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Opinion: President Buhari, The North And The Dangers Ahead

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

By Inibehe Effiong – The assumption that capacity, antecedents and credibility are the sole parameter guiding the appointments made so far by President Muhammadu Buhari is logically and morally untenable. We cannot be swimming endlessly in the ocean of hypocrisy pretending that there is nothing wrong in President Buhari exuding ethnic bias and bigotry in making key appointments. What competence? Is it the competence of Northerners or is the president so stereotyped that he can only see competent people from a particular section of the country?.

A perfect story for the gods.

Nigeria is an already polarised and deeply divided nation. The least one would have expected from Buhari is to be sensitive to the urgency for national healing and unity. For a man who was rejected by the electorates at three previous elections principally because of the fear that he is a divisive figure whose sense of perception and judgment is dictated by ethnic and religious considerations to be giving credence to the very issue that truncated his previous aspirations for the presidency is to say the least disappointing. We need to tell ourselves the truth, a divided country cannot prosper. The American president, Barrack Obama, said that much when he hosted Buhari recently.

Those canvassing the view that president Buhari is at liberty to make his appointments the way it suits him provided the nation is salvaged are within their constitutional right to freedom of thoughts and expression. This view is unfortunately rather pretentious and simplistic. Development cannot be driven without the cooperation of the citizens and that cooperation is lost when people have a strong perception that the leader is pursuing a primordial interest. One of the hallmarks of responsible and successful leadership is the ability of the leader to galvanise divergent interests in a manner that promotes inclusiveness and a sense of belonging among the mass of the citizenry.

Nigeria is undeniably an heterogeneous country with its attendant cultural, religious, social and political diversity. Our forebears understood the complexity of Nigeria which informed their preference for a federal system of government and even regionalism as practiced in the first republic. When the military stroked in 1966, they set aside the very arrangement that encouraged growth and development. We are yet to recover from that tragic mistake of history.

Upon return to democratic rule, the framers of our Constitution in their wisdom opted for a federation, though imperfect, as contained in Section 2 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). They went further to compliment this provision by inserting the federal character principle in Section 14 (3) of  the Constitution.

The intention and substance of the federal character principle is to ensure 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 State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.

President Buhari has made key appointments into his government in a manner that has undeniably resulted in the predominance of persons from a particular section of the country and ethnic group – the North, in his government. This is not only repulsive to the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria but a brazen violation of the constitutional provisions on federal character. It is hypocritical for people to be agitating for true federation while ignoring the federal character principle.

I support meritocracy. I believe that people should be elected and appointed into leadership positions base on their capacity and credibility to deliver. The issue is not really a contest between meritocracy and federal character. The real issue in controversy is whether president Buhari has wilfully and tactically discriminated against qualified and competent Nigerians from other sections of the country? Discriminatory appointments cannot be excused under the guise meritocracy. Anyone that is unable to find competent and credible people from all parts of a vast country like Nigeria to work with is not suitable for the presidency.

We need to be very practical about the consequences of what the president is doing. An insider in the presidency hinted a friend long before now that the president’s delay in making key appointments was because of intense pressure and insistence from the Northern political class that key positions, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation must come from the North. The source further hinted that president Buhari had personally expressed preference for Mr. Femi Adesina as his spokesperson but was blackmailed by the same Northern political class into equally appointing Mr. Garba Shehu for the same duty for regional balance.

Some commentators in an attempt to justify the president’s discriminatory appointments have stated that his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, did the same thing. But Buhari’s campaigns was premised on change. Nigerians voted for change not for the escalation of the sins and infractions of Jonathan. Others have opined that at the end of the day what really matters is development. That is appealing. But the problem with this contention is that it downplays the complexity of Nigeria. Once there is ethnic mistrust, attention will be focused on sentiments and centrifugal considerations.

As a vociferous supporter of President Buhari, I am worried that the goodwill that brought him to power is dwindling because of his appointments. Buhari needs to appreciate the fact that ethnicity and tribalism is still very much in the blood of Nigerians. We are not not yet a true nation, as such, any leader that wants to succeed must be sensitive to the diverse character of Nigeria.

Those of us who went all out in support of Buhari’s candidacy owe him a responsibility to tell him the truth at all times. Pretensions will not help his administration. I understand many of us who want the president to succeed at all cost are reluctant to disagree with him on any issue to avoid being labelled.

In his attempt to defend the indefensible, presidential media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, stated during an interview on Ray 100.5 FM on Friday August 28, 2015 that president Buhari will “balance” his appointments in September; a clear admission that the appointments so far are not balanced. So what is the argument about if the presidential media aide himself has alluded to the imbalanced nature of the appointments?.

Why do we have quota system in our educational system which gives some states and parts of the country undue advantage over others? Why should a candidate from Akwa Ibom State be required to score far higher than his peer in Borno State in examinations to be eligible for admission? Why do we have some states practicing Sharia law in a so-called secular state? How come that voices that were vociferous in accusing former president Jonathan of “marginalising the North” are now preaching the gospel of meritocracy? How come that the Arewa Consultative Forum has suddenly lost her voice since the emergence of president Buhari? These and many more questions makes it deceitful for anyone to say that the president can make appointments any how.

Our diversity is visible to the blind.

I concede to those who say that politicians have over the years exploited our differences for selfish political gains. But the hard truth is that Buhari is widening our differences by skewing his appointments overly in favour of a section of the country. I agree that technocrats who do not have much vested political interests should be appointed into critical positions. But I strongly disagree that only technocrats from a particular section of the country should be appointed by the president.

Can president Buhari honestly say today by his recent appointments that he belongs to nobody, and that he belongs to everybody?.

President Buhari needs to rise above primordial sentiments. We elected him as the president of Nigeria and not as the head of the Arewa House. This may not be the intention of the president, but perception is very important. I am a pan-Nigerian and pro one Nigeria. If radical remedial measures are not taken by the president to disabuse the minds of members of the public on this perception, every action and policy of his administration in the future may be greeted with allegations of ethnic bias and prejudice and the consequences on the polity and the success of his government are very predictable.

This is the danger that our dear president should avoid and I pray that God should give him a stronger spirit of discernment and the courage to do what is best in the overall interest of Nigeria.

In all, I love Buhari but I love Nigeria the more.

Inibehe Effiong

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