Ekweremadu: Federal Character Principle Needs Drastic Reform

Segun James

Following disenchantments over the issue of recruitments into the public service which have been generating huge outcry recently, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, has called for a drastic reform of the federal character principle in order to move the nation forward.

Ekweremadu’s position is contained in a new book entitled: ‘Who will love my country: Ideas of building the Nigeria of our dreams’ due for public presentation this month.

The senator posited that the fears of “marginalisation” that has suppressed meritocracy in the recruitments into the public service were largely unfounded, affirming that qualified Nigerians could be found in every part of the country.

While noting that federal character has played an important role in fostering national unity and promoting cross cultural interactions, he, however, admitted that it has over time been abused and exploited to put mediocrity at the expense of merit in the leadership recruitment process.

“The reality is that federal character, like any human enterprise, has been abused and exploited and is in dire need of reform. Regrettably, federal character has become a euphemism for recruiting unqualified people into the public service.

“Those who engage in this conduct, wittingly or unwittingly, increase the polarisation of Nigeria along ethnic lines by redefining federal character to include hiring unqualified and clearly unsuitable people just because of their ethnic origin,” he said.

Ekweremadu argued that champions of the use of federal character have rather used the principle to uplift mostly their kith and kin at the expense of the larger population in their own ethnic groups.

“I am profoundly disturbed by any attempt to staff our public service with people hired, not for their talent or qualifications, but simply because of their state of origin or connections in high places. Some people fear that employment standards have been recalibrated to accommodate the employment of people whose chief qualification seems to be that they come from a particular geographical zone.

“These employees decrease productivity, weaken our public service, and ultimately render it inefficient. Employment should, as far as practicable, be based on merit and not distorted by patronage, nepotism or tribalism. Federal character is designed to ensure that government jobs and positions are not disproportionately occupied by particular ethnic groups to the exclusion of others.

“Federal character, as currently administered, risks undermining the integrity of recruitment in the federal public service, and we must re-examine the way it is administered. Ethnicity is a reality in Nigeria, and people would have to be irrational or willfully blind not to care about it.

“But we must understand that federal character does not mandate ignoring or even lowering recruitment requirements to accommodate any ethnic or geographical zone. We must counter the all-too prevalent notion that federal character is a code word for filling the public service with citizens from our ethnic zones regardless of their qualification or fitness for available openings in the public service. Using federal character as a euphemism for recruiting incompetent and ill-qualified relatives and cronies is a recipe for political instability, economic stagnation, and failure,” the deputy Senate president stated.

The 159-page book, he also has commentaries on the electoral process, party politics, revamping of public institutions, corruption and poverty reduction among others.

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