Federal Republic of Inequality


Nigerians under President Muhammadu Buhari are not being treated equally and it’s an anathema to the nation’s professed unity, reckons Magnus Onyibe

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the country we all call our own. Our country comprises about 250 tribes or ethnic nationalities with the main ones being Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Kanuri, Ijaw, Nupe, Calabari, Tiv, Ijebu, lgara, Urhobo, jukun, Idoma, Fufulde, Ika Ibibio, Edo etc. In the inaugural speech of President Muhamadu Buhari on May 29, 2015, he was famously quoted as saying: “I belong to everyone, I belong to no one.”

That very welcoming and reassuring remark, which resonated very well with most Nigerians, became a quotable quote that featured in myriads of comments in the mainstream and online media, just as it also became a talking head in torrents of radio and television shows. The reason the quote was significant is quite simple.

In the run up to the 2015 general election, campaign rhetoric vaunting ethnic and regional sentiments were so rife that Nigeria became too polarised in such manner that the Hausa/Fulani in the northern parts of Nigeria were stacked behind, ex-military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the Hausa/Fulani stock, while the lgbos, ljaws and other minority tribes in the South-east and South-south part of Nigeria queued up behind the then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, who is ljaw, and one of their own.

The Yoruba in the South-west, who having had a shot at the presidency from 1999 to 2007, when ex-army general, Olusegun Obasanjo transited from prison to presidency, became the bride to be wooed by both the political forces from the north and South-south parts of Nigeria. In the end, the Yoruba aligned with the north through acceptance of the vice-president slot, which the acclaimed leader of the Yoruba, Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, conceded to a man of impeccable character, an evangelical pastor, his longtime ally and former attorney general of Lagos State, Yemi Osinbajo.

Prior to his success at the 2015 polls, President Buhari had tried and failed to successfully clinch the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011 but on each of those occasions that he lost, Buhari swept the votes in the core northern states like Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto etcetera, sometimes garnering about 12 million votes.

Even with Yoruba’s vote in the kitty, Buhari still needed the votes from the South-east and South-south to fulfill the constitutional requirements that votes must be garnered from all parts of Nigeria for a candidate to be deemed to have won. This is to ensure that a situation whereby a particular candidate from an ethnic group with superior numerical strength, does not ride into the presidency relying only on votes from his Kith and kin.

That’s how Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State, the heart of South-south, now Minister of Transport and Rochas Okorocha, incumbent governor of Imo State, the ground zero of Igboland, became the game changers. With their support, substantial votes in Rivers and Imo States were brought into Buhari’s kitty that already had the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba votes and the rest, as they say is history.

Politics is a game of strategy and democracy is also about numbers of people that politicians are able to swing to their side, which justifies the political dictum, majority carries the vote.

In 2015, Buhari reached out and built bridges across many deserts and rainforests into Yorubaland as well as crossed many bridges and rivers into Igbo and lkwere/calabari mangroves and creeks and he reaped the reward of the hard work by becoming Nigeria’s number one citizen.

Now, it’s payback time. In politics as in business, settling IOUs is usually a very testy experience.
In what many thought was a Freudian slip like the one famously made by British Prime Minister, David Cameroon about Nigeria being a ‘fantastically corrupt’ country, in the wake of the anti-corruption summit in London recently, President Buhari during an interactive session with some Nigerians and Americans on the sideline of his visit to the USA, stated that he could not be expected to treat the 95% who voted for him in the north equally with the less than 5% who voted in the South.

As expected in a multicultural multiethnic and multi-religious society, the comment got twisted and dissected with all manners of bias on online media platforms. Unsurprisingly, many members of the elite commentariat also took the president up on the remark from the optics of the numerous ethnic and other primordial sentiments, and I thought the high level of condemnation would challenge the president to offer some clarifications but that was not the case.

With the public hue and cry about appointments so far made into executive positions, it would appear that the president is sticking to his guns – literarily – to reward mainly voters from his home base by skewing appointments in their favor. Check out the list of appointments into sensitive and critical security, safety, intelligence and elections sector under the current regime making the rounds in the social media:

(1)Inspector General of Police- North
(2)Director General of Directorate of State Security Service, DSS- North
(3)Chief of Army Staff- North
(4)Chief of Naval staff – North
(5)National Security Adviser, NSA- North
(6) Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commisdion, EFCC – North
(7) Head of Immigration Service- North
(8)Head of Customs Service-North
(9) Head of Civil Defense Corps- North
(10) Defense Minister- North
(11)Controller of Prisons -North
(12) Chairman of INEC – North

Hitherto, even under military rule, the positions listed above were spread amongst people from the 250 ethnic nationalities earlier listed particularly amongst the three major groups, Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.

