BY EMEKA EJERE
More than ever before in the history of Nigeria, there is a growing uncertainty about the continued corporate existence of the country, with calls for breakup by individuals and groups assuming an unprecedented proportion.
While allegations of marginalization in appointments and other forms of nepotism leveled against the Buhari Administration are at the centre of the protest of the dissenting voices, the call for restructuring as the only condition for the continued unity of the country is also gathering momentum.
The first term of President Mohammadu Buhari, was majorly characterized by concerns over alleged lopsided appointments which often generated controversies among stakeholders. It was believed that major appointments into the security architecture of the country in particular and management positions in other areas of life were skewed in favour of a particular section of the country.
This, from time to time, attracted condemnation by the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN); pan-Igbo socio-political group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), and PANDEF with lamentations of government’s insensitivity to the federal character principle.
However, after receiving his certificate of return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the February 23, 2019 Presidential Election, President Buhari pledged to run an inclusive government in his second term.
“I, therefore, want to assure that we will continue to engage all parties that have the best interest of Nigerians at heart. Our government will remain inclusive and our doors will remain open,” the President had stated.
“That is the way to build the country of our dream: safe, secure, prosperous, and free of impunity and primitive accumulation by those entrusted with public offices.
“The hard work to deliver a better Nigeria continues, building on the foundations of peace, rule of law and opportunities for all. We will roll up our sleeves afresh, and give it our all.”
Treading the old path
But with dearth of evidence of the President matching those words of inclusiveness with action more than one year down the line, many simply see a return to the old order. This is the root of the renewed clamour for equity and fairness in the polity, especially in the area of appointments.
Towards promoting nationl unity and cohesion, Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that “the composition of the government 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 in any of its agencies.”
Section 15 (4) of the constitution also provides that “The state shall 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.” But this does not seem to be the case.
Few days before the 60th Independence anniversary, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), while responding to alleged secret recruitment of the Department of State Services (DSS), maintained that the federal character was dead under the Buhari-led administration. There were reports that DSS had given 535 slots to Northerners, while the South got 93 candidates in the secret recruitment.
A statement signed by HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Media Affairs, Miss Zainab Yusuf, read in part:
“We reiterate that in the last five years, the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari has planted animosity between different ethnic nationalities than even the civil war created and that it will take the Grace of God and the will to overpower our differences for Nigeria to rebuild the bridge of unity that the selective administrative style of President Muhammadu Buhari has destroyed in the last five years.
“We shall continue to express our apprehension over deep seated Northern domination of all strategic federal government’s recruitments and appointments under President Muhammadu Buhari, and that the next government may need to convoke a year-long National Constitutional Conference to try to mend the deeply broken fences.
HURIWA also reacted in similar way to the President’s earlier nomination of Aisha Umar as the Director-General of the National Pension Commission (PENCOM).
The rights group said, “Fresh appointments to fill vacancies in the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) also created uproar on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday because of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Pro-Northern Moslem Bent.
“HURIWA like most Nigerians are not surprised that senators across party divides were upset immediately Senate President, Ahmad Lawan read a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari announcing the nomination of Aisha Umar as the Director-General of PENCOM.”
In June, former military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (retd), in an open letter to Buhari, warned that lopsided appointments in his government was against the provisions of the constitution and could spell doom for the country’s unity.
In the letter entitled, “Mr. President, Please Belong To all of us”, Umar said unless the Buhari Administration changed its style of governance, Nigeria might further be faced with crisis. He particularly accused the President of favouring some sections of the country in the headship of the security agencies.
“All those who wish you and the country well must mince no words in warning you that Nigeria has become dangerously polarised and risks sliding into crisis on account of your administration’s lopsided appointments, which continues to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others.
“Nowhere is this more glaring than in the leadership cadre of our security services. Mr. President, I regret that there is no kind or gentle word to tell you that your skewed appointments into the offices of the federal government, favouring some and frustrating others, shall bring ruin and destruction to this nation,” Umar warned.
Umar’s outbursts came on the heels of public outcries over the constitution of the Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund (PTF) by President Buhari. It could be recalled that the President had on May 7, this year, named a former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Suleiman Abba, as the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the NPTF.
