Punch Editorial Board
CARRIED to power on a groundswell of goodwill and disgust at the thoroughly corrupt Goodluck Jonathan administration, Muhammadu Buhari appears bent on political self-immolation. While he received massive support from across the country to become President, he is by his appointments, presenting himself as a parochial, sectional leader. For the sake of the country’s corporate survival, he should rise above primordial instincts and become a father to all Nigerians.
In his inaugural speech just over a year ago, Buhari promised Nigerians that “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.” But too often, the pledge has been honoured in the breach. Buhari’s sectionalism is not only unprecedented, it could not have come at a worse time. The reality today is that Nigerians are deeply divided. Seventeen years of dashed hopes of progress under a democratic dispensation have reopened the deep fissures in the polity and polarised the populace into mutually suspicious camps. Sectarianism and ethnicity have been rearing their poisonous heads. The presidential election of 2015 was particularly divisive, with some major actors openly deploying base religious and regional sentiments. Add to this the terrible state of the economy that Buhari inherited, headlined by a collapse in global crude oil prices, our main export earner, and the rapacious emptying of the national treasury by previous governments, and you have a seething, discontented people.
It is a sad reality of the Nigerian experience that when crisis − political or economic − hits, segments of the populace retreat into ethnic and sectarian cocoons. It is in this combustible mix that Buhari stubbornly presses ahead with appointments that weigh heavily in favour of his northern regional base.
He struck again last month when he removed Ibe Kachikwu as head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to put a Northerner; named another, Hadiza Bala-Usman, as managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority along with three executive directors, two of whom are also Northerners. Before then, he had ring-fenced himself with appointees from his northern constituency at the Presidency, thereby deepening the long-held fears of many Southerners that he has not overcome his well-known insularity.
But the 1999 Constitution explicitly stipulates in Chapter 14 subsection 3 that the “composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall…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…” Buhari is breaching this with impunity in his appointments. Apart from this, Nigeria’s plural setting demands that no group or ethnic nationality is seen as too domineering in critical areas of governance.
Among his first appointments, even while he dithered on assembling a cabinet: he recalled a retired officer to man the Department of State Services; a former army officer to head the Nigeria Customs Service; a personal acquaintance as Chief of Staff, and loaded the other security and law enforcement agencies heavily in favour of Northerners. While the DSS head is from his hometown, Daura, the others are also almost all Northerners and overwhelmingly Muslims. In spite of public opinion, he replaced the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, a Southerner, with a Northerner, an assistant inspector-general whose ascension induced the retirement in one fell swoop of 21 DIGs and AIGs who were senior to him. This is beyond absurdity.
We declare emphatically that this is corruption. It is wrong to view stealing of government funds as the only form of corruption. A former member of the House of Representatives, Junaid Muhammed, alleges that not only is Buhari sectional in his appointments, several appointees are actually his relatives. Nigerians did not vote against the Jonathan administration’s impunity for corruption, only to be assaulted with another pernicious impunity for cronyism.
Buhari should be told that sectionalism and nepotism are also acts of corruption. You do not wage war against financial corruption while indulging in sectional and sectarian favouritism. It is self-defeating; a veritable weak link that the formidable ranks of those fighting back furiously to preserve the existing corrupt order are already capitalising on. The President simply does not need this. Many are willing to concede that he is only demonstrating political naiveté; now, however, is the time to radically change tactics.
The country is in a bad shape, compelling that all efforts be made to rally all segments of the polity behind measures to reverse economic recession, defeat terrorism in the North-East, renewed militancy and sabotage in the South-South zone, Fulani herdsmen’s terrorism in the North-Central and general insecurity across the country. The government admitted that the country is technically in recession last week, while Bloomberg reported that foreign reserves fell to just over $26 billion in June; oil production also fell to about 1.6 million barrels per day, while over 4,440 megawatts of power were lost last week, both due to sabotage of crude and gas facilities by criminals in the Niger Delta region. Meanwhile, though seriously degraded, Boko Haram terrorists are recovering their ability to ambush and inflict casualties on Nigerian troops.
More importantly, the South-East and South-South zones voted massively against Buhari, who is deepening their alienation from his government by his lopsided appointments. But in truly democratic societies, elected leaders go all out to unite their people after elections. Apart from meeting the constitutional requirement that a minister be appointed from each of the 36 states, the two zones are sparsely represented in the Federal Government. If some past presidents indulged in primitive sectionalism, Buhari should not. Olusegun Obasanjo, alone among our last four presidents, significantly sought to rise above such primordial instincts. Buhari, also a former military head of state, and senior citizen, ought to do better, having tried and failed thrice before to win the Presidency exclusively with Northern votes. His party, the All Progressives Congress, the National Assembly and civil society groups should be more vigorous in resisting this trend.
It is time to put an end to this provincial inclination. Nigeria has over 250 ethnic nationalities and wide disparities in culture. If, as Buhari wrongly repeats that Nigeria’s unity is inviolable, why then does he alienate many Nigerians with appointments? Until we take the right, inevitable step of restructuring the country, the minimum expected of a Nigerian president is to ensure equity in federal appointments.