Presidency Denies Favouring North, Muslims In Appointments


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Punch Editorial Board
CARRIED to power on a
groundswell of goodwill and
disgust at the thoroughly
corrupt Goodluck Jonathan
administration, Muhammadu Buhari appears bent on political
self-immolation. While he
received massive support from
across the country to become
President, he is by his
appointments, presenting himself as a parochial, sectional
leader. For the sake of the
country’s corporate survival, he
should rise above primordial
instincts and become a father to
all Nigerians. In his inaugural speech just over
a year ago, Buhari promised
Nigerians that “having just a few
minutes ago sworn on the Holy
Book, I intend to keep my oath
and serve as President to all Nigerians. I belong to everybody
and I belong to nobody.” But
too often, the pledge has been
honoured in the breach. Buhari’s
sectionalism is not only
unprecedented, it could not have come at a worse time. The
reality today is that Nigerians are
deeply divided. Seventeen years
of dashed hopes of progress
under a democratic dispensation
have reopened the deep fissures in the polity and polarised the
populace into mutually
suspicious camps. Sectarianism
and ethnicity have been rearing
their poisonous heads. The
presidential election of 2015 was particularly divisive, with
some major actors openly
deploying base religious and
regional sentiments. Add to this
the terrible state of the economy
that Buhari inherited, headlined by a collapse in global crude oil
prices, our main export earner,
and the rapacious emptying of
the national treasury by
previous governments, and you
have a seething, discontented people.
It is a sad reality of the Nigerian
experience that when crisis −
political or economic − hits,
segments of the populace retreat
into ethnic and sectarian cocoons. It is in this combustible
mix that Buhari stubbornly
presses ahead with
appointments that weigh heavily
in favour of his northern
regional base. He struck again last month when
he removed Ibe Kachikwu as
head of the Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation to put a
Northerner; named another,
Hadiza Bala-Usman, as managing director of the Nigerian Ports
Authority along with three
executive directors, two of
whom are also Northerners.
Before then, he had ring-fenced
himself with appointees from his northern constituency at the
Presidency, thereby deepening
the long-held fears of many
Southerners that he has not
overcome his well-known
insularity. But the 1999 Constitution
explicitly stipulates in Chapter 14
subsection 3 that the
“composition of the Government
of the Federation or any of its
agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall…reflect the federal
character of Nigeria and the
need to promote national unity,
and also to command national
loyalty, thereby ensuring that
there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or
from a few ethnic or other
sectional groups…” Buhari is
breaching this with impunity in
his appointments. Apart from
this, Nigeria’s plural setting demands that no group or
ethnic nationality is seen as too
domineering in critical areas of
governance.
Among his first appointments,
even while he dithered on assembling a cabinet: he recalled
a retired officer to man the
Department of State Services; a
former army officer to head the
Nigeria Customs Service; a
personal acquaintance as Chief of Staff, and loaded the other
security and law enforcement
agencies heavily in favour of
Northerners. While the DSS head
is from his hometown, Daura, the
others are also almost all Northerners and
overwhelmingly Muslims. In
spite of public opinion, he
replaced the immediate past
Inspector-General of Police, a
Southerner, with a Northerner, an assistant inspector-general
whose ascension induced the
retirement in one fell swoop of
21 DIGs and AIGs who were
senior to him. This is beyond
absurdity. We declare emphatically that this
is corruption. It is wrong to view
stealing of government funds as
the only form of corruption. A
former member of the House of
Representatives, Junaid Muhammed, alleges that not only
is Buhari sectional in his
appointments, several
appointees are actually his
relatives. Nigerians did not vote
against the Jonathan administration’s impunity for
corruption, only to be assaulted
with another pernicious
impunity for cronyism.
Buhari should be told that
sectionalism and nepotism are also acts of corruption. You do
not wage war against financial
corruption while indulging in
sectional and sectarian
favouritism. It is self-defeating; a
veritable weak link that the formidable ranks of those
fighting back furiously to
preserve the existing corrupt
order are already capitalising on.
The President simply does not
need this. Many are willing to concede that he is only
demonstrating political naiveté;
now, however, is the time to
radically change tactics.
The country is in a bad shape,
compelling that all efforts be made to rally all segments of the
polity behind measures to
reverse economic recession,
defeat terrorism in the North-
East, renewed militancy and
sabotage in the South-South zone, Fulani herdsmen’s
terrorism in the North-Central
and general insecurity across the
country. The government
admitted that the country is
technically in recession last week, while Bloomberg
reported that foreign reserves
fell to just over $26 billion in
June; oil production also fell to
about 1.6 million barrels per day,
while over 4,440 megawatts of power were lost last week, both
due to sabotage of crude and
gas facilities by criminals in the
Niger Delta region. Meanwhile,
though seriously degraded,
Boko Haram terrorists are recovering their ability to
ambush and inflict casualties on
Nigerian troops.
More importantly, the South-East
and South-South zones voted
massively against Buhari, who is deepening their alienation from
his government by his lopsided
appointments. But in truly
democratic societies, elected
leaders go all out to unite their
people after elections. Apart from meeting the constitutional
requirement that a minister be
appointed from each of the 36
states, the two zones are
sparsely represented in the
Federal Government. If some past presidents indulged in
primitive sectionalism, Buhari
should not. Olusegun Obasanjo,
alone among our last four
presidents, significantly sought
to rise above such primordial instincts. Buhari, also a former
military head of state, and senior
citizen, ought to do better,
having tried and failed thrice
before to win the Presidency
exclusively with Northern votes. His party, the All Progressives
Congress, the National Assembly
and civil society groups should
be more vigorous in resisting
this trend.
It is time to put an end to this provincial inclination. Nigeria has
over 250 ethnic nationalities and
wide disparities in culture. If, as
Buhari wrongly repeats that
Nigeria’s unity is inviolable, why
then does he alienate many Nigerians with appointments?
Until we take the right, inevitable
step of restructuring the country,
the minimum expected of a
Nigerian president is to ensure
equity in federal appointments.