Tuesday, 5th December 2023
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Tinubu, nation building and federal character

By Martins Oloja
02 July 2023   |   5:00 am
Despite the complexity of managing expectations and priorities these days, another time has again come to reflect on this thing called federal character in the context of urgency of nation building.

Despite the complexity of managing expectations and priorities these days, another time has again come to reflect on this thing called federal character in the context of urgency of nation building.

As I have noted here several times, the urgent task before us is how to rebuild this country’s broken walls. I also once wrote here that, ‘we need a Nehemiah,’ that classic example of how to rebuild a nation with only one weapon: passion.

The last administration wasn’t listening to agenda setting, construction and deconstruction even in the media. So many editorials and commentaries were written and spoken on federal character and nation building but the lanky General from Daura didn’t care a hoot about federal character. Nor did he want anyone to talk to him about nation building. And so on his watch, our country was so recklessly divided. It was even on the brink. We no longer have Nigerians. As I was saying, we now have Nigerians of Igbo extraction, Nigerians of Yoruba nation, Nigerians of Fulani origin, Nigerians of Niger-Deltan people, etc…No one is proud to say a simple prayer, “God bless (our) Nigeria” as most people in any congregation would like to ask, Whose Nigeria? On October 9, 2021, I wrote here, “When will Buhari’s character be federal?” https://guardian.ng/opinion/what-will-make-buharis-character-federal/

As I had earlier noted, there were numerous criticisms of former president Buhari on the serial violation of the federal character provisions in the constitution. Sadly, he felt he was above the law till the end of his disastrous tenure. The no-rule-of-law regime of Buhari was so devastating that a lawyer had then sued the President and his Attorney General on their insensitive character that wasn’t federal, after all. The background is worth repeating here:

An Abuja-based lawyer, Festus Onifade, had then in 2021 sued President Buhari before a Federal High Court in Abuja over an alleged gross breach of Nigeria’s constitution in relation to recent Federal Character Commission (FCC) appointments. The President was sued alongside the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, FCC, Mueeba Dankaka and Mohammed Tukur. The grouse of the plaintiff was that Mr. Buhari allegedly violated some provisions of the Nigerian constitution in the manner of his political appointments.

In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/709/2021 and instituted on his behalf by his counsel, Moses Owuru, the plaintiff accused Buhari of violating sections 7 and 8 of the Constitution in the appointments of Ms Dankaka and Mr. Tukur as Executive Chairman and Executive Secretary of the FCC respectively.

The plaintiff alleged that the two appointments were in clear breach of section 4 of the FCC Act having been made from the Northern part of the country. He, therefore, prayed the court to issue an order compelling Buhari to dissolve immediately the board of the Commission and re-constitute it to reflect the principle and letters of the Federal Character Commission as enshrined in the 1999 constitution. The plaintiff who claimed to have been aggrieved with the appointments also sought another order to compel Mueeba Dankaka and Mohammed Tukur to vacate their offices without any delay. In a 21-paragraph affidavit in support of the suit, plaintiff averred that Buhari on March 18, 2020 appointed Ms Dankaka and on June 2, 2020, was confirmed by the Senate as Executive Chairman of the FCC.

He also claimed that Buhari appointed Tukur on April 6, 2017 as Executive Secretary of the FCC. He added that the appointee had continued to function in office since the expiration of his tenure on April 6, 2021. The plaintiff averred that since the two appointees being from the North, Buhari breached sections 7 and 8 of Nigeria’s constitution with their appointments. He urged the court to declare the appointments unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal, null and void. The plaintiff also wanted the court to declare that Buhari and other defendants in the suit were bound to abide by the provisions of the constitution as they relate to the principle of proportional sharing of all political offices. Till May 29, 2023 when Buhari left office, the two officers from the North remained in office. And that impunity has made the federal character commission to remain without any federal character.

