Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be sworn in as Minister of Finance Friday, taking over the portfolio previously held by Dr. Olusegun Aganga who will now be named minister of the renamed Commerce and Investment.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was finance minister between 2003 and 2006, will be leaving her post as Managing Director of World Bank to pilot the affairs of the ministry regarded as the heart of the government.
Aganga's new portfolio could see him oversee the newly created Sovereign Wealth Fund, his pet project at the Ministry of Finance.
He is also an investment banker, having worked as an MD at Goldman Sachs in the UK.
Nigeria’s High Commissio-ner to South Africa, Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru, is expected to be named Minister of Foreign Affairs, while Professor Barth Nnaji will be named Minister of Power.
Thursday, the Senate confirmed eight of the 10 remaining ministerial nominees from the first list of 34 submitted last week by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan also submitted eight fresh names of ministerial nominees to the upper legislative chamber.
The new nominees, who are expected to face the Senate screening next Tuesday, are: Mrs. Sarah Reng Ochepe (Plateau), Mr. Edem Duke (Cross River), Mr. Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Ms. Ama Pepple (Rivers), Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia (Kaduna), Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed (Jigawa), Mrs. Omobola Johnson Olubusola (Ondo) and Dr. Mohammed Pate (Bauchi).
However, two of the 10 nominees listed for screening yesterday – Dr. Obadiah Ando, the Taraba nominee and Dr. Akinwunmi Ayo Adesina from Ogun State - did not show up.
While Senate President David Mark announced that Ando’s nomination “was withdrawn”, apparently owing to the objection raised by the three senators from Taraba, it was not clear why Adesina stayed away from the screening exercise.
However, a source hinted that the United Nations’ agricultural expert might have turned down the ministerial offer at the last minute “when it was clear to him that he would be assigned a junior ministerial slot”.
Those whose appointments were confirmed yesterday were: Alhaji Bukar Tijani (Borno), Chief Mike Omolememen (Edo), Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi (Kwara), Ashiru (Ogun), Mrs. Olajumoke Akinjide (Oyo), Dr. Yerima Lawan Ngama (Yobe), Ambassador Bashir Yuguda (Zamfara) and Hajia Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi (Niger).
Responding to a question on why he had enjoyed a meteoric rise in his political career, Abdullahi, a former editor with THISDAY, told a moving story of how the values imparted to him by his parents – who did not attend school – shaped his destiny.
He received a loud applause from the senators when he related an exhortation his father used to give about the need to always be “an omoluabi” – in Yoruba, a well-mannered and well-behaved person - wherever he finds himself.
Abdullahi, the immediate past Commissioner for Education in Kwara State, said while answering a question on education: “Some people talk about 26 per cent UNESCO target for education. The issue is not whether it is 20 per cent or 26 per cent, yes, education needs to be properly funded. But the question is whether we are actually putting money where results are best expected.
“What we have done is that we continue to measure the progress in our education in terms of how many children are able to go to school. We say we are going to meet MDG target. Okay, if we meet MDG target by putting every child in school and at the end of basic education these children cannot even read and write then what have we been able to achieve? So the critical question is to set target on what we expect children to do and fund this target. Look at those factors that are likely to deliver the greater results. Can infrastructure help children to learn?”
When he took his turn, Ashiru, the nominee from Ogun State, told the senators of the need for the convocation of an all Nigerian conference to review Nigeria’s foreign affairs policy.
Ashiru said the conference should include all the critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project, including lawmakers, students, market women, representatives of the Nigeria civil society groups, workers, academics, etc.
According to him, this is the only way the foreign policy of the county would be owned by all Nigerians. He noted that the last time such a conference held was in 1986, which culminated in the Kuru declaration.
Responding to the complaints that Nigerian foreign missions abroad make the issuance of visa to willing investors to come to Nigeria difficult, the nominee, who has spent over 30 years of his career with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the nation’s foreign affairs policy should be focused on investment drive.
According to him, “The foreign missions have no reason not to issue visa to genuine foreign investors wishing to come to Nigeria to invest,” noting that “this is the time for our foreign missions to concentrate on investment promotion and business opportunities.”
Ashiru said he believed that Nigeria should play a leading role in the West African sub-region as well as the African continent to ensure peace and security in the place. He also made a case for Nigeria’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, noting that in the last 50 years Nigeria had led the campaign for the eradication of apartheid and colonialism more than any other country to justify the nation’s claim to the permanent seat at the council.
Reacting to the question on how the foreign affairs could contribute to the issue of alleviating unemployment in the country, the envoy said: “The time has come when we should use our foreign policy to support government programmes to create jobs for our youths and graduates; to use foreign policy to reduce poverty; to use foreign policy to support government efforts in infrastructural development; use foreign policy to develop our energy; use foreign policy to develop food, health care delivery and national security and terrorism.”
According to him, if the right policies were put in place and implemented, it would go a long way in stemming the tide of mass exodus of Nigerian youths abroad.