“If I select people I know quite well in my political party, whom we came all the way right from the APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situation, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong?” ~ Muhammadu Buhari 2015
I didn’t want to lend my pen to the fierce and frenzied gyrations around Kukah’s statement more than I had done with social media posts because I had just returned to Ireland for a well-deserved rest after a hectic period lasting over two months in Nigeria. But after frank discussions with respected compatriots like Max Njaka Obinna and @Demurleigh I decided to do this piece.
Much as I am apprehensive of robed men like Kukah who seem to have access to the corridors of power in virtually every administration, I must confess that he is a courageous and erudite cleric who has gained a reputation for speaking out. He has criticised and applauded different governments as the spirit led him. For instance, it was this same Kukah who knocked the ‘anti-Fulani campaign’ and by extension defended President Buhari at a colloquium on fake news and hate speech organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African Studies.
However, in accusing Buhari of nepotism, the Reverend Bishop said nothing new as the President himself preempted potential critics at the kick-off when he stated that ‘the constituency that gave me 97% cannot, in all honesty, be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%”. Moreover, Junaid Mohammed and Abubakar Umar to mention a few have previously made similar allegations at different times. And these are all northerners.
Let me refresh your memory with their equally if not more scathing remarks.
In a 2016 interview with Punch Newspapers, Junaid gave a lengthy list of the President’s relatives and cronies appointed into powerful positions lamenting that “if this is not nepotism, then I don’t know what is nepotism and anybody who has the guts, the brutal arrogance to appoint these relations not bothering about public opinion, about the sense of justice, about competence, then you can see that he has a very serious question to answer.”
In June 2020, Umar warned that “all those who wish you (Buhari) and the country well must mince no words in warning you that Nigeria has become dangerously polarized 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.”
Therefore, the only different content in Kukah’s missive is that, unlike the previous messengers, he managed to descend to the doldrums of socio-political commentary by tainting his message with the word “coup”. And on Christmas day for that matter. That explains why the Presidency, the Information Minister and Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) have all focused on that.
In any case, Kukah has denied calling for a coup but reiterated that his homily was his opinion to which he is entitled. He maintained that those who feel strongly about it should counter with superior arguments. Surely, the Presidency must know that a voice which resonates even with the minority must be heard in a democracy. Moreover, a majority of Nigerians will not support a coup and we know that Buhari cannot possibly cower at the mention of a coup. Not with his experience in leadership and most definitely not at his age.
Yet, one cannot rightly attribute the division in the country to Buhari as Kukah insinuated. That will be unintelligent. Our fault lines predate this administration. And the claim that Nigeria is more divided “now” is neither here nor there because former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Yar’Adua were also accused of clannishness. Perhaps not as brazen but one can still pass a guilty verdict on them nonetheless. Even Atiku who aspires to lead the country in a somewhat similar fashion echoed Buhari’s insular statement at the beginning of my essay when he told us that he will sell our national assets to his friends during the last presidential election campaign.
On the other hand, to suggest that President Buhari has fostered our unity will be even more absurd. Nobody can attempt the defence of the conspicuous anomalies in his appointments without sounding irrational. Buhari’s nepotism is visible to the blind and audible to the deaf. There has never been such blatant and palpable display of parochialism as witnessed in this administration. Two broad paradigms exemplify this.
1. The fact that the three arms of government are headed by northerners and
2. The obvious exclusion of the South East in the top-level security appointments.
Specifically, the Chief Of Defence Staff, the Chief Of Army Staff, the IGP, the National Security Adviser and a majority of the nation’s 17 security agencies are currently headed by northerners most of whom were appointed by President Buhari. Worse still, economic offices like the Accountant General, Group MD Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Finance Minister, Managing Director NPA, Chairman FIRS, Comptroller Generals of Customs, Immigration and Prisons are all northerners. Other core positions include the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission and the Attorney General of the Federation.
For want of space, I will not bother you with the extrapolated manifestation of malfeasance as detailed in many reports of shoddy and skewed recruitment into the police force, the DSS, the Central Bank and other government parastatals.
Yet, the President’s handlers insist that the president cannot be faulted considering the constitutional provision on the principle of Federal Character and Quota system.
To be clear, Section 14 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states inter alia: “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 in any of its agencies”.
Now therein lies the problem as some of the poignant posers raised here are; How detailed is this provision? What are the specifics?
Going by the vaguely strung words of the section which the Presidency relied on to publish the November 2017 list with 75 from the North and 82 from the South out of 159 appointees, then there appears to be a balance in the President’s appointments.
But of course, this notion is pure flummery. The list is an affront to our sensibilities as the key and ‘juicy’ positions particularly in revenue generation and security are dominated by the North West and the North East. Any informed political observer knows that successive Presidents have systematically and strategically undermined the Federal Character provision. What we have witnessed since the return of democracy in 1999 is the complete opposite of what the framers of our constitution intended albeit ambiguously.
Writing as an Igbo man whose tribe has suffered the most neglect among the tripartite pillars of this nation in President Buhari’s key appointments, one is often confronted with questions like “who appointment epp?” in the local parlance. Shouldn’t we rather the president continue the much-needed infrastructural development in the region than appoint self-serving officials? Yet, the fact remains that unity in diversity presupposes mutual respect across different ethnicities. This is undoubtedly a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence and sustainable development. And for the average Igbo person, a sense of belonging is as critical as infrastructures in the process of nation-building. It requires no interstellar faculty to achieve both for a President with the political will.
So those who possess the energy can keep up with the back and forth but what should matter more to reasonable Nigerians is how to prevent democratically elected leaders from assuming the role of Emperors, because some state governors are worse than Buhari.
I do not expect Kukah to back down. He may have already said his last word on this matter. Neither do I expect any positive introspection from President Buhari. He is the proverbial leopard on this issue. But I believe that the National Assembly leadership is best suited to respond to Kukah’s lamentation. Lawan and Gbajabiamila owe Nigerians a duty. They should tell us how they plan to curb the flagrant and unbridled nepotism by our leaders. Having modeled our system of governance after the Americans we need to emulate them. Donald Trump was impeached by the US House Of Representatives but our reps can’t even extract the fulfillment of a promised address from our president on the worsening insecurity across the nation.
Of course, we can argue that a bicameral legislature controlled by the ruling party will find it difficult to embarrass the President. But we are talking about preventing the abuse of power by future presidents and not necessarily stopping this one. Whatsmore, their duty is to the people as they swore to bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is why a Republican-controlled senate issued an impeachment summons to President Trump as laid down in the constitution.
Our lawmakers should get down to brass tacks and amend the constitution in such a manner that will unequivocally make any violation of the Federal Character principle an impeachable offence. It may be a long process but that is how democracy works and it is doable. That way future presidents will be obliged to balance their appointments and develop all regions simultaneously.