Nigeria lawmakers begin screening Buhari’s ministerial picks; Senate chief seeks high standards

Nigerian president starts to construct his cabinet four months after defeating Goodluck Jonathan

NIGERIA’S Senate began screening nominees for cabinet positions on Tuesday as President Muhammadu Buhari starts to construct his administration more than four months after taking power.

Nominees faced questions about national security, foreign policy, and economic revival. The challenge of Islamist insurgency Boko Haram, which Buhari has repeatedly vowed to crush, cannot be met with force alone, said Kayode Fayemi, a key policy figure in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party.

Economic development and an improved criminal justice system are essential to tackling the rebellion, which has killed thousands and sucked in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger, he said.

“Our first line of defence is our neighbours, and we must start doing something about what is happening in our neighbouring countries, after that our sub-region, after that Africa,” Fayemi said.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, must also balance the interests it shares with traditional Western partners and its increasing engagement with the emerging markets of China, Brazil, India and Russia, he said.

Private sector

The first nominee questioned, former lawmaker Udoma Udo- Udoma, called for policies to promote private companies because the fall in the price of oil, Nigeria’s main export, means the government doesn’t have the resources to stimulate growth sufficiently.

“We cannot rely on the public sector because the public sector is limited by the price of crude oil, so we have to stimulate the private sector,” Udo-Udoma said.

Buhari, a 72-year-old former military ruler, has been criticised by some opposition figures and analysts for being slow to name his cabinet after defeating Goodluck Jonathan in a March election that ushered in the first democratic handover of power in the continent’s top oil producer. Buhari’s nominees have not yet been assigned prospective ministries, and the second and final list of candidates was presented in the Senate earlier on Tuesday.

The list included four former governors, the head of the state oil company, Emmanuel Kachikwu, and Kemi Adeosun, tipped by several analysts to be the finance minister.

“The challenges facing Nigeria are too grave to accept anything short of qualified, committed leadership –- with the integrity to act solely in the best interest of this country,” Senate President Bukola Saraki said in an e-mailed statement before the hearings began. “We have seen far too much damage done when the standards are lower.”


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