Recall that on June 18, 2017, I drew attention to this same anomaly here in an article titled, “A Federal Character Commission Without Federal Character” https://guardian.ng/opinion/a-federal-character-commission-without-federal-character/But as usual, the president ignored the federal character bogeyman despite the embarrassment to the administration.

As I was also saying, even the top echelon of the police force of the convoluted federation under Buhari was also without any federal character in another embarrassingly curious colour. The President appointed the Minister of Police Affairs, the Inspector General of Police from the North. Then there was a 2020 Act of the national Assembly, which created the Police Trust Fund whose Board has a Chairman and a Secretary. This was an opportunity for our president to right some wrong for our police force and its administration to reflect the character of the federation. But the accident-prone presidency would not get anything right. On May 6, 2020 the President appointed the Board of Trustees of the Police Trust Fund and named former Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Alhaji Aliyu Sokoto as Executive Secretary of the Board. The Inspector General of Police is a member of the Board representing the Police Force.

How many times did editorialists complain about the fact that even in the security and intelligence community too, there was a federal character crisis: The DG, DSS, DG, NIA, CG, Customs and Excise, CG Immigration, CG Correctional Centres, all hailed from the North and are all Muslims. Even in the Transportation, Maritime and Communications and Digital Economy and Oil Resources sectors all the Ministers and heads of critical agencies under the wonderful Buhari, all hailed from the North and are Muslims. The last Minister of Transport (after Rotimi Amaechi), the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA 2015-to 2023), the Managing Director of NIMASA, the Minister of Aviation, the MD of FAAN, the DG of NCAA, the two critical agencies, all hail from the North and are all Muslims. The Minister of Communication then, the Chief Executives of NCC and NITDA, the two critical agencies are all from the North and they are Muslims. The Chief of Army Staff too, the Chief of Air Staff, the Attorney General of the Federation then and the EFCC Chairman all hail from Kebbi State while the Director of Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) hails from Adamawa State and are all Muslims. There were more as Buhari’s nepotism in all his appointments actually threatened national security, not just national unity.

The national question was so embarrassing under Buhari that in October 2018, The Guardian editorial drew the attention of the president to the ethnocentric tendencies inherent in his appointments when two key officers of his administration from the South were replaced with citizens from the North. Then the newspaper noted that: “With each passing day, it is becoming apparent that President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspected ethnocentric and nepotistic tendencies are attaining an embarrassing proportion. The latest demonstration of this longstanding suspicion was the appointment of Mr. Yusuf Magaji Bichi as Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS) to replace Mr. Matthew Seiyefa, who was recently appointed by then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. Shortly after that, the President had also picked former Minister of State for Finance, Hajia Zainab Ahmed to replace Kemi Adeosun who resigned over certificate forgery scandal…” These and other past actions then reinforced perception about President Buhari’s prejudice and insensitivity to the principles of federal character in appointments.

The principle of Federal Character, as contained in Act No. 34 of 1996, which established the Federal Character Commission, is an attempt to entrench fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructure among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It has been featuring in Nigeria’s constitution since 1979. And it is in the current 1999 constitution.

Section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution reads: “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.”

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.

The Federal Character principle has its root in a proneness 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…”

And so it is pertinent to encourage President Tinubu to run away from the trappings of office and parochialism that made former President Buhari to threaten national security through appointments of mostly his people into almost all key positions in Nigeria. Jagaban, Borgu had earlier promised a government of national competence, a development that instantly received some rave reviews. It should be gratifying that so far, the president is complementing the national competence model with federal character as the three critical service chiefs hail from the three major regions in the country. The Army Chief is from South West, Naval Chief hails from South East while the Air-force Chief is from North West. The powerful office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is now occupied by a politician from North Central zone, and he is a Christian. The critical urgent national assignment should revolve around rebuilding the nation (from the architecture in the ruin of the man who in 2015 conned us into believing him as a pan-Nigerian leader when he told us on May 29, 2015: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody…”

The conclusion of the whole public-service matter is this: President Tinubu needs a robust federal character management nurtured by national competence policy to propel national development at this time.

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