Addressing marginalisation in Buhari’s cabinet
As Nigerians anxiously wait for President Muhammadu Buhari to make public the composition of his cabinet for his second term in office, many are hopeful that the president will use the opportunity to further unite the country that is fast disintegrating along ethnic, religious and political lines.
The president has been accused of favouring the north in most of his appointments, especially in his selection of service chiefs. The South-south and South-east regions claim to be most neglected during the president’s first tenure.
In July 2015 while addressing issue of inclusive development at the US Institute of Peace, President Buhari had asked the moderator, Johnnie Carson, if he had copies of the election results.
He stated that, “the constituents, for example, gave me 97percent (of the votes) cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me five percent. I think these are political realities.”
Buhari’s brazen utterance about treating a region differently because of the scanty votes he got from them, speaks volume about his understanding of governance in a democracy.
A case in point was the removal of Matthew Seiyefa as the Director General of the Department of State Services in September 2018, replacing him with Yusuf Bich. Shortly after that, the president picked the former Minister of State Budget and National Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed from Kaduna state, to replace Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, a minister from the south west who resigned over certificate forgery scandal.
These appointments and several others reinforced speculations about the president’s insensitivity to the principles of Federal Character in his appointments.
Section 8 of the 1999 constitution empowers the Federal Character Commission to “work out equitable formula subject to the approval of the National Assembly for the distribution of all cadre of post in the public service of the federation and of state, the armed forces of the federation, the Nigerian police and, other government security agencies and government owned companies and parastatals of the state.”
The principle of Federal Character, as contained in Act No. 34 of 1996, which established the Federal Character Commission, is an attempt to entrench fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructure among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Similarly, Section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution stipulates that the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and 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.
Many have clamoured for the scrapping of the principle of Federal Character as they believe the idea is retrogressive and promotes mediocrity over meritocracy. This may not be entirely true, seeing that the principle was formulated in the interest of peace and unity and all regions permitted to present their best candidates for appointments.
Though the president had at his inauguration in 2015, told Nigerians that ‘I belong to everybody, belong to nobody.’ His appointment in the last four years has not been satisfactory to some parts of the country.
Results of the last general election shows that the ruling All Progressives Party is yet to be fully accepted in the south-south and south-east. The political leaning of the south-east seem to have cost the region major appointments during President Buhari’s first tenure, as such positions are usually used to settle political favours in Nigeria.
Currently the south east is not represented in the political hierarchy of the country. While the president and the senate president are both from the north-west and north eastern part of the country, the vice president and speaker of the House of Representatives are from the south-west. The Vice President of the Senate is from the south-south, Deputy Speaker from the north. Interestingly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria is also from the north.
The Youth Council of the Ohaneze Ndigbo are currently clamouring for the position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to be zoned to the south east to correct the perceived marginalisation of the region.
The Presidency had severally denied marginalising any part of the country, insisting that the south has been in charge of key ministries like petroleum, trade and investment, labour and productivity, science and technology, budget and planning.
In November 2017, the Presidency released a full list of Buhari’s appointees to disprove allegations of lopsided appointments. The president’s adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, was reacting to a publication by BusinessDay, which accused Buhari of appointing 81 of his 100 political appointments from his native northern region.
Femi Adeshina’s list included agencies and parastatals headed by Nigerians from the south-south and south east. Some of the agencies include Von, CAC, BPE, NPC, SERVICOM, NIMASA, Auditor General of the Federation, Head of Service, among several others.
Of the 159 appointments made at the time, Ogun state had the highest number of appointments with 21, followed by Imo and Kano states with 15 each, and Edo and Katsina with 14 each. Abuja had no appointee, while Ebonyi and Abia have two each. Kebbi had three, while Zamfara, Sokoto, Oyo, Enugu, Ekiti and Akwa Ibom had four each.
Though there is nothing wrong in the president appointing people he is most comfortable to work with, his habitual appointment of persons from a certain region raises the issues of trust and the place of federal character in those appointments.
The violation of the principle of federal character is not only a bad precedent, but also a demonstration of a government’s indifference about a group of people. Neglecting a whole region based on their voting pattern sends wrong signals that can trigger disaffection in the polity.
While we understand that government appointments should be based on competence and expertise ethnic consideration should be given to every group to present their best brains for government appointments.
President Buhari must take advantage of his second tenure to redeem his image by recognizing the diversity and multi-ethnicity that makes up Nigeria and make appointments that is all inclusive.
Honest and experienced Nigerians can be found in every part of the country. It is therefore up to the states to present their best brains and the president to be willing to work with all Nigerians irrespective of their tribes and regions.