In an unprecedented but bold move, some elder statesmen and women leaders from Southern and Middle Belt Nigeria have taken the Federal Government to court over what they termed ‘marginalisation of the people of the region in the appointments to security, quasi-security agencies and ‘strategic agencies’ of government.
The suit filed on June 8 at the Federal High Court Abuja with suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/595/2020 is expected to test certain provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with regard to federal character and the need for national cohesion in federal appointments.
In real terms, one of the arms of government, the judiciary, is being invited to interrogate the way another arm, the executive branch, has carried out its constitutional obligations to the people of Nigeria. The defendants in the suit are the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori and the Federal Character Commission.
Has the president breached the law of the land in the ethnic and/or regional composition of the persons who have been so appointed to act on his behalf? Has the spirit of national unity been promoted or sustained in what the plaintiffs have daubed the ‘skewed nature’ of federal appointments? In the spirit of national cohesion and reconciliation, would it reduce interethnic tension and regional disenchantment if the president tried to remedy the situation by re-jigging his government and thus ensuring a healthy and balanced spread of appointees representative of all major stakeholders in the country?
Prominent among originators of the suit are the leader of Izon people Chief E.K. Clark, Afenifere leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. John Nwodo, a leader of Middle Belt people, Dr. Pogu Bitrus. Others are Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Alaowei Bozimo, Mrs. Sarah Dokotri, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, one-time Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, Alhaji Tijani Babatunde, Professor Julie Umukoro, retired Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, Elder Stephen Bangoji, Mrs. Rose Obuoforibo, Mr. Adakole Ijogi and Dr. Charles Nwakeaku. No doubt, these are men and women who have served the nation in different capacities including the highest echelon of government. They represent the interest of important stakeholders in the polity whose concerns ought not to be ignored. Some of them were at the forefront for the restoration of democracy in the twilight years of military autocracy in Nigeria. That they feel sufficiently aggrieved to litigate on the subject should be of grave concern to the federal authorities and the father of the nation, President Buhari. He should take notice and re-direct his steps to re-build confidence in his government.
A few weeks ago, retired Colonel Dangiwa Umar wrote a letter to the president in which he warned against clannishness and a narrow sectional interest while appointing persons to office. The reverberations of that important and weighty letter were felt across the country because Umar is noted for candour and brutal frankness on national issues. This current suit seems to be a natural follow-up to the sentiments expressed by Citizen Umar.
For instance, the precarious security situation in the country makes compatriots wonder why the Commander-in-Chief has retained all of the service and security chiefs beyond their tenure. Of the 17 security agencies, 14 are headed by men of northern extraction. The word out there from perception is that the Buhari administration is one of the most parochial governments the nation has endured in its nearly sixty-year history. Appointments to federal positions in the oil sector are also notoriously skewed in favour of a section of the country, the president hails from. The president is curiously the senior minister of petroleum resources. It seems that staff of the presidency suffer from collective but selective amnesia on the unwritten codes of mutual coexistence that have ensured national unity and a sense of belonging when appointing persons to office. The alternative view is that they do not have any iota of respect for other stakeholders in the country. What is worse, they do not respect the constitution, which provides for how to share appointments and projects within the complex federation.
Section 14, sub-section (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 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”. The framers of the Constitution then went ahead to incorporate the Federal Character Commission (Section 154), which was established in 1996 by Act 34 ‘to implement and enforce the Federal Character Principle of fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructure among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’. Certainly, the Federal Government cannot beat its chest on the issue of federal character in the security and quasi-security outfits in the country and other visible positions in the federal bureaucracy. By design or default, there is a primitive design to corner all sensitive and important appointive positions on sectional and primordial criteria. This is atavistic, retrogressive and a negation of the established principles of governance in Nigeria.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria is not the exclusive preserve of any ethnic, cultural, political, or religious group. Its continued existence and survival is dependent on cooperation among the constituent parts of the federation. There should be no politics of exclusion or the mythic superiority of some ethnic groups. Justice, equity, fairness, and transparency are fundamental requirements for the stable and lasting polity. The Buhari administration has promoted a narrative that runs counter to the ideals of mutual coexistence in terms of federal character. It is myopic, self-serving, and destructive of the spirit of giving and takes, which ought to govern a federal system. Sadly, our nation is federal only in name. Vestiges of the unitary mentality inherited from many years of military rule still define the relationship between the federal government and the states. The road to freedom is a restructured Nigeria that makes the constituent parts free to develop their economies and pursue happiness within the ambit of a new Constitution.
It is hoped that the suit by elders from the Southwest, Southeast, South-south, and Middle Belt will stimulate president Buhari to reflect on the consequences of strategic stakeholders’ litigation on his poor judgment, which can endanger the future of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs should be commended for seeking redress through the law court rather than rabble-rousing. A report in this newspaper yesterday indicated rising support for the southern leaders’ suit against the president. We urge the judiciary to rise to the occasion and save Nigeria, and indeed the most populous black nation on earth, from the stranglehold of a few persons who see the country from a narrow prism.