Anthony N Z Sani, is the spokesman of Northern delegates in the 2014 National Conference and immediate past national publicity secretary of the pan-Northern umbrella organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). Against the backdrop of raging debate on the status of the Nigerian federation, he bares his mind on the clamour for re-negotiation of Nigeria’s unity, perceived marginalisation of the Southern part of the country in federal appointments, among other issues. KUNLE ODEREMI brings some excerpts of the interview:
There has been hue and cry over appointments made so far by the Buhari administration. How do you see the whole issues surrounding the appointments, especially in view of allegations of favouring the North?
When a party wins election based on its manifesto, it is often a mandate given to it to deliver on its promises, considering each political party represents distinct methods of solving the national problems in a multi party democracy where there is national consensus on problems confronting the nation, but there is no similar consensus on method of solution. It is therefore left for the political party to use its judgment and appoints into government ministers whom it believes can deliver on the promise of its mandate. And in doing so, our constitution demands that each state must have at least one minister for the purpose of carrying every state of the federation along. And I believe this regime has not breached that constitutional provision in its appointments into cabinet of ministers that make up the government.
As to the hue and cry by the South-East and the South-South, as well as the Northern Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that they have been marginalised in other appointments, I believe there is undue emphasis on distribution of appointments as means to achieving the aim of government at the expense of the real purpose of goverment. I have noticed the South-East and the South-South do not see the chairman of NNPC and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, the Head of Service, the Adviser on NASS and the Director General of Budget as from the South-East/South-South. This is not correct and amounts to fault finding.
The Northern CAN may be right in saying Northern Christians should be included in the government for purpose of promoting a sense of belonging among constituent parts of Nigeria. But, they cannot cry too loud because both the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Speaker of House of Representatives, who are their buddies, are seminal members of the government, who should remind the government about the need for such inclusion as internal matter instead of allowing for the exclusion that attracts the attention of CAN. A situation that would make CAN to go public with their complaints despite presence of SGF and Speaker conveys an impression that both the SGF and the Speaker are not mindful of the need to shoo-in Northern Christians for national unity. Such impression is avoidable.
Why does the president favour the North as the appointments are skewed against the South more than a year after the general elections in the country?
I am not sure the appointments have favoured the North unduly. Some people may be right when they say the heads of security apparatus are skewed in favour of the North, considering the fact that only the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff are from the Southern part of Nigeria. But when you consider the portfolios of the ministries that manage the socio-economy, you would see they are skewed towards the South, since only Agriculture and Education are headed by Northerners. Yes, there may be elements of imbalance in some areas, but I do not see any perceived imbalance as deliberately designed to put any region on the short end of the lever.
Is the trend not at variance with Mr President’s oath of office to uphold and respect the Nigerian Constitution, coupled with his promise to be fair and just to all?
Mr President said he would be fair and just to all sections. Yes, he said so. But can appointments alone vitiate his claim? That should not be so, since distributions of major projects and major contracts are also access to state resources. What is more, development concerns ordinary Nigerians more than appointments. It may therefore be more helpful if we can also assume real responsibility for real issues of real concern to ordinary Nigerians by looking at the distribution of development projects and major contracts by zones instead of undue emphasis on appointments that are not of real value to ordinary Nigerians beyond the fact they help make things happen. Matter of distribution of appointments by zones, religion and ethnicity are actually for the elite and not one and the same with development. Take for example, the complaints by the Igbo of marginalisation despite the trite that the Igbo have been part of the Federal Governments-since after the war from 1970- in positions such as the Vice President, Senate Presidents, Speaker of House of Representatives, SGF, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governors, Service Chiefs, Coordinating Minister of the economy and chairman of the ruling party. Also consider how the South-East and the South-South held sway in the immediate past regime yet they cry of marginalisation the most. This shows appointments and development are not one and the same thing.
Is it fair that most of those retired in the military and police top hierarchies are from the South?
I read that the military and the police officers who were recently retired paid the price of their engagement in partisan politics. That many of them happen to be from the South may be because the political leadership was from the South and the officers thought they could play partisan roles and still get away with it. You would recall how President Olusegun Obasanjo retired many military officers perceived to be politically exposed in 1999 and many of them were of Northern extractions for obvious reasons. Somehow, I share the view that military and police officers should not be involved in partisan politics, and retiring those who become partisan is for the larger interest of the nation. We should therefore not read ethnic, religious, regional and partisan colouration to all actions of government. Reading such meaning is divisive and unhelpful. I believe the retirement of military officers, who are partisan or politically exposed, is for larger national interest. Partisan politics, by its nature, is very divisive, especially in a diverse country like Nigeria. And since the military is expected to be the symbol of unity and save guard the country, allowing the military and police officers to engage in partisan politics cannot reasonably be for oneness of the country.
Don’t you see the perceived marginalisation of the South as capable of compounding existing animosity, suspicion and bigotry among the ethnic groups in the land?
