Quite a sizeable number of Nigerians have criticised the recent appointments made by President Muhammadu Buhari on grounds that they do not reflect regional balance and federal character. Of the nine appointments he has made so far, only one is from the South. DOZIE EMMANUEL writes that if Buhari must fulfill his promises to Nigerians and bring about the much-needed change, he has no choice but spread his appointments without compromising competence
Barely six weeks since he assumed office, controversy has continued to trial the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, especially in the area of political appointments. The appointments made by the president so far have not only elicited so much criticism, but also condemnations.
To an average Nigerian, Buhari is seen as a man of integrity; a man with unquestionable character, who has no personal, ethnic or regional agenda. But surprisingly, his recent political appointments have indicated otherwise.
Since after his inauguration on May 29, Buhari has made about nine appointments of which eight are from the North; only one is from the South. The appointments are: Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, Mr. Mordecai Danteni Baba Ladan; Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Ahmed Idris; State Chief of Protocol, Mallam Lawal Abdullahi Kazaure; Aide De Camp, Lt Col. Muhammed Lawal Abubakar; Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu; Director-General of Department State Security Services, Lawal Daura; Acting Chairman, the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari and Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina.
Many well meaning Nigerians have criticised the appointments on the grounds that they favour only the North, thus to the detriment of the other regions. These Nigerians are wondering if Buhari is implementing the northern agenda by his skewed appointments which they described as tribalistic and lopsided.
Prominent socio-cultural groups – Afenifere, Yoruba Unity Forum and the Movement for Oodua Republic are of the opinion that the lopsided appointments have never happened in the political history of the country. Secretary-General of YUF, Senator Anthony Adefuye, warned that the earlier the situation is reversed, the better. He said the forum expects Buhari to make a balance and fair appointments.
”The fact that the President, Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are from the North is worrisome. There is no way the North can take all the principal offices and leave the deputy to us. It has never happened before and the earlier it is reversed, the better.
“There is no way that can continue because the South is not subordinate to the North. The think tank committee of the YUF will meet soon to look at the issue and see how it affects the Yoruba people. However, the development is a wrong signal that must be corrected.”
Lending its voice to the deluge of criticisms, the Igbo World Union and the Ohanaeze Youth Council described the President’s actions as a threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria.
The OYC National President, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said, “Buhari should not abuse his privileged position as the President of Nigeria for the moment. He should not forget our federal system, but reflect the federal character in his appointments.
“We are warning him to drop the Northern agenda and govern Nigeria in line with the constitution which he swore to protect. We will hold him by his statement that “he is for nobody and for everybody” except he now wants to tell us that he is the President of the North alone.”
Of all the appointments, it appears that the Director-General of the State Services, Lawal Daura and acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari are more controversial. Buhari had to recall Daura, his kinsman, from retirement to head the Department of State Services, DSS. He retired from the DSS in 2013 having attained the statutory retirement age of 60.
While some argue that Buhari should have replaced the sacked Ita Ekpenyong with another southerner, others say the appointment of his kinsman to head the service was because he needed someone he could trust and confide in, especially at this time of serious security challenges in the country.
Similarly, the appointment of Mrs Amina Bala Zakari as the acting INEC Chairman on June 30 following the expiration of the term of office of Professor Attahiru Jega has not gone down well with many Nigerians. She is not only seen as a stooge, but also a close associate of the President and at such, they maintain that she cannot muster the moral and political will to superintend over a free and fair election. This school of thought stressed that the President should have appointed a neutral person with a strong drive to deliver on such sensitive national assignment.
The question now is: If Mrs Zakari is finally confirmed as the substantive chairman of INEC, can she be carry on with the reforms already started by her predecessor? Can she withstand the pressure and series of threats that go with her office? Does she have the mental, physical and emotional strength to cope with the stressful nature of the electoral process?
While the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has rejected her appointment on grounds that she is a close ally to the President, the United Progressive Party, UPP welcomes her appointment wholeheartedly, arguing that it would amount to cheap blackmail for anyone to query the appointment of Zakari on the flimsy reason that she is from the same geopolitical zone with the President.
The PDP, through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olisa Metuh, raised suspicion over her appointment, saying the appointment was not done in good faith. He alleged that the new acting INEC boss “is too close to the Presidency” and would want the acting chairman of the commission to state her alleged closeness to the Presidency and one of the governors of the All Progressives Congress from the North West.
But the National Chairman of UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, argued otherwise saying that Zakari’s appointment was well deserved, describing her as a diligent and upright personality.
“The President still has the power to renew her appointment for another term of five years as a commissioner without offending the nation’s laws. It is cheap blackmail to query the appointment of Mrs. Zakari as acting chairman of INEC on the flimsy reason that she is from the same geo-political zone with the President.
“Professor Attahiru Jega came from the same geopolitical zone with the President and this did not confer on the President any special advantage during the presidential election of 2015 in which the PDP lost to the APC and accepted its defeat.
“We wish to conclude by urging President Muhammadu Buhari not to follow the PDP bad example of appointing card-carrying members of its party as federal commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners whenever he is considering such appointments.
“An improved and credible electoral reform shall begin with the neutrality, credibility and non-partisanship of officers of the Commission, especially the chairman, national commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC,” Okorie stated.
In the spirit of federal character, therefore, it is expected that Buhari should shun any form of regional sentiments in his subsequent appointments. Concentrating his recent appointments in one particular region in a country like Nigeria is certainly not the right step to take for a government that promises change.
In the days and weeks to come, Nigerians will be anxious to know where the various heads of government ministries, departments and agencies will come from. In his inaugural speech shortly after his swearing-in, he said: “I belong to nobody; I belong to everybody.” Now is the auspicious time to demonstrate that he really belongs to all Nigerians and not to a particular region of the country as his appointments have shown so far.
No doubt, the recent appointments by the President is nothing to write home about as far as regional balancing is concerned and for him to actualise his promises and bring about the needed change Nigerians are yearning for, he must appoint competent people in his cabinet from all the zone.