Buhari’s appointments vs federal character

With sustained pressure from prominent persons and groups on President Muhammadu Buhari over perceived lopsided federal appointments, KUNLE ODEREMI looks into the demands of the various groups.

Two major provisions guide appointments into federal government institutions. These are the sections that deal with the constitution of the federal cabinet and that of the principle of federal character. They are constitutional frameworks designed to guarantee equity and justice in the Nigerian federation. it is generally assumed that the framers of the Nigerian Constitution came up with those valves not prejudicial to the place of merit, competence and qualifications, as each component part of the country can boast of high calibre men and women worthy to  serve the country.

But the dust and agitation arising from the federal appointments made by President Muhammadu Buhari so far have continued to generate ripples and disquiet in a number of circles. Only last Wednesday, the youth wing of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) came out to strongly express their reservation on the appointments. They besieged the national secretariat of the party in Abuja to register their disenchantment over the skewed appointments. Claiming that the youths contributed immeasurably to the success of the president and his party at the poll, the youths demanded they deserved to be rewarded by the president by making sure fair distribution of federal appointments. They demanded for at least 40 per cent of appointments to be made by Buhari. The national youth leader of the party, Sadiq Abubakar, said they had conveyed their grievances and demands to the presidency.  Abubakar said: “The executive has constituted the council that is the ministers; we haven’t found much of our own representation there as the youth wing of the party. But we have communicated our position to the authorities. I think something is going to come handy for us. We are expecting appointments for heads of parastatals and agencies.”

Barely a week ago, the Catholic bishops Conference of Nigeria raised the issue of lopsided appointments by the president, alleging they favoured a section of the country contrary to the laws of the country.  According to the bishops, such high-handedness was partly responsible for the continued tension, suspicion and conflicts among the various components of the country. “Every government that fails to protect the constitutional rights of her citizens has failed. The leaders of a country should ensure peace and security of his people,” they said.

It was the umpteenth time the Catholic Bishops would challenge the president on the manner of his appointments. In 2018, they stormed the presidency to register their protest which they said lacked the spirit of national unity and integration. He had promised to review the situation. He said no ethnic group or political zone had been deliberately marginalised in the appointments made by his administration. Through the bishops did not express any doubts based on the president’s promise, they pledged to remain the conscience of the society in the quest to guarantee equity and justice. Also, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the coalition of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders (SMBL) and other pressures groups have never wavered in their demand for equity and justice on federal appointments. They had all along denounced the alleged lack of inclusiveness in the appointments made by President Buhari dating back to his first term in office contrary to his earlier promise.

In his inauguration speech in May 2015, the president had pledged to belong to all. “Having just, a few minutes ago, sworn on the Holy Book, I intend to keep my oath and serve as President to all Nigerians. I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody,” he declared. But by September 2017, the Catholic bishops said they needed to voice out strongly because of their frustration over the inequity in federal appointments. They said the government had undermined the ethno-religious and cultural heterogeneity of the country, with potential dire consequences. “The inability of the government to address the inequitable situation in the country has provided breeding ground for violent reactions, protests and agitations, which exploit the grievances of different segments of the country. We insist that merit and ability should be the primary criteria in making appointments and genuine needs the criteria for the distribution of amenities. We urge the government to be always sensitive to the multi-religious and multi-ethnic configuration of the nation,” the bishops stated.

Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution clearly underscores the necessity of application of the principle of federal character in appointments into Ministries, Departments and Agencies MDAs). The primary objective of the provision is to guarantee fairness, equity and justice among the constituent units of the federation. Under the principle, it is required that the country maintain a delicate balance in the distribution of power and resources to promote and sustain inclusiveness. The provision provides that, “The composition of the federal government or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner that as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to protect national unity, also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies.”

In the opinions of many concerned individuals and groups, President Buhari has consistently demonstrated substantial con-compliance with the principle of federal character in all federal appointments, as they are more often than not tilted in favour of the North. Some of the observers even alleged that the majority of the appointments favoureda particular section and ethnic group in the North. The president, in their views, failed to give premium to inclusiveness because the appointments deviated from the letters of the Nigerian constitution.

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The configuration of the appointments made by the president indicates that heads of key institutions came from the North. These institutions include the police, army, defence, security organisations, Customs Service, and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). Some of instances  usually cited by critics to buttress their position were the appointments of Boss Mustapha as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Abba Kyari from Borno State as his Chief of Staff; Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retd) from Kano State as Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service; Kure Martin Abeshi from Nasarawa State as Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service; and Suleiman Kawu from Kano State as SSA on National Assembly Matters (House) The South-East had demanded that the post of SGF be conceded to the zone so as  to complete the representation of the three major ethnic groups in the country leadership architecture, since the South-West produced the vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

Following the flak provoked by the skewed nature of the appointments, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, had made frantic efforts to stave off the verbal attacks on the administration. He accused the critics of statements capable of creating tension in the country. “When I see people trying to incite others against the President over matters of appointments, I conclude that they are being unfair,” he said.

Other officials of the government said people should look beyond the appointment of ministers, especially following the outcry by some quarters, including the indigenes of the Federal capital territory (FCT) Abuja. Their argument is that the president will soon constitute the boards of federal government agencies and parastatals. But critics claim those appointments will likely take the pattern that threw up the ministers with preponderance of them being loyalists and sympathisers of the ruling APC. With pressure from the Catholic bishops and other pressure groups outside the political circle, will tide change this time as President Buhari promised the clerics in September 2018?

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