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Is President Buhari Turning The Page For More Inclusive Government ? By Magnus Onyibe

By magnus onyibe.

The balance in the ethnicity of Nigerians recently appointed as members into the boards of both the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation,NNPC and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC by president Mohammadu Buhari underscores the fact that after all , leadership that reflect inclusiveness of other ethnic stake holders in Nigeria is not an anathema or rocket science.
It may be recalled that amid protests by Niger delta stake holders against some unsatisfactory contents of the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, president Buhari returned from his overseas trip to the Uk to sign the controversial into bill into law on monday 16, August even when he was in isolation-observing the mandatory covid-19 protocol.
Amongst many other issues, Niger deltans were and are still against the provision of a mere 3% for host communities instead of the 10% that they demanded and the 5% proposed by the House of Representatives.
Their demand for 10% is underscored by the high level of degradation on the environment and related challenges that host communities grapple with in the cause of oil/gas exploration activities.
The aggrieved Niger deltans were riled by the fact that whereas only 3% equity was allotted to them, 30% of the profit from oil/gas business generated by the NNPC from wells in the south was approved for exploration of frontier basins which are basically in the north. In a very ethnic and religion polarized Nigeria , everyone is on edge, hence the resentment .
But after the signing of the bill into law, the protests died down probably with the underlining belief that half bread is better than none. More so because the bill had been on the drawing board without passage since it was first proposed during the reign of president Olusegun Obasanjo, 1999-2007.
Remarkably, when president Buhari sent the list of nominees for the board of NNPC incorporated to the senate for approval, there was no protest. That is perhaps simply because the federal character principle enshrined in the 1999 constitution was deemed to have been respected with its proposed chairman being Ifeanyi Arurume, an lgbo man -the tribe deemed to have been excluded from governance under the current regime and a factor fueling the destructive and disruptive separatist movements across southern and north central Nigeria. Other appointees to the NNPC incorporated board are: Mele
Kyari , Chief Executive Officer, and Umar I. Ajiya, Chief Financial Officer.
Other Board Members are; Dr Tajudeen Umar (North East), Mrs Lami O. Ahmed (North Central), Mallam Mohammed Lawal (North West), Senator Margaret Chuba Okadigbo (South East), Barrister Constance Harry Marshal (South-South), and Chief Pius Akinyelure (South West).
Following closely on the heels of that positive development, on Tuesday 21, September, president Buhari similarly sent to the senate , the list of nominees for the board of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
They are George Ekpungu as Secretary (Cross River); Luqman Muhammed (Edo); Anumba Adaeze (Enugu); Kola Adesina (Kwara); and Yahaya Muhammad (Yobe) as members of the board.
Again , the membership of that agency must have been adjudged as balanced, hence unlike in the past, there has been no hue and cry against the composition of the board with Abdulrasheed Bawa as chairman .
Just as l was contemplating on whether the two actions were enough to form the opinion that a pattern of inclusiveness is being established, president Buhari dispatched another letter to the upper legislative chambers via the senate president, Ahmed Lawan requesting that the NNPC board membership be expanded from 9 to 13 in other to accommodate people from the other zones left out.
Suddenly , in the twilight years of the administration of president Buhari , inclusiveness has become a guiding principle and center piece of public administration in Nigeria, which is amazing .
In the event that l am proven to be correct in my assessment, then our leaders know exactly what the trouble with Nigeria is- exclusiveness of government to the kinsmen and women of the man/woman at the help of affairs in Aso Rock Villa at a particular point in time . It is also known as marginalization of other ethnic groups and favoritism of the kith and kin of an incumbent president, known as nepotism . Although the destructive fall outs of the leadership approach outlined above are obvious, ethno-centric leaders persist in the obnoxious practice thereby causing avoidable damage to the fabric of unity amongst the multiple ethnic nationalities that embodied in the country .
It is the insensitivity to the delicate nature of our union-ethnic and religion wise , that has triggered the dire consequences such as the current threat of secession by the two other major ethnic groups -lgbos and Yorubas that make up the Nigerian triumvirate with the Hausa/Fulani (the current ethnic group at the helm of affairs in Aso Rock Villa ) as the third leg of the tripod on which Nigeria has been standing as a country, since the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorate of the British empire.