The president had also appointed Mr. Ahmed Sokoto as the Executive Secretary of the board; Mr. Nnamdi Mbaeri as representative of the Ministry of Police Affairs; Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, as the representative of Nigeria Police Force; and Mr. Usman Bilkisu as the representative of the Ministry of Justice.
Others are Mr. Ben Akabueze, Director-General of Budget and National Planning as the representative of the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Mr. Mansur Ahmed as representative of the organised labour; and Dr. Michael Adebiyi to represent the civil society groups.
The story is not any different in management appointments at the nation’s oil company, the Nigeria National petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In March, the Niger Delta leaders under the aegis of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), in an open letter entitled “Re: Addressing the Continued Injustice Against the Niger Delta People, vis, the Lopsided Appointments in the NNPC and its subsidiaries/Departments”, addressed to President Buhari, called on the President to urgently correct the abnormality and also reaffirmed the call for proper restructuring of the country.
PANDEF, in the letter signed by its national publicity secretary, Ken Robinson, rejected the alleged deliberate and calculated sidelining of Niger Delta indigenes in appointments and redeployments in the NNPC and its subsidiaries.
The group said the region’s marginalisation at the national oil corporation became even more pronounced in the March 2020 promotions and reorganization which, it said, further isolated the Niger Delta from its mainstream management structure.
PANDEF stated, “Today, under Mr. President’s watch, the paradoxical and dismal reality is that in the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), through which the federal government regulates and participates in the country’s petroleum industry that operates in our backyards, virtually all top management positions of the corporation and its subsidiaries, departments, and ventures are held by persons from the northern zones of the country that do not produce an ounce of oil, to the exclusion of indigenes of oil producing communities of Niger Delta region.”
In his piece titled, “NIGERIA: 60 years in the rain”, a seasoned journalist and author, Chidi Amuta, observed that at the root of the imminent crisis in the country is the failure or willful refusal by this government to understand the basis for order in a diverse nation.
Amuta noted that the first requirement in the effective management of diversity is transparent inclusiveness, stressing that once a government misses this ingredient, the consequence is distrust, alienation and feelings of marginalization and exclusion.
According to him, in a multi ethnic society, a sectional hegemonic usurpation of vantage power positions translates into ethnic and regional alienation, which bring about divisive thought and hateful rhetoric, leading to calls and mobilization for restructuring, secession, separation.
He said, “When a government is at once divisive and also grossly incompetent, its destructive threat to the survival of the nation increases.
“Under Mr. Buhari, divisiveness and epic incompetence have joined forces to threaten the political survival of the nation. In turn, the strategic components of the federation have begun to define their survival in separatist terms.
“In the process, attention has also shifted to a certain historical apprehension as more people now ask how we got to this sorry pass.”
One way to peace
Worried by the possibility of imminent anarchy from the status quo, prominent Nigerians have taken turns to tell the President, his political party and his geo-political zone the way to go about maintaining the unity of the country. Leading the crusade this time is the General Overseer, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye.
According to Adeboye, the way forward to overcoming the myriad of socio-economic crises Nigeria is grappling with is restructuring. Speaking at the 60th Independence Day Celebration Symposium organised by RCCG and the Nehemiah Leadership Institute recently, Adeboye said: “Why can’t we have a system of government that will create what I will call the United States of Nigeria? Let me explain. We all know that we must restructure. It is either we restructure or we break up. You don’t have to be a prophet to know that. That is certain – restructure or we break up.”
Few days after Adeboye’s declaration, Senior Pastor, Christ Livingspring Apostolic Ministry (CLAM), Omole, Lagos, Pastor Wole Oladiyun, asked President Buhari to immediately set in motion a process to return Nigeria to regional government. Oladiyun who made the demand in a statement titled “Nigeria Arise 2020”, noted that the country needed a new constitution urgently, even as he called for the eradication of federal character and enthronement of merit as core basis for leadership recruitment.
Oladiyun said, “The restructuring should lead to a brand-new constitution, a return to the regional government structure, and a reduction in the cost of governance. Also, we need to review our system of governance because the current arrangement does not reflect true federalism.”
Only recently, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Kukah, lamented that Nigerians were sadder and worse off under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Kukah, who was addressing the 60th independence lecture series organised by the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) in Abuja, also re-echoed the sentiments of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who had stated that Nigeria was more divided than ever.
