice votes to approve nomination of each of the five persons recommended for confirmation. As he did in the cases of other recommended nominees, Mr. Saraki ruled “the ayes have it” and that Mr. Obono-Obla should be confirmed.
PREMIUM TIMES witnessed the Senate vote to approve Mr. Obono-Obla for the NCC job and the video is also available online.
But the following legislative day, Tuesday, November 22, the Senate amended the previous day’s votes and proceedings, reversing itself on the earlier confirmation of Mr. Obono-Obla, following concern raised by Mr. Garbai.
However, Mr. Garbai’s claim that there was a “resounding nay” in the Mr. Obono-Obla’s case is untrue.
“Aye” was more audible in the chamber when the Senate President put the matter to voice vote, and Mr. Saraki indeed ruled the “ayes have it!”
Mr. Obono-Obla hinted at possible reasons for his rejection.
He said he “reliably” gathered that after his confirmation, “the Senate President was put under intense pressure by two PDP Senators from Cross River State; John Owan Enoh (Cross River Central) and Gershom Bassey (Cross River South) which the Senate President balked.”
The two Senators, he continued, “blackmailed and fed the Senate President with lies concerning Chief Okoi Ofem Obono-Obla who is also from Cross River State. The duo told the Senate President that Obono-Obla is behind his legal travails.”
The presidential aide did not say why two Senators from his home state would be interested in seeing him fail his confirmation hearing.
Mr. Obono-Obla, as the presidential assistant on prosecution attached to the Ministry of Justice, had said the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, owed the Senate no explanation when the Minister was summoned to explain why he instituted forgery charges against Mr. Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.