In assessing the prickly relationship between the lgbos and the extant administration in the past six years of president Buhari being at the helm of affairs in Aso Rock Villa, Nigeria’s seat of political power , there has been two significant events that have marked the lowest and highest points in the relationship between mr president and the lgbo nation. Without discountenancing the negative effects of the ill advised declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group by the federal government, the lowest point has been when president Buhari referred to the lgbos as a dot in the circle in a post which he made on Twitter. It was so offensive(as it contains all elements of a hate speech) that the microblogging platform was compelled to delete the comment in the manner that it had also deleted former US president, Donald Trump’s vile speech. Amongst the highest points in the topsy-turvy relationship has been during his campaign for re-election in 2019 when he attempted to bait the lgbo nation into voting for him by throwing them an olive branch via the payment of the sum of about N50b to ex-service men, of which the numerous lgbo men/women who fought in the unfortunate civil war (1967-70) are the major beneficiaries. President Buhari’s strategists must have reckoned that with the lgbos reputation for unbridled love of money , they may be swayed by the largesse. But the gambit fell flat as the charm offensive did not earn president Buhari any significant votes in lgbo land as envisaged.
The recent one day official visit to lmo state by president Buhari is the other high point. At least it has yielded the lgbos the position of chairman of NNPC incorporated, (Ararume is a good friend of lmo state governor,Uzodinma) just as it has also given them a seat on the board of the EFCC.
Although , they are basically more of ceremonial positions as the chief executive officers of the NNPC and EFCC have direct reporting lines to the president, at least having representatives in those boards would give the lgbos a sense of belonging in the government of Nigeria. And that gesture is bound to have salutary impart on the psychology of the average lgbo man , having been shut out in the past six years by being denied their well deserved place in the top echelon of government . The same applies to the recent appointment of an lgbo to the board of the EFCC-an anti graft agency of government hitherto dominated by the Hausa/Fulani to the chagrin of other ethnic nationalities .
With these gestures of inclusiveness of other members of the union, particularly the lgbos , in governance which has the capacity to thaw the ice in the frosty relationship between the federal government under president Buhari’s watch and the lgbos , president Buhari’s legacy may not be so unappealing by the time he exits Aso Rock Villla in 2023.
Especially , if the rapprochement is sustained with other gestures reflecting a new broad minded approach in governance by president Buhari as opposed to governing from the narrow prism of ethnic and religious calculations.
As l have stated in the past, posterity will applaud the leaders of Nigeria that embrace inclusiveness and frown at those that trample it.
Obviously, by the current efforts of making respect for federal character principle (which appeared to have been thrown to the dogs) the centre piece of his administration, (although in its wee hours) president Buhari clearly does not desire that posterity judges him harshly.
In 2016, barely a year after the incumbent president mounted the saddle , l wrote and published an article in the mass media titled “Federal Republic Of Inequality? “
In the opinion piece, l tried to prick mr president’s conscience by reminding him gently that the shade and pattern of his appointments of Nigerians into public offices were in conflict with the letter and spirit of the federal character principle enshrined in the 1999 constitution and for which a commission , Federal Character Commission, FCC was set up to enforce .
But the due attention was not paid to my prodding of Aso Rock Villa for more inclusiveness in governance as l expected . Had the president inclined his ears to mine and other pleas for a more broad minded governance system , the current threat of secession by the lgbo and Yoruba nations would not have arisen. But it is what it is .
So, like a prophetic utterance or an apocalypse manifesting a few years after, Nigeria’s sociopolitical atmosphere ,since 2016, when l wrote the article, has become very toxic with the southern half of the country threatening to decouple from the country, Nigeria .
And it is the stark lack of inclusiveness of other members of the Nigerian union in governance that is powering the separatist movements in lgbo and Yoruba lands, via IPOB and Oduduwa nations agitators.
At this juncture , permit me to reproduce a copious excerpt from
My 2016 article titled :
“Federal Republic Of Inequality “ published June 26, 2016.
It goes thus:
“Our country comprises of about 250 tribes or ethnic nationalities with the main ones being Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Kanuri, Ijaw, Nupe, Kalabari, Tiv, Ijebu, Igarra, Urhobo, Jukun, Idoma, Ika, Ibibio, Edo etc.
In the inaugural speech of president Muhamadu Buhari on May 29, 2015, he was famously quoted as saying  “I belong to everyone, I belong to no one”.
That very welcoming and reassuring remark,which resonated very well with most Nigerians, became a quotable quote that featured in myriads of comments in the mainstream and online media, just as it also became a talking head in torrents of radio and television shows.
The reason the quote was significant is quite simple.
In the run up to the 2015 general elections, campaign rhetorics vaunting ethnic and regional sentiments were so rife that Nigeria became too polarized in such a manner that the Hausa/Fulani in the northern parts of Nigeria were stacked behind, ex-military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the Hausa/Fulani  stock, while the lgbos, ljaws and other minority tribes in the south east and south south part of Nigeria,queued up behind the then incumbent president, GoodLuck Jonathan, who is ljaw, and one of their own.
