I will begin this piece by prefacing my thoughts today with the following questions about President Muhammadu Buhari, and the controversy over his recent appointments: Can a man, who was a serial presidential candidate, with supporters across the country now resort to cronyism as the number one citizen of a diverse nation such as Nigeria? Will a man, who in 2015 campaigned throughout the length and breadth of the country with supporters from different ethnic, religious backgrounds streaming to campaign grounds shoutingSai Baba, now turn around to promote a northern agenda as President?
Is Buhari really an ethnicist masquerading as a nationalist? Did he contest four times to be President just to do the perceived bidding of the North? Can a President, who came into power with a broad coalition of political parties representing different group interests, now turn around to promote sectional interest? Can a statesman, who had been a military Head of State and spent his entire life in public service, promote northern interest in this age and time? No, I hate to believe the President can be boxed into any of these stereotypes. Indeed, it will be a great betrayal for someone like me and ordinary Nigerians, if Mr. President still views Nigeria from the primordial North-South divide. I just hope the President is misunderstood in this matter of appointments.
Now do not get me wrong, as a Nigerian I am not insensitive to the long standing agitation and sentiments that have trailed appointments into public offices in our country. I have also followed since I came of age the debate about ethnic balancing in a nation long wracked by ethnic mistrust. I am also aware that our fault lines are so deep seated that they have caused tensions among the disparate ethnic groups that make up our country.
The need to ensure equity and prevent agitations such as the one that greeted Buhari’s appointments had necessitated the introduction of the Federal Character principle as enshrined in the constitution. Section 13 makes it clear that: “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 a 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.”
Unfortunately, even with the introduction of the so-called quota system to promote inclusiveness in every areas of our national life, the cries of marginalisation continue to grow stringent by those who feel shortchanged by the system. The smaller ethnic groups have always felt dominated by the ‘big three’ ethnic groups. For example, there is the perception by the South that the North has a so-called ‘born-to-rule’ mentality.
The North is thought to have dominated governance and political appointments since independence. Due to the predominance of successive northern governments at the federal level, there is always the perception of a northern agenda in the distribution of resources. Even the so-called ‘dominant’ North felt marginalised after the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua. Before the assumption of Buhari as President, the North had complained that the death of Yar’Adua had denied the region of the Presidency. As one of the world’s most deeply divided countries, every government in power faces a perennial challenge of incorporating diverse ethnic, regional and religious elites into stable power-sharing arrangements.
The imperative of ethnic power sharing has spawned Nigeria’s federal character principle, which constitutionally mandates the equitable political inclusion of indigenes of the country’s 36 federal states. Just as it is playing out under Buhari, a more informal principle involves the pervasive practice of distributing political patronage among six geopolitical zones.
Even with the power sharing arrangement, successive Nigerian administrations have faced bitter suspicions and allegations of ethnic domination and marginalisation. For example, the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency, in particular, provoked intense criticism and widespread opposition in the North for allegedly concentrating key appointments and headships of many strategic public departments and agencies among his Niger Delta kinsmen and the neighbouring South-East.
The concern about marginalisation has again returned under the Buhari government. Of all the decisions the President has taken so far, it is his appointments that have created tension and promoted the conspiracy theory of a northern agenda. His choice of appointees has re-ignited the cries of marginalisation with some Nigerians accusing the President of favouring the North. There is no doubt that this debate will dominate political discourse in the coming months.
Personally, I consider the appointment uproar as a distraction to the more urgent task of nation-building. Now, the fall out will further stoke up tension and worsen our national cohesion. Conspiracy theorists, disgruntled politicians and mischief makers are weaving different tales and creating fears among the populace. Disgruntled politicians are also using the opportunity to score political points.
In the midst of the national confusion that trailed the appointment, Nigerians are, sadly, not asking the pertinent questions that can refocus the narrative into a more productive one: What has appointment got to do with the national question and malaise that confront our nation? How has previous appointments impacted on the lives of the people? Or is it just the feel good factor that an appointee comes from the same geographical zone as one? Why the fixation on appointments? Why are Nigerians not demanding that our government address the real challenges facing the nation?
If you ask me, I do not think Nigerians should bother themselves with who holds which office so far the appointees can deliver. For example, what has been the contribution of our kinsmen who have held political positions in the past? How has the North benefitted from being perpetually in power?
Despite having been in power more than any other geopolitical zone, the North is reputed to have the worst development indices in the country today. It has the highest number of out-of-school children. Do these realities not render the controversy about lopsided appointment pointless? Let’s take a lesson from our immediate political dispensation. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power for six years, yet there were no significant development in the Niger Delta. Jonathan was the President and also had appointees from his ethnic group in various positions. Has the Niger Delta fared better? Was East-West Road completed in the years he was in power? Was Bayelsa transformed into Dubai? Even Otuoke, Jonathan’s hometown, reportedly lacks potable water. Now, it has taken Buhari, a President from the North to begin the clean-up of the environmentally degraded Ogoni after six years of a Niger Delta President. Who is fooling who?
What has appointment got to do with it? I believe Nigerians should spend time on the critical issues of development and nation building rather than spend time on frivolity of who is appointed into which position. Buhari should be allowed to appoint those he considers capable enough to help him realise his election promises because at the end of the day, the buck stops at his table. If he fails, Nigerians should hold him responsible in the next election.