Ministerial nomination as litmus test for APC in Southeast
President Bola Tinubu’s ministerial nomination, which gave only five slots to the Southeast region, has reopened old wounds of agitations and alleged marginalisation against the Ndigbo, Lawrence Njoku reports.
President Bola Tinubu had on assumption to office on May 29 offered a glimpse of hope of one who is likely to do things differently when he appointed fresh service chiefs with good national spread.
Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla from Enugu State had been named Chief of Naval Staff; a development that was welcomed by the Southeast with both hands. That was principally because it addressed a long held clarion call that it remained the only region among the six geopolitical zones of the country that had no representation in the Security Council.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari, who on few occasions before he exited office announced changes in service chiefs never considered the Southeast throughout his eight years tenure.
While Tinubu was praised for reflecting the geo-political spread in appointing his service chiefs, however, his 48-member cabinet list, which gave five statutory slots to the Southeast region, is creating concerns about his promise of fairness, equity, and national cohesion. It is also raising doubts about his plans of deepening the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Southeast region.
In the cabinet list of the president, while each state of the region, such as Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra states, other geopolitical zones of the country got not less than eight nominees, checks by The Guardian revealed that Northwest geopolitical zone got 10 ministers (three extra ministers); Northeast – eight ministers (two extra ministers), North-central – eight ministers (two extra ministers), Southwest – nine ministers (two extra ministers), South-south – eight ministers (two extra ministers) and Southeast – five ministers (no extra).
Worried by the development, senators from the Southeast region had protested on the floor of the National Assembly. They criticised the nomination of the president as lacking integrity, stressing that it offends section 5a and 5b part 3, and, as well as Section four part 1 of Federal Character Commission Act of the Federation 2004.
They said the attempt was to further divide Nigerians, adding that the lopsided nomination does not promote national unity and national loyalty as enshrined in Section 14(3) of 1999 Constitution as amended.
Senator, representing Anambra north, Tony Nwoye, who presented a motion on behalf of fourteen other senators from the region cited section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution as amended, pointing out 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 national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies.”
Nwoye had further argued that appointment to the various categories of political offices should be done on the basis of equitable representation of the states of the federation, adding that such offices included the appointment of ministers in line with section 5 of the Federal Character Commission (FCC).
The President Emeritus, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike feels sad about the development. He told The Guardian that though the president had fulfilled the constitutional obligation, it was incumbent on him to maintain and promote virtues that could unite the country, especially going by the activities of the last eight years.
Uwazuruike stated: “The more things change, the more they remain the same. Ministers are constitutionally expected to be appointed from all states. This means that at least one from each state of the federation.
“The president has done that but has gone ahead to compete with General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) in his disdain for the Southeast. Buhari did not pretend about the people he called the Dot nation. President Tinubu has followed in the same obsessively negative attitude towards Ndigbo. History of Nigeria will show that presidents Obasanjo, Yar’adua and Jonathan appointed credible ministers from Igboland beyond the constitutionally required one minister per state.
“Today, the president has nominated 11 extra ministers from five zones to the exclusion of the sixth zone. Yet, over the years, President Tinubu has interacted with Ndigbo deeply and knows the quality of Ndigbo.
“To treat Ndigbo with contempt the way he is doing is a confirmation of my suspicion that APC, though packaged by Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, an Igboman, is seen and indeed, is hijacked to the benefit of the Southwest and Northwest. But Ndigbo survived the nepotic Buhari regime and will definitely survive this one,” he stated.
An Igbo leader, Chief Chekwas Okorie, stated that the nomination of additional ministers without any from the Southeast sends wrong signals about the president’s determination to foster a sense of belonging and correct errors of the past.
“The only mandatory obligation of President Tinubu in the appointment of ministers is to ensure that every state of the Federation is represented in the executive council by at least a minister. The President retains the prerogative to increase the number of ministers and appoint them from the states, as he deems appropriate to suit his political and administrative calculations.
“However, appointing five ministers from the Southeast geopolitical zone and a minimum of eight ministers from each of the other geopolitical zones sends out very scary and unhealthy political signals. The members of the National Assembly from the Southeast and prominent Nigerian leaders across the country have drawn the attention of the President to this worrisome imbalance. I hope he will address this well-founded concern of the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Tinubu administration is too young in the day to allow itself to be profiled negatively,” he said.
Insisting that his administration needs the cooperation of all sections of the country to succeed, Okorie explained that APC was fast gaining dominance in the Southeast region following the outcome of the last general elections, stressing that the trend should be encouraged.
“Two of the five Southeast states are governed by the ruling APC. APGA is a friendly opposition party to President Tinubu and the APC. These factors should count for some improved accommodation of the people of the Southeast in his government.
“President Tinubu is an astute and sagacious politician. I believe that he knows that carrying Ndigbo along is for his immediate and long-term political benefits. I urge our people to remain positive and patriotic. I am confident that President Tinubu will address our legitimate concerns one way or the other in due course,” he added.
MEANWHILE, some pundits are blaming the style of politics being played by the region since 2015 in which the APC mounted the saddle as being responsible for its continued marginalisation in the scheme of things, stressing that the zone had shown abysmal support to the APC.
For instance, they pointed out that in 2015 general elections, the APC secured only 196,000 votes in the region and still won the election. They added that though the number improved in 2019 with over 400,000 votes in the region; the party was almost rejected in 2023 as the zone returned only 127,000 votes in the election.
A chieftain of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, has however, absolved Tinubu of blame over the development. He rather asked political leaders (especially Southeast APC) to blame themselves for the minority role the zone had played since APC assumed power in the country.
Okechukwu, who always warned about the dangers of the region “putting all their eggs in one basket”, added, “We should blame APC leaders from the zone who, instead of genuine advancement of Southeast interest, were more or less petty in their lobbying strategy. After all, one chairs the APC governor’s forum, a foremost power bloc, and the other was already in the senate.
“I was worried when I noticed them blocking our first eleven, and one ridiculously was busy routing for himself as if he is the only qualified person from his state. Their strategy was akin to chasing rats, while others were bidding for elephants.”
A political analyst, Dr Cajetan Anyanwu, noted however, that the president by the ministerial nomination had attempted to replay Buhari’s style of “winner takes all” that brought “so much disaffection, division in the country and promoted mediocrity.
“We have gone through the elections and this is time for governance. The way this particular appointment has been made will tell you how this government will operate in the coming days. Cast your mind back to the Buhari era. He had justified his lopsided appointments on the guise that Southeast gave him five per cent votes and as such should not expect much from him. He did as promised. That is why today, the only thing standing in his name in eight years in the zone is the completion of the second Niger Bridge (which of course is not in use).
“It will be sad for President Tinubu to toe a similar path. Nobody will be happy to be a part of a country where one zone has suffered lack in amenities, derelict infrastructure, unemployment of her teeming youths, increase in crimes, insecurity and other social vices.
“I should think after an election, a winner moves to assuage all interests by bringing on board those capable hands. Majority of those he nominated as ministers cannot in any way be the best for the country. How can he recycle old politicians that have failed in the past in the name of appointment? That is why we cannot move forward as a country and why the agitations will be sustained”, he added.
Anyanwu stated that Tinubu should be encouraged to pursue issues and policies on national cohesion to heal wounds of several years of injustice and deprivations in the country.
He stated that there was no way he could deepen the APC in the southeast by actions such as this, stressing that the party performed woefully in 2023 elections in the region, despite being in power “due to the style of Buhari which neglected the zone.”
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