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Buhari’s curious sermon on national unity

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Buhari. Photo; TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent speech in which he urged Nigerians to promote national unity above sectional interests should not be taken lightly as one of those sundry statements by a leader because the president too needs to examine the logs in his own eye, in this connection.

Doubtless, the president’s opinion on public interest is relevant at this time that most right-thinking members of the public are quite concerned about cracks that have been noticed in managing issues that should promote national unity in this country with complex diversity. That statement from the throne should ordinarily be considered as a reflection of an innate desire of a leader for cohesion in the country he is elected to run.

The trouble with the president’s assertion, however, is that the current perception about the presidency would make most people to claim that it is a tongue-in-cheek statement.

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First, it must be admitted that the country’s leadership has been deluding itself by failing to acknowledge that the country is not working at the moment because of its faulty structure. Not many citizens believe at this time that our leaders are even working for the peace and progress of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Besides, there is a sense in which citizens of this country can claim that most leaders at all levels have more allegiance to their ethnic and religious background than they have to the country. In the circumstances, most leaders in the country waste a lot of time pontificating on national unity without any commitment to its ideals.

The origin of this: In his remark to commemorate the passing out parade of the Cadets of 67 Regular Course and Short Service Course 46 (Army) at the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna, President Buhari called on all Nigerians to subsume their personal and sectional interests into the overall national aspirations of unity, economic prosperity and good governance. He emphasised that despite obvious differences, Nigerians must ensure that their actions and utterances are aimed towards strengthening the country’s democratic framework. In addition, the president reiterated his full confidence in the ability of the Nigerian Army to protect the territorial integrity of the nation, particularly in the ongoing war on terrorism, banditry and kidnapping, among others.

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But we feel that if the president cares about leaving an enduring legacy after his tenure, he must be prepared to remove the beam blurring his recognition of the many mistakes he has made, which rubs off negatively on national cohesion. For instance, how can he justify his appointments of key security, intelligence and defence officers who hail mainly from his section of the country, which is often described as a nation within many nations. How can he preach national unity when most of the key appointments in all sectors hail from his own region of the country? Despite regular complaints from leaders of other regions in the complex diversity, the president has failed to defuse tension arising from the negative perception that our leader is overtly promoting sectionalism. It is, for instance, curious that all the three arms of government in this country – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are headed by citizens of northern extraction who are also of the same religion.

Isn’t the president’s warped appointments the reason for the court action of some prominent leaders from the South seeking declaration that his appointments are “ethnically discriminatory and lopsided,” and in breach of the Federal Character Principle, and therefore unconstitutional, illegal and ultra vires?” Actually the court action is only the more recent of wide criticisms that have trailed President Buhari’s appointments into key positions since 2015.

On the watch of the president, the National Security Adviser, the Defence Minister, the Director General, State Security Service, Director General National Intelligence Agency, the Chief of Army Staff, the Inspector General of Police, the Minister of Police Affairs, the Chief of Air Staff, the Comptrollers-General of Customs, Immigration and Prisons, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission, etc all hail from the North where the president hails from.

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Let’s not talk about executive positions in the oil and transportation sectors, specifically, the land transport and aviation sectors. Let’s leave the details for now. Let’s not go to the United Nations and OPEC appointments so that we do not touch off another debate on national question in this dispensation.

And apart from the SGF, and Head of Civil Service of the Federation, all of those few listed above are of one religion. This has always been an elephant in the room. But the president’s statement about public interest and national unity has touched off the expediency of looking in the direction of the elephant in the room. Can we say all is well with this convoluted federation that most citizens are clamouring for its restructuring?

With as much as 75 per cent of federal appointees into sensitive and influential positions coming from the North and the President’s uninspiring response that he needed people who are loyal and trustworthy to work closely with him, how can national unity be fostered? Surely, there is no justification for picking six of eight service chiefs from the North, and only two from the South. The fact that public-spirited persons, including former presidents have called Buhari’s attention to the risk of his action and he has consistently ignored them, says a lot about his own scanty respect for national unity and stability.

In the main, the President’s call for promotion of national interest above sectional interest appears most irrelevant at this time. How does one expect the ethnic minorities of Kaduna, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Zamfara, Benue and Plateau states among others to embrace national unity when their people are being massacred daily by bandits and nomadic herdsmen and the criminals appear protected and all that the President could do is to appeal for the victims to accommodate their “kinsmen”? Why is there no commitment for the release of Leah Sharibu the only Christian school girl from Dapchi, Yobe State yet to be released?

With Nigerians unsafe from criminal elements and insurgents across the country, government has failed to discharge its constitutional mandate to safeguard the welfare and security of Nigerians, which under Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, “shall be the primary purpose of government”

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Finally, the actions and failures of government at the federal level directly create an environment of distrust among different ethnic groups, thus making the task of a united country almost impossible.

Most Nigerians rightly believe in one united country, strong in its diversity. But they see themselves first from the prism of their ethnic group before seeing themselves as Nigerians. It is imperative therefore to enact a structure that will accord full recognition for their original nationality in terms of political, economic and social appurtenances, including security paraphernalia.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that restructuring of the convoluted structure of the federation has become an idea whose time has come. Autonomy for the states as they were before 1966, will encourage healthy competition among them and discourage waste as well as the current cap-in-hand syndrome to Abuja – for monthly revenue sharing. Realigning many of the exclusive legislative powers of the Federal Government will also reduce the cut-throat rivalry for presidency. The country already has important documents, procured at huge public expenses, to navigate it to a new, more promising structure – of the federation. President Buhari should jettison his fear and muster the political will to save Nigeria before it is too late. This is what should be the focal point of his sermon on national unity.

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