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EFCC appointments and federal character

By Editorial Board
19 December 2018   |   4:15 am
A report the other day of non-confirmation by the Senate of the latest nominations by President Muhammadu Buhari to the board of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission...

A report the other day of non-confirmation by the Senate of the latest nominations by President Muhammadu Buhari to the board of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) because the exercise violates the organic law of the land is quite remarkable.

But it is curious and indeed mind-boggling why the relevant screening committee recommended such a confirmation at all, despite its observation that the nominations violated constitutional provision.

The Committee on Anti-Corruption headed by Senator Chukwuka Utazi noted that, with three of the four nominees hailing from the northern region of the country and only one from the southern part, the nominations are “not in strict compliance with the Federal Character Principle as provided in Section 14(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Two geopolitical zones consisting of 11 states were, in this regard, left out.

The breach so observed offers reasonable ground to return the nominations to the President to be redressed. As Senator Ali Ndume rightly noted, the screening committee should have raised the flaw observed rather than recommend an approval of a flawed process. Instead, the Utazi committee chose, for reasons best known to it, to let the violation pass and to say, so disingenuously, that its observation of the breach is “to guide the executive in future nominations.” That recommendation was questionable, misguided. And what is the worth of a Senate committee chairman who could not uphold the letter and spirit of the constitution in carrying out his responsibility?

Besides, it is not too much to expect that a senator of this federal republic should not only know but is duty-bound to insist upon the implementation of the various constitutional provisions for inclusiveness in the business of government at all levels. The point needs to be made pointblank that the Utazi committee failed the nation in an important aspect of its duty to it.

Because Nigeria is a plural, multiethnic, multi-religious, multilingual, multi-sectional society, the 1999 Constitution provides in Section 14 (3)  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 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 ggovernment or in any of its agencies.”

Indeed, to give effect to this broad provision, a constitutional body, the Federal Character Commission (FCC) is in place to, “work out an equitable formula, subject to the  approval of the National Assembly, for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the  public service of the ffederation and of the states, the armed forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force,  and other government security agencies, government owned companies and parastatals of states.”

Most especially because of the prominence as well as the high visibility of the EFCC in the affairs of the nation, there is every reason that the appointment to the Commission should be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure its personnel composition at all levels respects and reflects Nigeria’s complex diversity. It must be noted that virtually all appointments to the 22-man board of the commission are, directly or indirectly, appointed by the president. The EFCC Act, 2004  Section 2 provides for two full-time members namely the Executive Chairman, and the Secretary and 20 part-time members drawn from diverse areas of government including Nigeria Police, Foreign Affairs, Central Bank, Justice, Insurance and Corporate Affairs Commission.

In Nigeria under President Buhari, only very few government ministry, departments and agencies are not headed by persons from one section of this multi-ethnic country. Ipso facto, there is a glaring lopsidedness on the EFCC board even without the “four eminent Nigerians with cognate experience in…finance, banking, or accounting…”. And when Buhari decides to fill the four board positions, he has in his wisdom chosen to pick three from the North and one from the South. This is unfortunate.

For too long, this president has carried about (some would say with arrogance of sorts) as if there was a paucity of capable hands anywhere in Nigeria except in his own section thereof. He has been reported to claim that his appointments reflect people he is comfortable to work with. This is most regrettable that one who seeks to lead this plural country cannot free himself from sectionalism nurtured by parochilism which, in consequence, denies him the quality of broad thinking and worldview needed to solve complex national problems. Nepotism is writ large in the appointments made by this president; no wonder the floundering and incoherence that is so obvious in the management of the affairs of the country and even the political party that put him in power and of which he is a leader.

Besides that it is insensitive to the fostering of a sense of belonging so necessary in this polity, Buhari’s violates the letters and the spirit of relevant sections of an inclusiveness-minded, unity –fostering 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It should also be said, as this paper has said in another editorial that corruption manifests in more ways than financial; nepotism is indeed, a form of corruption.

In clear variance with the promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on which platform he attained his high office, a certain arrogance of power and a contempt for others is discernible in the manner that Buhari runs his government. The APC promised to “entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit” and to “prevent [the] abuse of executive, legislative and public office through greater accountability, transparency, and strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws.  On his part, Buhari is on oath to, “do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will…”

It is reasonable to think that this personal commitment includes faithfully upholding the federal character provisions of the Constitution.As this newspaper has repeatedly stated on this recurrent federal character versus presidential character, there is a sense in which it can be claimed that the current government appears the most cynically unconcerned about the expediency of reflecting the federal character in public appointments.

Lest we forget, this newspaper went down the memory lane on this same subject when we noted that the phrase Federal Character was first used by the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed in his address to the opening session of the Constitution Drafting Committee on Saturday, October 18, 1975. Federal character of Nigeria, according to the CDC’s report of 1977, refers to the distinctive desire of the peoples of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation notwithstanding the diversities of ethnic origin, culture, language or religion which may exist and which it is their desire to nourish, harness to the enrichment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

So, the Federal Character principle has its roots in a proclivity for fairness. The 50 wise men who drafted the 1979 Constitution understood that disposition. They justified the entrenchment of the federal character principle in our constitution using the following words, ‘There had in the past been inter-ethnic rivalry to secure the domination of government by one ethnic group or combination of ethnic groups to the exclusion of others. It is therefore essential to have some provision to ensure that the predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups is avoided in the composition of government, in the appointment or election of persons to high offices in the state…’

Therefore, whimsical violation of the principle of federal character is not only a bad precedent, but also a confirmation that government does not care about the constitution it has sworn to defend. This is a sad commentary on the way our current leaders claim they are setting blocks for nation building at this time. Certainly, President Buhari should renew his mind about parochial appointments if he wants his words that he ‘belongs to nobody’ to be taken seriously.

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