Because they failed to voice strong opposition to Buhari’s appointments, the president took their silence as positive endorsement of his decisions.
What exactly do senators from the South East aim to achieve by debating the skewed nature of appointments made by Muhammadu Buhari since he was elected president in 2015? This is not the right time to challenge those appointments. Senators ought to have expressed their outrage three years ago, when Buhari started to appoint people predominantly from one region of the country to serve as heads of federal agencies, boards, departments, and ministries. And because they failed to voice strong opposition to Buhari’s appointments, the president took their silence as positive endorsement of his decisions.
Senators who have just started to query Buhari’s latest appointments lack the moral character to do so. Buhari’s slanted appointments were and still are in breach of the federal character principle in the Constitution. Yet these senators did not see reason to express disapproval right from the beginning of the term of the government. Last Thursday, July19, 2018, some senators from the South East began to query Buhari’s discriminatory appointments. The senators argued that Buhari has treated the South East unfairly by excluding qualified people from the region from heading government agencies, departments, and boards. While the senators’ sentiments are valid and their arguments unimpeachable, one must question the timing of this expression of anger.
The trigger for the senators’ explosion of resentment was the president’s failure to appoint someone from the South East to head the board of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA). Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who led the chorus of South East senators opposed to Buhari’s appointments, expressed his disappointment with Buhari’s consistent nomination of people from one region to serve as heads of government agencies.
Ekweremadu referred to Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution (amended) that addressed the federal character principle and argued the Constitution was unambiguous on how federal appointments should be made to reflect equity.
He said: “I don’t have problem with any part of Nigeria. But I have problem with the way government is directing its appointments. Over the last two to three weeks, Sir, we have had cause to either discuss this FERMA that has been announced today or the NDIC or AMCON or FCSC. The heads of all these parastatals have come from one particular part of Nigeria and this is completely unfair. We can’t sit in this Senate and allow that to go on. So, I believe that we need to point it out to the federal executive to ensure that every part of Nigeria is represented in the running of Nigeria … This is completely unacceptable to me, Sir. I am talking of the leadership of these agencies. The leadership of these agencies, all of them, have come from one part of Nigeria.”
It is odd that senators who maintained silence over Buhari’s appointments over the past three years should now start to express anger over the president’s inability to reflect federal character in his appointments. The senators’ sudden reaction is flawed on all grounds. It is too little and too late. If the senators had kept their eyes on the ball, they would have noticed that Buhari’s appointments have remained one-sided. Previous appointments were weighted heavily in favour of people from one region of the country. The senators should have made substantial noise at the earliest time to remind Buhari of his pledge and constitutional obligation to serve in the interest of the nation.
Why did it take South East senators this long to realise that Buhari’s appointments were biased against their own region? While citizens have asked serious questions about the calibre, qualifications, experience, skills, background, training, and regional representativeness of the people appointed by Buhari, the senators had remained unashamedly silent.
In 2015, Buhari’s advisers on media and publicity argued unimpressively that appointments made by the president were based chiefly on merit. The implication was that only the president’s region had the capacity to produce qualified, experienced, intelligent, and wise citizens fit to serve at the most senior levels of government. That wacky argument turned reason on its head. Could merit be the underlying benchmark used by Buhari in appointing federal officials? Most certainly the argument served the interests of those pushing that idea. It is preposterous to argue that, in a diverse, multcultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, only the North could produce people who have the qualifications, experience, and expertise suitable to be appointed as heads of government departments and agencies.
Slanted federal appointments and the arguments used to support them seriously undermine the idea that Nigeria is a united country. Senators who were alert to their responsibilities should have questioned a long time ago the extent to which Buhari’s appointments unified or divided the country, including the extent to which one region is consistently presented as superior to other regions. If Nigeria’s unity must be defended, it must be based on the practical understanding that every citizen is equal before the law, that every region is equal, that every citizen is accorded equal opportunity to improve themselves, and that every citizen has the right to employment in federal agencies, ministries, or departments without prejudicial consideration of their religion, ethnicity, region of origin, or political party affiliation.
Senators should have joined the national outrage that erupted soon after Buhari announced the names of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the Chief of Staff, and the heads of other government departments. That was the time many citizens expressed disappointment with Buhari for failing to reflect regional balance in the appointment of senior government officials and members of his cabinet.
It is obvious that when Buhari consis tently appointed people from one section of the country to serve his government and marginalised people from other regions, his actions implied that people in other regions did not matter, or that they were inexperienced, incompetent, untrained, and without qualifications.
It is fitting to conclude this analysis by drawing on the views of two prominent northerners in their responses to Buhari’s skewed appointments in 2015. Former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav, conveyed openly his disappointment over the lack of balance in the geographic origin of people appointed by Buhari. Tsav said: “I see the appointments as lopsided. Nigeria is too big to have majority of the appointees from one section of the country. We have competent people in every part of Nigeria. For that reason, he (Buhari) should spread the appointments to every part of Nigeria.”
The same views were expressed by Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, the chairperson of the Northern Elders Council. He said Buhari’s appointments tended to favour people in the president’s geographic region because that was the region that voted massively for Buhari. But he also said perceptively: “In Nigeria today, we have competent people all over the country, no doubt about it … We have people with university education and working experience all over the country. So, we are not in dire need of competent people because they are everywhere.”