The Yorubas in the south west,who having had a shot at the presidency from 1999 to 2007, when ex army General, Olusegun Obasanjo transited from prison to presidency, became the bride to be wooed by both the political forces from the north and south south parts of Nigeria.
In the end, the Yorubas aligned with the north through acceptance of the Vice President slot which the acclaimed leader of the Yorubas, Bola Tinubu, former governor of lagos state, conceded to a man of impeccable character,an evangelical pastor,his long time ally and former attorney general of lagos state,Yemi Osinbajo.
Prior to his success at the 2015 polls, president Buhari had tried and failed to successfully clinch the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011 but on each of those occasions that he lost,Buhari swept the votes in the core northern states like, katsina, kebbi, Zamfara , Sokoto etcetera ,sometimes garnering about 12 million votes.
Even with the yoruba’s vote in the kitty, Buhari still needed the votes from the south-east and south-south to fulfill the constitutional requirements that votes must be garnered from all parts of Nigeria for a candidate to be deemed to have won.
This is to ensure that a situation whereby a particular candidate from an ethnic group with superior numerical strength , does not ride into the presidency relying only on votes from only his/her kith and kin.
That’s how Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers state, the heart of South south, now minister of transport and Rochas okorocha, incumbent governor of Imo state, the ground zero of Igbo land, became the game changers.
With their support, substantial votes  in rivers and lmo states were brought into Buhari’s kitty that already had the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba votes and the rest, as they say is history.
Politics is a game of strategy and democracy is also about numbers of people that politicians are able to swing to their side, which justifies the political dictum,majority carries the vote.
In 2015, Buhari reached out and built bridges across many deserts and rainforests into Yoruba land as well as crossed many bridges and rivers into lgbo and lkwere/calabari mangroves and creeks and he reaped the  reward of the hard work by becoming Nigeria’s number one citizen.
Now, it’s pay back time.
In politics, as in business, settling lOUs is usually a very testy experience.
In what many thought was a Freudian slip like the one famously made by British prime minister, David Cameroon about Nigeria being a fantastical corrupt country, in the wake of the anti corruption summit in London recently, president Buhari during an interactive session with some Nigerians and Americans, on the sideline of his visit to the USA,stated that he can not be expected to treat the 95% who voted for him in the north equally with the less than 5% who voted in the south.
As expected in a multicultural multiethnic and multi-religious society, the comment got twisted and dissected with all manners of bias on online media platforms.
Unsurprisingly, many members of the elite commentariat also took mr president up on the remark from the optics of the numerous ethnic and other primordial sentiments, and l thought the high level of condemnation would challenge mr president to offer some clarifications but that was not the case.
With the public hue and cry about appointments so far made into executive positions,  it would appear that mr president is sticking to his guns-literarily to reward mainly voters from his home base by skewing appointments in their favor.
Check out the list of appointments into sensitive and critical security, safety, intelligence and elections sectors under the current regime making the rounds in the social media:
(1) Inspector General of Police – North
(2) Director General of Directorate of State Security Service, DSS – North
(3) Chief of Army Staff – North
(4) Chief of Naval staff – North
(5) National Security Adviser, NSA – North
(6) Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission , EFCC – North
(7) Head of Immigration Service – North
(8)Head of Customs Service -North
(9) Head of Civil Defense Corps- North
(10) Defence Minister- North
(11) Controller of Prisons -North
(12) Chairman of INEC – North
Hitherto, even under military rule, the positions listed above were spread amongst people from the 250 ethnic nationalities earlier listed particularly amongst the three major groups, Hausa /Fulani, Yoruba and lgbo.
If the recent interview, claimed to have been granted Hausa service of the BBC is to be believed, mr president is making a case that appointment of mostly close associates from his ethnic nationality into public offices in disregard of the provision by the Federal Character Commission, FCC is justified by the constitution, but is it?
In response to the allegation, below is a transcription of what mr president is believed to have said on the radio program:
“If they will do justice to me, as an elected Nigerian president, let them look at the constitution (that) a Nigerian president works with; there are people who will closely work with me that don’t need to be taken to the senate “. Mr president is very correct on that count.
” lf l select people whom l know quite well in my political party ( with) whom we came all the way right from APP,CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situations;the people l have confidence in and l can trust them with any post, will that amount to any thing wrong?”.
The snag here is that the men heading the security and strategic arms of govt listed earlier are supposed to be professionals, not card carrying members of any political parties hence the last part of mr president’s justification does not gel with the provision in 1999 Nigerian constitution.
In any case, I suspect that the statement was made when he appointed Babachar David Lawal as secretary to the Federal govt, even though it is now being presented as if it is in response to the recent appointments.
