Nationalistic appointments as recipe for national unity (1)
IN a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria, the issue of political appointment is a sensitive one. As such, serious attention should be given to it by the ruling elites who have signed a social contract with the people to govern them at every given period of time. Expectedly, Nigerians are watching with keen interest the unfolding drama in political appointments, who will drive home the change lyrics of President Muhammadu Buhari. As it stands, 30 major appointments have been made, with the North coasting home with the majority of the seats—with 23 of these—leaving the rest to the South in its entirety.
From the latest wave of key appointments announced in a statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, an indigene of Adamawa State is made the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Mr. Abba Kyari from Borno State the Chief of Staff. Other appointments according to the statement, are those of Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service; Mr. Kure Martin Abeshi, Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service, and Suleiman Kawu, Senior Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), leaving Senator Ita Enang, from South South, the only Southerner in the pack as the Senior Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters (Senate). Expectedly, the regional imbalance in these appointments has been greeted with humongous public criticism and considered by many as lacking in federal character, as enshrined in the extant laws of the country. These appointments have called to question the President’s readiness to adhere to the oath of office he took barely three months ago.
Many critics, especially those of Igbo extraction, maintained that the President’s total snubbing of their region in particular, is a deliberate attempt to ‘punish’ them for not voting in his favour in the last electioneering. In fact, they believe the untoward trend will continue unabated due to the ‘hatred’ the President has always had for the Igbos. Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Youth Council did not mince words in its condemnation of the lopsided appointments: “We stand to condemn this glaring hatred for Ndigbo by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. We recall that apart from several other appointments, Buhari’s administration has also appointed Service Chiefs and in a similar manner, he sidelined the South East zone.” These sectionalised appointments are ridiculous and inexplicable, as they are not in line with the spirit and letter of our constitution.
I must confess that I do not envy the job of the President’s publicity team. The duo of Mallam Garba Shehu and Mr. Femi Adesina, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity and Special Adviser on Media to the President respectively, will in the coming days have their cups full rationalising the President’s decision to ‘leave out’ Ndigbo in his bid to ‘purify’ the nation of the self-inflicted ailments that have rocked it for eons. It seems to me that their initial defence of the President having over 500 appointments would be hollow and indeed amount to naught if key appointments keep going to the North. Without being economical with the truth, the actions and inactions of the President leave no one in doubt about his bias and preference for his people. However, there is still room for the Igbos and indeed other southerners to be placated in the much awaited ministerial list billed for this month, September, by handing to them a good number of ‘key’ positions to make up for the initial snubbing of the region.
It is obvious that Nigeria’s democracy is still grappling with the winner-takes-all mentality of the political class. Come to think of it, the North did not single-handedly bring Buhari to power. It took the swift initiative of, and political collaboration with the South West for the President to achieve his decade-long dream of presiding over the affairs of the country in what they termed operation common sense revolution— a feat that eluded him when the South West pitched their tent with the Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled Federal Government.
And this is in spite of his cult-like followership for Buhari in the far North. As an elder-statesman himself, and one who should understand the diversities and intricacies of the Nigerian state from his compelling experience as a former military Head of State, the recurrent issue of political marginalisation, tell-tales of ethno-religious chauvinism, widespread distrust and suspicion of the ruling class among other challenges, should have informed him of the imperative to make his administration all-embracing. Disappointingly, he seems to be justifying the reasons he was not trusted and was consistently ‘antagonised’ in some quarters of the country, “on the basis of his antecedents as an ethno-religious bigot, akin to the proverbial leopard that never sheds its spots.”
On whether or not political appointments should be based on merit, federal character or the prerogative of the President, I daresay that it will be in the interest of national unity for us to stick to the dictate of the constitution, by ensuring that every section of the country is entrusted with a major role in the day-to-day administration of the country. Our nascent democracy, still apparently crawling at 55, is not ready for anything short of that. In the United States, for instance, it is common knowledge that party differences count for nothing in the formation of government.
Opposition plays pivotal roles in government. The Barrack Obama / Hilary Clinton consolidation quickly comes to mind. So do two prominent officials who had served under George Bush, the Secretary of Defence and the chairman of Reserve Bank who was considered an expert in his field. Nigeria will get there someday! We all know we are not yet there. Our sense of diverse nationality is distinct and strong. This was what weighed on the minds of framers of our constitution when they enshrined the principle of federal character in it to promote inclusiveness and sense of togetherness.
To be continued
• Babatunde, a budding entrepreneur, wrote from Ogudu, Lagos.