Surely, any perceived marginalisation of any constituent part of this country cannot further the cause of national unity precisely because it breeds suspicion and mistrust. But as I have explained earlier, I have not seen any deliberate design by the government to marginalise any part of the country through appointments that are not development by themselves, and, therefore, not of direct concerns to ordinary Nigerians. Even though I support governance as an art of balancing competing demands among constituent parts of a diverse country and among socioeconomic sectors, my aspiration is for a nation where it would not matter the colour of the cat provided it can catch the rats.
It may be helpful to note that the politics of identity called power shift, rotation and zoning are manifestations of failure of leadership which has made communities to come to believe that unless one of their own is in government, they cannot have fair and just access to state resources. Such a zeitgeist is insular and promotes a republic of cloistered communities with strong historical ties to places and particularism as against promotion of relative pluralism. I hope we would get a leadership who would work hard and make the clamour of politics of identity irrelevant. I am sure President Buhari will not be accused of favoritism if at the end of his tenure, his development strides will be seen to be fair and just.
Following the anger over the perceived marginalisation of the South by the present administration, don’t you think it will be proper to re-negotiate the terms of Nigeria’s unity, restructure the federation and implement the final reports of the 2014 National Conference?
As regards the reports of the National Conference of 2014, I have said it over and over again that it is a contradiction for those, who inveigh the 1979/1999 Constitution as not decisions of people of Nigeria despite the fact that an elected Constituent Assembly brought it about, would be the ones who would clamour that recommendations by a conference of unelected delegates be implemented in a democratic setting that has elected legislature in place. This is undemocratic. But, there is nothing wrong in the National Assembly to study the reports, with a view to improving the quality of their deliberations in the course of any attempt to amend the constitution, especially when regard is paid to the fact that many issues were brought into the open which cannot be ignored or forgotten. I therefore share the view of those who posit that no group has the right to compel an elected government to implement a report by a conference of unelected delegates.
But, you would agree with me that restructuring the federation now is capable of eliminating the ugly situations prevalent in the Niger Delta, ethnic agitation in the South-East, and the crises in other troubled spots in the country?
I agree that terrorism; agitations by Biafrans and Niger Delta militants are challenges. But, we cannot allow such challenges by a minority to make us reconsider our togetherness and set our national agenda. That would be defeatist and unacceptable. We better make the most of our diversity by working hard to overcome what divides our people, and in favour of core value of humanity that divide our people.
I have stated my views about the perceived marginalisation. I am not sure the South-West would tell you that the zone is marginalised by way of appointments. I want activists to concentrate on real issues of real concern to real ordinary Nigerians. What is there to renegotiate about restructuring of Nigeria?
I have submitted that the problem of Nigeria has nothing to do with the structure of the country’s structure and form of government, but due to collapse of our national ideals and moral values. I do not know a structure that is universally accepted as “true federalism.” This is because there are no two federal systems that are clones of one another. A federal system has a lot to do with circumstance of its emergence. For example, 13 American colonies came together and formed the United States of America (USA) while in the case of Nigeria, the centre created the states as the federating units. But all federal systems have the same mantra, to wit, a national government that is appropriately balanced by state level power without tilting the country towards a unitary system.
What is more, America tried confederation before evolving into the current status of their federalism. Nigeria has also tried the confederation when it had strong regions with a weak centre during the First Republic. This was abolished by Aguiyi-Ironsi in favour of unitary system that was later supplanted by states as the federating units. So, we have tried all the structures.
We have also tried the parliamentary system; we have tried the military command and unitary systems and are now trying the presidential system. All these systems have worked in other places, including France which operates a combination of presidential and parliamentary systems. So, our challenges are on how best to work hard ceaselessly for order, justice, peace, common decency and prosperity for all, since they are never natural order of things. There is nothing too strong with our centre which share is 52 per cent and there is nothing too weak for states which collectively share is48 per cent.
Why is the North opposed, or afraid of calls for re-negotiation of Nigeria’s unity and indeed restructuring?
The North is not afraid of any restructuring but is saying there is nothing to restructure beyond change of attitudes that can promote peaceful co-existence in a society that is socially diverse, economically empowered and politically active. Those, who clamour for restructuring for each section to develop at their own pace, are asking Nigerians to live as if they are in different countries where some citizens can be in cutting edge while some others would live on knife edge of survival. That would be harbinger for split. Most of us believe the certain benefits of one United Nigeria are more than uncertain gains of split. We cannot allow challenges posed by Minority to redefine our destiny and set our agenda for the worst.
Why do you think the government has remained ambivalent over complaints concerning the list of ambassadorial nominees, as some stakeholders in a couple of states believe the non-inclusion or representation of their states negates the principle of federal character?
I have not bothered to look at the list of the ambassadorial nominees, precisely because I do not see how ambassadors would not promote national interest and instead promote sectional interests. To what end?