However, since mr president did not specifically mention the section of Nigerian constitution that empowers him to be tribalistic in appointments,he must have obviously been misquoted by mischief makers, nevertheless, lets take a cursory look at the act establishing the FCC, which is an entity constitutionally vested with the authority to ensure that a balance is maintained in appointments into federal govt public and civil services amongst other functions.
Information on the website of the Federal Executive Body indicate that the Federal Character Commission, FCC was established by Act No 34 of 1996 to implement and enforce the Federal Character Principle of fairness and equity in distribution of public posts and socioeconomic infrastructure among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to the provisions of 1999 Constitution in Sections 14 and 153 “The composition of Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria and the need to promote National unity and also command 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 in any agencies”
From the laws cited above, the grand norm guiding the principle of federal character is clear.
With the tension between the executive and the legislative arms of govt, rearing its urging head again,one can never tell what could become the ‘banana peel’ or Achilles’s heels of mr president.
I personally do not believe that there is a compliance desk presently in Aso Rock villa,otherwise these political  ‘blind spots’ could have been spotted from afar and avoided by mr president whom l believe listens.
Here is my evidence that president Buhari listens:
During the campaign for the presidency, opponents dug up then presidential candidate, Buhari’s not too palatable record as a military dictator who convicted journalists like Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson retrospectively and authorized the execution of drug offenders with similarly back dated laws when he was head of state..
In an article titled “.When A Public Mistake Requires An Old Fashioned Apology” which l wrote and published on the back page of Thisday newspaper and other mainstream and online media platforms,I suggested that as a leader, Buhari and his opponent, GoodLuck Jonathan should apologize to Nigerians for their past mistakes .
None of the candidates heeded the advise that time , but when Buhari later met Tunde Thompson, he reportedly personally expressed his regret even though he defended his actions that time as being an inevitable decision that had to be made and did not admit guilt, which was fair enough.
Amongst other demonstrations of ability to be a listening leader, president Buhari who initially resisted the removal of fuel subsidy, later acquiesced with it; he was also against devaluing the naira but our currency is now floating and he threatened to apply deadly force in dealing with Niger delta militants, but he has similarly backed down, allowing the application of dialogue for peace to prevail.
To me, these are some of the critical milestones that signify accommodation of other views. So l won’t join the list of critics classifying president Buhari as an autocratic leader.
Although the good gestures listed above do not quite net off the fact that pro Biafra agitator Nnamdi kalu;, alleged defense funds abuser,Sambo Dasuki and fiery Shiite preacher,El Zazarkky, as well as Femi Fani-Kayode, another accused defense funds co-conspirator, are still incarcerated after being granted bail by law courts, it is hoped that very shortly, president Buhari’s humane spirit would be stoked for him to authorize the release of these men even on compassionate grounds.
According to recent reports in the media, mr president, reportedly complained that Nigeria is proving to be difficult to govern.
Having admitted that there is too much stress involved in leading Nigeria, not adhering to the rules of  fairness  and equity ingrained in FCC law  in the appointment of Nigerians into public offices to balance the ethnic and religious realities in the country , can only create more tension and subsequently more stress for him.
So why cant mr president do the most equitable thing already stipulated in the 1999 constitution by spreading the appointments nationally and avoid more stress ?”
The article above was written in 2016 and the situation has gotten much worse in the intervening period . As essay eloquently testifies, it was barely one year into the administration of president Buhari, ( to be precise June 2016) that l identified the ominous signposts on the high way to perdition, which as a country , Nigeria is currently traveling at break neck speed.
Had our leaders heeded the advice contained in that media Intervention and elected to be more patriotic than pandering to centrifugal forces of ethnicity and religiosity , our beloved country would not be beset with the deluge of disorder posed by the multiple secessionist groups who appear to be hell bent on fragmenting our country along the lines of the three major ethnic groups.
As the saying goes, it is never too late to make amends, and where there is will , there is always a way.
If the current respect for federal character principles as enshrined in the 1999 statute book is returning as the centre piece of public policy administration under president Buhari’s watch, (as reflected by the palliative actions taken so far with respect to the formation of NNPC incorporated and the EFCC boards of directors ) then the review of the amended electoral act 2010 recently passed by the NASS and which failed to incorporate e-transmission of election results, and yet to be assented to by president Buhari , may also be afoot.
If the review of the amended electoral act 2010 to accommodate e-transmission of election results happens , then the two years or so remaining in the lifespan of this administration, may be sufficient time for president Buhari to make over his legacy that have so far been defined by the chaotic management of the political system and the extreme polarization of the Nigerian society with a view to effecting the CHANGE that the ruling party, APC promised during its campaign for votes in 2015 and reinforced as NEXT LEVEL in 2019.
ONYIBE, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst ,author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from lagos.

The conversation continues on Magnum.ng.


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