If the recent interview, claimed to have been granted Hausa service of the BBC is to be believed, the president is making a case that appointment of mostly close associates from his ethnic nationality into public offices in disregard of the provision by the Federal Character Commission is justified by the constitution, but is it?
In response to the allegation, below is a transcription of what the president is believed to have said on the radio programme:

“If they will do justice to me, as an elected Nigerian president, let them look at the constitution (that) a Nigerian president works with; there are people who will closely work with me that don’t need to be taken to the senate”. The president is very correct on that count.

“If I select people whom I know quite well in my political party (with) whom we came all the way right from APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situations, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong?”

The snag here is that the men heading the security and strategic arms of government listed earlier are supposed to be professionals, not card carrying members of any political parties hence the last part of the president’s justification does not gel with the provision in the 1999 Nigerian constitution.

In any case, I suspect that the statement was made when he appointed Babachar David Lawal as secretary to the Federal government, even though it is now being presented as if it is in response to the recent appointments.

However, since the president did not specifically mention the section of the Nigerian constitution that empowers him to be tribalistic in appointments, he must have obviously been misquoted by mischief makers, nevertheless, let’s take a cursory look at the act establishing the FCC, which is an entity constitutionally vested with the authority to ensure that a balance is maintained in appointments into federal government public and civil services amongst other functions.

Information on the website of the Federal Executive Body indicate that the Federal Character Commission was established by Act No 34 of 1996 to implement and enforce the Federal Character Principle of fairness and equity in distribution of public posts and socioeconomic infrastructure among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to the provisions of 1999 Constitution in Sections 14 and 153, “The composition of Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria and the need to promote National unity and also command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that government or in any agencies.”

From the law cited above, the grundnorm guiding the principle of federal character is clear. With the tension between the executive and the legislative arms of government, rearing its ugly head again, one can never tell what could become the ‘banana peel’ or Achilles’s heels of the president. I personally do not believe that there is a compliance desk presently in Aso Rock villa, otherwise these political ‘blind spots’ could have been spotted from afar and avoided by the president whom I believe listens.

Here is my evidence that President Buhari listens: During the campaign for the presidency, opponents dug up then presidential candidate, Buhari’s not too palatable record as a military dictator, who convicted journalists like Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson retrospectively and authorised the execution of drug offenders with similarly back dated laws when he was head of state.

In an article titled: “When A Public Mistake Requires An Old Fashioned Apology”, published on the back page of THISDAY newspaper and other mainstream and online media platforms, I suggested that as a leader, Buhari and his opponent, Goodluck Jonathan should apologise to Nigerians for their past mistakes. None of the candidates heeded the advice at the time, but when Buhari later met Tunde Thompson, he reportedly personally expressed his regret even though he defended his actions that time as being an inevitable decision that had to be made and did not admit guilt, which was fair enough.

Amongst other demonstrations of ability to be a listening leader, President Buhari, who initially resisted the removal of fuel subsidy, later acquiesced to it. He was also against devaluing the naira but our currency is now floating and he threatened to apply deadly force in dealing with Niger Delta militants, but he has similarly backed down, allowing the application of dialogue for peace to prevail. To me, these are some of the critical milestones that signify accommodation of other views, so I won’t join the list of critics classifying President Buhari as an autocratic leader.

Although the good gestures listed above do not quite net off the fact that pro-Biafra agitator Nnamdi Kalu, alleged defence funds abuser, Sambo Dasuki and fiery Shiite preacher, El Zazarkky, as well as Femi Fani-Kayode, another accused defence funds co-conspirator, are still incarcerated after being granted bail by law courts, it is hoped that very shortly, President Buhari’s humane spirit would be stoked for him to authorise the release of these men even on compassionate grounds.

According to recent reports in the media, the president reportedly complained that Nigeria is proving to be difficult to govern. Having admitted that there is too much stress involved in leading Nigeria, not adhering to the rules of fairness and equity ingrained in FCC law in the appointment of Nigerians into public offices to balance the ethnic and religious realities in the country can only create more tension and subsequently more stress for him.

So why can’t the president do the most equitable thing already stipulated in the 1999 constitution by spreading the appointments nationally and avoid more stress?

-Onyibe, a development strategist and former commissioner in Delta State is an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA

In what many thought was a Freudian slip like the one famously made by British Prime Minister, David Cameroon about Nigeria being a ‘fantastically corrupt’ country, in the wake of the anti-corruption summit in London recently, President Buhari during an interactive session with some Nigerians and Americans on the sideline of his visit to the USA, stated that he could not be expected to treat the 95% who voted for him in the north equally with the less than 5% who voted in the South