Again, federal vs presidential character

President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: BAYO OMOBORIOWO

For the umpteenth time in the life of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, alleged lopsided composition of the bodies in charge of national security and defence has come under fire. This is not a good discussion point at this time but it has become recurrent as it has not been addressed by the authorities. It crops up regularly like a sore thumb. This newspaper has repeatedly urged the authorities to pay attention to the political importance of the subject (the national question) even within the context of our complex diversity as the constitution too addresses it aptly– as ‘federal character’ that must be respected by the leadership at all times.

Which was why it was not a surprise, after all, when senators from the South-east geopolitical zone the other day protested the non-representation of the zone in both the National Defence Council (NDC) and the National Security Council (NSC).  The NDC and NSC are advisory bodies on public security. A motion by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Senator Victor Umeh and supported by Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe had called on President Buhari to, for the purpose of equity as well as in fulfillment of the federal character principle stipulated in the constitution, appoint an officer from the South-East as a Service Chief.

Such appointment will automatically make the appointee a member of both the NDC and the NSC and, this, in the opinion of Umeh would alleviate South-easterners’ “feelings of isolation and neglect.”

The prayer of the distinguished senator failed however because the lawmakers could not reach a consensus on the motion and it was merely “noted”. The deputy leader of the Senate, APC Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah reportedly opposed the motion on the argument that “it has never been a deliberate (policy of any government since 1999 to exclude any section of the country in appointments.” Senator Barau Jibrin contradicted Umeh to say that indeed, Foreign Affairs Minister Godfrey Onyeama is a member of the National Security Council. This is unhelpful sophistry.

It is a pity that, on the very sensitive matter of equitable representation in federal appointments, this administration has obdurately disrespected the letter and spirit of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

As this newspaper had previously noted on the same subject matter, some sections of the constitution enjoin broad inclusiveness in such appointments.  Specifically, Chapter II (14)(3) states 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 state or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government, or in any of its agencies.”

Preceding this provision, Section 2 (c) demands of any government in power that, “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured…” Similarly, Section 15((4) stipulates that “the State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.” The national ethics includes, in Section 23 “Social Justice”; this echoes a fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy in Section 14(1) that “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.” Social justice, it is necessary to state, is simply put, the equitable distribution among members and segments of society of the available resources, opportunities and privileges. Social justice is therefore, according to the subsisting constitution, commanded as both an ethos, and a “characteristic spirit” and a pillar of structure of the Nigerian State.

Not done, the guiding document for the governance of the Nigerian State obligates “every citizen” in (Section 24(c) to, “respect the dignity of other citizens and the rights and legitimate interest of other, and live in unity and harmony and in the spirit of common brotherhood.”

Besides, it is for this purpose that Nigeria as a plural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural society, the drafters of the constitution repeatedly employ clauses, words and phrases that not only urge sensitivity to, and respect for this diversity, but encourage that both leader and citizens build on the strength and benefits derivable therefrom. Plural societies, including even the advanced modern democracies design their peculiar mechanisms to achieve inclusiveness that no one is left in the cold. This explains the constitutional provision for a “federal character” interpreted to mean “the distinctive desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty, and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation…”

To this egalitarian end, a Federal Character Commission is in place to, among other functions, “work out an equitable formula subject to the approval of the National Assembly, for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the public service of the Federation and of the states, the armed forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force, and other government security agencies, government-owned companies and parastatals of the states.”

Even if no government has ever achieved the lofty aims intended in the constitution, in this connection, there is a sense in which it can be claimed that the current government appears the most cynically unconcerned about the constitutional obligations of government to reflect the federal character in public appointments. Carrying about this way, in complete disregard for the letter and the spirit of pluralism and federalism, the Buhari administration allows itself to be distracted needlessly by group and sectional complaints that it can do without, that it can resolve so simply. Is it arrogance of power? No one can say why this government has chosen to go down a nepotistic and self-limiting.

The phrase Federal Character was first used by the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed in his address to the opening session of the Constitution Drafting Committee on Saturday, October 18, 1975. Federal Character of Nigeria, according to the CDC’s report of 1977, refers to the distinctive desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation notwithstanding the diversities of ethnic origin, culture, language or religion which may exist and which it is their desire to nourish, harness to the enrichment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Federal Character principle has its root in proneness for fairness. The 50 wise men who drafted the 1979 Constitution understood that disposition. They justified the entrenchment of the federal character principle in our constitution using the following words: ‘There had in the past been inter-ethnic rivalry to secure the domination of government by one ethnic group or combination of ethnic groups to the exclusion of others. It is therefore essential to have some provision to ensure that the predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups is avoided in the composition of government, in the appointment or election of persons to high offices in the state…’

Therefore, whimsical violation of the principle of federal character is not only a bad precedent, but also a potent demonstration that government does not care about the organic law of the land. This is not a good commentary on the way our current leaders claim they are setting blocks for nation building at this time.

On the whole, it is curious too why the Federal Character Commission has never questioned the actions of those in authorities on this serious constitutional breach. That too is a failure of character of the Federal Character Commission.

We can only remind President Muhammadu Buhari on whose desk the buck stops that he is on oath to, “strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution…”

All told, the President should not allow his personal interest to influence in his official decisions. He, as father of the nation, should do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and to devote  himself to the service and well-being of  the people of Nigeria.That is the only way he can command the respect of all and earn good judgment of history.

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