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Lopsided governing council nominations

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Femi Falana


Observation about skewed appointments pointed out the other day by lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana unfortunately is just one of many such lopsidedness of staffing public institutions, including in the headship of sensitive national security agencies, in the country. The trend is worrisome not just for its disdain for the constitutional requirement to reflect the federal character in making such appointments, along with the collateral damage it has on national unity; but also for the seeming lackadaisical attitude of President Muhammadu Buhari in attending to public complaints on the issue.

Falana had rightly pointed out, in a petition he filed for the attention of the Senate, lopsided nominations into the governing council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In the petition, he noted that President Muhammadu Buhari nominated 16 persons for Senate confirmation into the governing council of the NHRC: ‘We have found, to our utter dismay, that three out of the four nominees representing the North West (geopolitical) zone are from Kebbi State, including the chairperson…Mrs. Salamotu Hussaini Suleiman’. Mr. Falana further stated that ‘the South East and the South South zones have [four] representatives each while the South West and the North Central zones have two representatives each. Curiously, the North East zone has no representative in the list (of 16 nominees)’. Mr. Falana deserves commendation.

This list of unbalanced nominations defies common sense and violates the 1999 Constitution, and constitutes one of too many examples of such willful disregard for balance, inclusiveness, and sensitivity to the diversity of Nigeria by this government. And, in spite of complaints by well-intentioned Nigerians of the inappropriateness of this style of governance in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, the Buhari government ignores voices of reason.

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The president’s characteristic lopsided appointments negate on the one hand, the letter and spirit of Section 15 of the extant constitution and on the other hand, violate the intendment and the principle of federal character for which enforcement the 1999 Constitution establishes a Federal Character Commission. The constitution which Mr. Buhari swore to the best of his ability to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ demands in Section 15 (4) that the State (through the actions of government of course) ‘foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties’. Section 14 (3) unequivocally states 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’. Alas, the Buhari administration, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party carries about as if no one reads the ‘grundnorm’ that validates the very existence of this country.

The APC having committed itself in its manifesto, the document of campaign promises to the people, to ‘prevent the abuse of executive, legislative, and public offices through greater accountability, transparency, and strict anti-corruption laws…’, the party, even if the Presidency is so obviously insensitive to provisions of the constitution, cannot conveniently be blind to its own promise to the people of Nigeria? This is a matter of honour about which this party must feel concerned.

The petition by Falana elicits questions about thoroughness within the different arms of government. First, there must be something wrong within the executive arm of this government whereby it seems that no one of discernment, courage, and patriotism notices and points out to the president the impropriety of the nominations and appointments. Pray, what can be a reasonable justification for allotting four slots to some zones, two to some, and absolutely none to one?

Second, why haven’t public officials from the North East zone noted and complained of being shortchanged in the NHRC nominations? Did they not see it or were they too timid to challenge the presidency even if they stand on sound constitutional ground?  Third, there is supposed to be a Senate committee on federal character. What did it have to say on these lopsided nominations?

The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters is reported to advise the Presidency to uphold merit and observe the principle of federal character in its appointments.  That may be useful to a point.  The Senate needs be reminded that, deriving from Section 4 of the Constitution, it has the power to reject nominations that violate provisions of the fundamental objectives and principles of state policy of the constitution.  It is up to the legislative arm to, in the interest of the citizens, live up to its constitutional duty. Regrettably, it has so far failed in this wise.

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Fourth, at what point should the Federal Character Commission (FCC), if it indeed exists, know about the list of nominations for public positions in order to notify the Presidency of a constitutional breach?

The overall picture of this government is one of tardiness, sloppiness, and outright disdain for due process, extant laws, and public opinion. Beside persistent acts of nepotism and inequity, too often, persons -some dead, some not quite alive, some incompetent beyond belief – are given public offices that demand character, competence, and physical and mental strength. This is no way at all to run an effective administration.

It is intolerable that, in violation of the rules that set them up, public institutions are allowed to operate without governing councils, the critical apex units that formulate policy and assure quality in the management of the organization.  Mr. Buhari has left the NHRC, among many others, without a governing council, ‘the highest policy making body of the Commission’, since November 2015 or thereabout. But a governing board is essential to the efficient and effective delivery of an institution’s mandate.

The characteristic delay, in specific respect of the NHRC indicates the low consideration this government gives to human rights and by extension, the primary purpose, as stated in Section 14 (2) (b), for which government exists at all. The Senate has its duty clearly cut out ‘for the peace, order, and good government of the federation’; to reject the list of nominations until the constitutionally proper thing is done. Every section of this country has an inalienable right to be fairly represented at the decision-making table.

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