He accused Buhari of showing the “greatest degree of insensitivity in managing the country’s diversity”, describing his appointments as “lopsided and against the spirit of a united Nigeria.”
Flaying the Nigerian leader for allegedly failing to live up to the people’s expectations, the bishop submitted: “We have never had it this bad in our history where power is privatised and shared based on religious and ethnic considerations.”
He went on: “We are finding it difficult to manage our diversity. Indeed, this is not a period in our history to talk about merit or meritocracy.
“If Buhari does not visit the idea of people feeling excluded from the system, then he is laying a bad foundation. Even many Northerners are also not happy with the skewed appointments by the President. The truth is, we cannot continue to live in a country where there is no feeling of inclusion because we are not a conquered people.
“Where we are supposed to be is not where we are. When you recruit people based on religious and ethnic considerations, it diminishes the system, create tension and make others feel like they don’t belong to the system. We are in a digital knowledge economy, and the world has no role for ethnic jingoism, religious and cultural arrogance.
“I call on President Buhari to appreciate that Nigerians expected more than what we have today. We have never as divided, cynical, sad and frustrated as we are today. We pray the world will not leave us behind.”
About two weeks ago, Archbishop Emeritus and former Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, warned that Nigeria could “break up even before 2023 if we continue to be irresponsible and reckless.” Onaiyekan, who was speaking in an interview with The Punch, added:
“But if all of us who believe in the future of this country, a country that will be better for our children and grandchildren, if we really work hard and try to do things in a better way and reduce violence and insist on honesty and truth, we will not only achieve the right things in 2023 but much more beyond 2023. The fact is that with the situation as it is today, the rules of the game of politics in Nigeria cannot carry us far”.
A couple of weeks ago, a former national chairman of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, declared that Ndigbo would join the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu to seek Biafra secession from Nigeria, if South East did not produce president of the country in 2023.
Nwodo, whose comment came on the heels of call by elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, for Igbo presidency in 2023, said Ndigbo have suffered grievous marginalisation in Nigeria and should be given a chance to produce a president for the sake of equity and national unity.
“So, in Southern Nigeria, it would be a total disaster if we do not produce the next president because we have been terribly marginalised since the end of the civil war”, Nwodo said.
“For 50 years now, we have been persecuted for having fought for freedom. When will this marginalisation stop? Anybody who loves Nigeria and who wishes Nigeria well should go for Igbo Presidency in 2023 for unity, fairness, equity and for Nigeria to move forward.”
Almost at the same time, an Akwa Ibom elder and pioneer National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Senator Anietie Okon, also said that Nigeria will break up if the North refuses to concede the presidency to the South in 2023. He said;
“The 2023 presidency is coming to the South. There is rotation between North and South. And since we brought in the rotational arrangement for the presidential leadership of this country, the North has had its turn more than once.
“If the North refuses, then the country will break up. So they should let the South have it in 2023 and after that, comes the micro zoning. And in the South, the only geo-political zone left is the South East. The South West has had its turn once, also the South South has had its turn once.”
In June, a former Governor of old Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, reportedly warned that Nigeria would break up if a northerner becomes the president of Nigeria in 2023.
Ezeife said he expected the two major political parties in the country – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP – to present candidates from the southern part of the country for the position of president in order to protect the unity of the country.
“We expect APC and PDP to present a South East person for president. What people say far away from the event is different from what they will say realistically when the event is near.
“I have heard about northern interest in this. The north likes Nigeria to survive because if they want to go again, it means they want to break the country completely. If they come out seriously, unfortunately, they will break the country immediately.”
But the President has said he will not succumb to threats of Nigeria’s breakup by those pushing for the restructuring of the country. His Senior Special Assistant, Garba Shehu, who described the calls to restructure as disloyal, in a statement last week said, “This is to warn that such unpatriotic outbursts are both unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the COVID-19 health crisis.
“This administration will not take any decision against the interests of 200 million Nigerians, who are the President’s first responsibility under the constitution, out of fear or threats especially in this hour of health crisis.
“The President as an elected leader under this constitution will continue to work with patriotic Nigerians, through and in line with the Parliamentary processes to finding solutions to structural and other impediments to the growth and wellbeing of the nation and its people.”