Buhari’s appointments, the constitution and worries of Igbo leaders of thought By Ben Nwabueze

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/THE executive power of the Federal Government vested in the President of Nigeria by section 5 of the Constitution is a frightfully enormous power. In terms of its extent, it embraces all the eight functions set out in my earlier write-up.

They are worth repeating here again for easy understanding, viz taking actions involving execution, including appointment and disciplinary control of executive functionaries of government; execution of the laws – the law of the Constitution and other laws; maintenance of law and order; the determination and conduct of policy; direction and control of the departments of state and their activities; protection or preservation of the properties and instrumentalities of government; co-ordination of the activities of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAS); and lastly pure administration.

In view of the awesome enormousness of the power, it is not unnatural that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari should passionately covet the office, as attested by the fact that he contested for it in four successive presidential elections in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. But what is disquieting is that, while intensely coveting the office because of its enormous powers, he should arrogantly disregard the commands of the Constitution imposing restraints on the way and manner the powers are to be exercised. In fairness to him, the question may be asked whether he knows of the constitutional commands and the restraints they impose on the exercise of his well-known and undoubted powers.

It is hard, however, to believe that, after contesting presidential election for four consecutive times, he is, or can be, ignorant of the limitations with respect to the way and manner for exercising the powers. He must be taken to know of them. His disregard of them cannot, therefore, be other than deliberate and well-calculated. It is necessary at this point to emphasise that constitutionally prescribed manner or form for the exercise of power is nearly as important as the power itself. Our Supreme Court has held that non-compliance with, or violation of, the former attracts the sanction of nullity equally as the perversion or abuse of the power.

Given that he knows of the restraints which the Constitution of the country he desperately wants to rule, imposes on the way and manner the powers of the presidential office are to be exercised, and that his disregard of them is deliberate and well-calculated, the intriguing question arising from his disregard of the constitutional restraints concerns the reasons or motives for it. The reasons or motives may reasonably be inferred from his statements, and actions/conduct as well as from events generally, and these suggest that the disregard is done in furtherance of a pre-determined Islamisation/ Northernisation agenda.

Northernisation agenda

The existence of such agenda is not something conjured up just to discredit him; on the contrary, it is a fact irrefutably attested by his statements, actions/conduct and events generally.

His commitment to the Islamisation agenda was heralded in a speech at a seminar organised by the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria in August 2001 where he (Buhari) publicly declared that he was committed to implementing Sharia law all over the country.

The Islamisation agenda was a significant factor in the APC presidential primary for the 2015 election. The voters at the said primary, who were predominantly moslems from the North, wanted a presidential candidate whom they could confidently rely upon to implement the Sharia agenda, and so voted overwhelmingly for Buhari as the man to be relied upon for the job, giving him 3,430 votes, as against 954 votes for Atiku Abubakar, also a Moslem but not a diehard Islamist like Buhari.

His position as a fervent apostle of the Islamisation/Northernisation agenda was re-affirmed in a speech he, as President-elect, delivered before an audience of exclusively prominent Northern Moslem leaders on May 2, 2015 at Queen Amina Hall, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. “I charge you”, he said with the ardour of a zealot, “to join me as we build a new Northern Nigeria in a generation ………the best investment we can make in the North is not finding oil in the Chad Basin……..we will start with one local government in each state until we get to every school in all of Northern Nigeria…….

To achieve this, I have secured a Northern rehabilitation fund……..to rebuild the North after the devastation of Boko Haram insurgency…… Join me my brothers and sisters and let us finish the work our forefather, Ahmadu Bello, started.” Is it not a sweet, beguiling deceit that the same President-elect should, in another speech, say: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”?

In the ABU Zaria  speech, I venture to say, lies the answer to what some regard as the “puzzle” of his appointments since assuming office as President on May 29, 2015. Of the altogether 31 such appointments, 24 (or nearly 80%) go to the North, seven to the South, distributed four to the South-West, three to the South-South and nil to the South-East. The Islamisation/Northernisation agenda has a link with the President not announcing his ministerial nominees more than three months after his inauguration.

The disdainful delay was not, as is naively thought in some quarters, because of his concern to make sure that only the right persons, the Buhari “saints”, would make the list. Far from that; he simply did not want interference by ministers by way of advice in the vital appointments he has made and in the other crucial actions or decisions he has taken.

Prof Nwabueze

Ministers are an unwanted encumbrance on the regime of personal rule to which his disposition and his antecedents as army commander and head of the military government have accustomed him. He will eventually announce his ministerial nominees but he will be doing so reluctantly and grudgingly. He neither wants nor needs them.

What is said above is largely by way of introduction. The main aim of this write-up is to examine the constitutional commands respecting the way and manner for the exercise of presidential powers, with particular reference to the obligation laid on the President to (i) submit himself to the restraining influence of the advice of ministers both as individuals and collectively at regular meetings with them. (This has been examined in my previous write-up); (ii) to observe and conform to the principles of justice, social justice and equality in the administration of government – both legal equality (or equality before the law) and social equality (embraced in the term social justice); (iii) to treat citizens equally without unfair discrimination based on ethnicity, place of origin, religion, political opinion or sex.

Judicial powers

The restraints of these obligations are not imposed without compelling reasons. The write-up examines the underlying reasons for them.

Commands of the constitution requiring conformance with the principles of justice, social justice and equality in the administration of government

Our Constitution enshrines in its chapter 2, Directive Principles of State Policy which “all organs of government, and all authorities and persons exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers” must, as a matter of constitutional “duty”, “conform to, observe and apply” in governance (section 13). Among the principles so enshrined are those of justice, social justice and equality. Thus, it is declared as follows:

(a) “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice” (section 14(1)).

(b) “The state social order is founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice” (section 17(1)).

(c) “The national ethic shall be …….Social Justice……..” (section 23)

There is another remarkable directive of great significance in this connection. It is commonly referred to as the “federal character” principle. It is contained in section 14(3), and says:

(3) The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to 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 in that Government or in any of its agencies.

Federal character directive

A similar provision is made in subsection (4) as regards a State Government and a local government council. The concentration of 24 out of the 31 (or nearly 80%) appointments so far made by President Buhari is clearly a flagrant violation of the federal character directive.

In furtherance of the principles of justice, social justice and equality declared in sections 14(1), 17(1) and 23, chapter 2 goes on to lay on the state specifically a positive duty to direct its policy towards ensuring equality in the general condition of society, i.e. social equality. In view of the natural inequality among individuals owing to differences between them in physical, intellectual and will power, social equality can only mean equality in the general condition of society secured by the actions of the state. The actions which this requires of the state are set out in some detail in chapter2, but it will over-burden this write-up to examine them here.

More pertinently for present purposes, chapter 2 further directs that “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law”; that “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment” (s.17(3)); that there shall be “equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or on any other grounds whatsoever (s.17(3)(e)), as well as equal educational opportunities at all levels (s. 18(1)).

While, as stated below, the prohibition in the Bill of Rights is limited to discrimination based on the grounds of ethnicity, place of origin, membership of a particular community, sex, religion or political opinion, the directives in Chapter 2 of the Constitution are not so qualified. But the combined effect of the two sets of provisions is that all unfair discriminations, that is to say, discrimination without rational or objective justification, are constitutionally prohibited.