The North-gerian President

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He said at inception that he belonged to no one but everyone. But President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent actions have shown otherwise, writes Segun James

When President Muhammadu Buhari first appointed Dr. Ibe Kachikwu as the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), after headhunting the first class Harvard University graduate from the American oil giant, ExxonMobil, he received accolades from different quarters because the appointment was seen as simply putting a round peg in a round hole. Many more such appointments were however expected of the president, who had made it clear that he was going to be his own man.

“I belong to nobody, I belong to everybody,” was a clear message with nothing to add or remove. This president meant business, Nigerians enthused and the presidential rating nudged inches higher. But the people started wondering what was going on when it took the President all of six months to appoint ministers at a time the economy of the country had begun to nosedive and the naira spinning downwards without control. But the president was unperturbed still.

Just then, new appointments followed, and at every turn, persons from the northern region began to get not just the key appointments, but all the available positions in some instances. Left in the hard-biting cold were the people of Southeast, but more especially the people from the Niger Delta area, the geopolitical region that produces the oil that is the mainstay of the nation’s economy.

But that would be no surprise still because the president had said clearly at the very beginning during one of his trips to the United States that the attention given to each region would be determined by the votes they churned out for his election. It was at the meeting that he espoused the 95 per cent theory. Perhaps, the disadvantaged zones fall in this category of his theory.

The situation got worse when Kachikwu was promoted into redundancy as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and replaced with another northerner as the managing director. Following this and other political and economic missteps, agitators in the Niger Delta have taken up arms against the nation as they started to blow up pipelines and installations across the region.

Men of the Nigerian Armed Forces were deployed to subdue the boys, but the situation has continued to get worse even as the president too is unrelenting in his deliberate marginalisation of other parts of the country in favour of the north, his home zone.

In the last few weeks, the actions and body language of the president has started creating fears among the minority Christians in the core north. Christians are being killed not by Boko Haram militants anymore, but through inexplicable mob actions and needless rampages as Christians are routinely accused of blasphemy and minor infractions and even personal issues.

When a 70-year old woman from the South-east was beheaded by some Islamic radicals in the north, many Nigerians thought that the president should have condemned the action, but the presidency kept mum. When eventually a statement did come, it was to blame the woman.

The reaction of the president, it is believed, must have been seen as a signal by the Islamic radicals as an approval of their action as a few months later, another Christian was beheaded for eating while Muslims were on their annual fast. Again, the reaction came from the government.

But the situation recently crept home to the federal capital, when a lady pastor, who had gone to a part of the Federal Capital Territory, called Kubwa for evangelism was brutally killed by suspected Islamic fundamentalists.
In each of the actions, the perpetrated have never been brought to book and the action swept under the carpets. In the last few months, radicalised suicide bombers have attacked churches and killed worshippers, yet the president wants Nigerians to believe that religion has nothing to do with the business of state.

Could President Muhammadu Buhari be leading an ethnic and religious revolution? Or is the president leading a northernisation project of Nigeria? No matter how ludicrous or laughable the idea may sound, a good number of Nigerians are beginning to believe it may be so and the belief grows each time the president announces a new political appointment.

That this is making the people of southern Nigeria very uncomfortable and alienated can be gleaned from the indignations expressed each time another northerner(s) is announced to head a government parastatal, department or operation without regards to the principle of quota system that has helped to sustain the fragile unity of the nation to point.

According to Mr. Oguche Otagburiagu, the president has never hidden his dislike for the people of the South-east. He warned that the agitation for a Biafran state is gaining support from among the political leadership in the region. Otagburiagu lamented that the Igbo are daily getting disenchanted by the Nigerian nation, which has never favoured them.

If ever there was a moment for President Buhari to pull a political rabbit out of his magic hat that will help to sustain the nation’s nascent democracy, this is it. But each time the president makes a political move that is supposed to move the nation forward, he keeps on pulling out the same handkerchief that portrays and gives the impression that he is playing the ethnic and religious card in his handling of the affairs of the nation.

To Mr. John Ikpaipai, an Urhobo man from Delta State, his greatest disappointment is the refusal of the president to see any Urhobo man worthy of any appointment. “(Goodluck) Jonathan favoured his Ijaw people in his appointments as if only the Ijaw make up the region, now Buhari is just appointing Fulani people everywhere as if the Urhobo don’t matter. Do you know we produce so much oil too? The Ijaw have started to blow up oil installations in their area. Let the president wait for us. We will soon begin, if only that is the only way to get government’s attention.”

But again, the president and his handlers are sometimes smart. Any time there are rumblings in the polity, the presidential handlers usually and quickly throw in a kite in the form of mind-boggling revelations of unfathomable corruption within the system and unbelievable stealing by some politicians, to occupy the minds of Nigerian even as he continues to make appointments that favour the north until the next time around.

Unfortunately, in the last few months, the government is fast beginning to lose credibility in its handling of some thorny political issues, especially among the political leadership, who sees the actions of the government as pushing the nation towards the precipice, particularly in the political appointments that have been made across the political spectrum, which give the impression that president is toying with the unity of the nation.
The impunity with which the president goes about with the appointments so far made is giving the impression that the nation belongs to the north and that nothing can be done by anybody about it.

To most politicians, he is fast creating fears among the political class, a majority of whom that are now trembling with trepidation over the road the president is taking the nation. Day by day, inch by inch, extreme and radical behaviour is creeping ever closer home. If this wasn’t sign enough that Nigerians are getting frustrated by the government, it certainly is a sign that Nigerians are ready to go their separate ways, some reckon.

Alhaji Akintola Alabi, who holds a liberal view of the political equation in the country, wondered if the president is really feeling the pulse of the nation. Alabi, who supports the president’s anti-corruption stance, said he has not given up on Nigeria and urged the president to rise above ethnic and religious sentiment in handling issues, even as he claimed that the women folk, irrespective of where they come from, have not benefitted enough from the present government.

He urged Nigerians to be patient with the president as he meant well for the country even if his action right now may have shown otherwise. He prayed Nigerians to give the president more time as the dividends of his works, especially against corruption in the system begin to bear fruits. He concurred that Nigeria as a country was created on the basis of equality among the tribes, but this is gradually being eroded.

On the contrary, the body language of the president is emboldening people from the north and encouraging the southerners to take up arms against the nation. As the nation continues to move towards the precipice and the economy on downward spiral, the agitation for a “restructuring” of the nation and the need to reevaluate her unity is gaining momentum daily. But the next few months will certainly show the way forward.

Nothing however lent credence to this fear than the recent statement by Buhari’s media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, who said it is not every time the president has to consider federal character while making appointments. Although uncertain if Adesina was discountenancing the principle of federal character enshrined in the constitution, he however said: “Every other parts of the country would be taken care of.”

Speaking as a guest on Sunday Politics, a programme on Channels Television, Adesina added: “There are some (appointments) that are not necessarily subject to federal character,” but did not provide details on the appointments exempted from the application of the federal character principle or if the constitution includes a waiver for such appointments.

He admitted that the appointments made by the president were indeed tilted heavily towards some regions, explaining that the selection of security chiefs was peculiar because hierarchy had to be followed.
“When it is the turn of a person to hold a certain office and you say because he is from a certain region you then bypass him for another person, you have been unfair to that person and also to the system.
“The security system often times operates on hierarchy and efficiency. So, if you have a senior person, who is also efficient and because he comes from a certain region, you bypass him, I think you are being unjust and unfair to somebody,” he added.