President Muhammadu Buhari has faced an avalanche of criticisms as regards the appointments he has made thus far. Apart from the perceived lethargy in the constitution of his cabinet, the President has been accused of regional bias in the appointments he has made. Most of his key personnel, it is argued are from the north. This is indisputable. But does that detract from the possibility of good governance? I don’t think so. For me, it is the calibre and integrity of those appointed to public office that matters more than their region, ethnic or religious orientation. There appears to me to be some tension between the need to balance appointments ethnically and regionally and the utilisation of public office as a means of primitive accumulation.
It would appear that the quest for public office is more due to the benefits that accrue to the office than the desire for public service. Yes, the 1999 constitution has its limitations. But it has its merits. For instance, it requires that the President must have a nationally valid vote that cuts across ethno-regional demarcations. The President is the custodian of a national mandate. Any appointment that he makes is subject to this rule. This is why the hue and cry about PMB’s appointments is in my view completely misplaced. , Under the 1999 constitution, the President wields a national mandate. All his appointments are supposed to be in the national interest. Is the president, in this regard, obliged to pick Cabinet members from the 36 states? I don’t think so. Every member of the Federal executive Council is meant to serve the country’s national interest and not that of the state he or she is from.
The unhealthy preoccupation with appointments at the federal level is a function of a more fundamental problem. This is due essentially to the over-centralisation of the Nigerian state and our current Unitarism that masquerades as federalism. Ideally, our constitutional federalism should solve the problem of every ethnic/nationality group wanting to be represented at the national level. For, the people have also been represented at local government and state levels.
It does appear that the excessive concern with appointments at the federal level is fundamentally a function of the excessive concentration of powers and responsibilities and powers at the centre. Thus, everyone wants to have his or her own person appointed to one office or the other at the federal level. This is not unconnected with what the late Claude Ake described as the utilisation of state office as a means of primitive accumulation.
Ideally, the federal constitution should ensure that everybody is adequately represented at various levels of governance from the local government through the states to the federal government. If that is so, then the pressure for appointments at the federal level will be grossly reduced. Again, what does membership of the Federal Executive Council mean? Are ministers representing their states of origin or are they meant to pursue the national interest?
It is my view that the preoccupation with PMB’s timing and ethno-regional composition of his appointees is a function of the prebendal character of the Nigerian state. Yes, every component group of a complex federal polity like ours must be adequately represented in governance. But when public office is perceived and utilised as a means of primitive accumulation, it negates the essence of good governance in the overall national interest. I agree that any president’s appointees must reflect the ethno-regional composition of the nation. However, that must be secondary to the factors of merit and integrity’. There is, of course, merit in the view that talents abound in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. But every President has the prerogative of choosing the men and women to work with based on his antecedents, values, associations and experiences.
Professor Isaac Adewole’s clarrifications on Unibadan vc race
I received a call from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Issac Adewole last Saturday. The distinguished academic and administrator was ever so courteous and gracious. He betrayed no irritation or anger at my critique of the UNIBADAN VC selection process. He offered to make available to me the files on the VC selection process if I desired. Contrary to my contention, he said that Professor Adigun Agbaje was indeed interviewed like all the 13 applicants for the position of VC. He raised other issues which I would have liked to contend with. However, I appreciate the gesture of the distinguished professor and will let matters rest as they are. This column wishes Professor Olayinka a successful tenure as VC of Nigeria’s premier university.