By Olu Fasan
RIGHT from the inception of his administration in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has been dogged by accusations of sectionalism in his appointments. Recently, prominent Southern leaders went to the Abuja Federal High Court to seek a declaration that his appointments were “ethnically discriminatory and lopsided”, in breach of the Federal Character and, thus, “unconstitutional, illegal and ultra vires”.
This is unprecedented, but not surprising. For, as I said, there have long been deep and growing rumblings of discontent about the lop-sidedness of his appointments.
In 2015, as Buhari began to make his early appointments, there was widespread outcry of “Northernisation”, as 75 per cent of the appointees were Northerners. Buhari’s response was that while he would honour the constitutional requirement to appoint his ministers from across the country, “people who will work closely with me” would be appointed based on their loyalty and trustworthiness, not their ethnicity. But why was it that people from other ethnic groups were not loyal and trustworthy enough to join his inner circle, be his close confidants?
The early signs were not good. But as President Buhari made more appointments into his government, it became clear that the lop-sidedness of those early appointments was not an aberration. It was a pointer to something more ingrained.
In 2018, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote an open letter to President Buhari, urging him not to seek re-election, citing, among others, his “nepotistic deployment bordering on clannishness”. In his own recent open letter, Col (retd) Abubakar Umar, former military governor of Kaduna State, warned Buhari that his nepotism could tear Nigeria apart. Col Umar said: “Nigeria has become dangerously polarised and risks sliding into crisis on account of your administration’s lopsided appointments, which continue to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others.”
President Buhari has largely ignored such criticisms. However, in 2017, BusinessDay Sunday stirred up a hornet’s nest with a report entitled: “81 of Buhari’s 100 appointees are Northerners”. This provoked a response from the presidency. Femi Adesina, President Buhari’s senior media adviser, published a list, which showed that 82 of the 157 appointments made by President Buhari were from the South, and 75 from the North. Adesina said the government’s list “put the lie” to the “mischievous” claims about Buhari’s appointments, adding: “It is, indeed, false for anyone to say that President Buhari’s appointments are lopsided”. But is that rebuttal true?
Well, I analysed the list, and the answer is no. A few significant changes have, of course, happened since Buhari’s re-election. For instance, some of the positions previously held by Southerners, such as the Chief Justice of the Federation and Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, SIRS, are now held by Northerners. But, broadly speaking, the list has not changed significantly. So, let’s use it as the basis for our analysis.
The first point is that the Presidency was playing the numbers game: 82 Southerners versus 75 Northerners. But as George Orwell said in Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Having 82 appointees from the South as against 75 from the North is irrelevant if Northerners hold nearly all the important posts. Therefore, it’s about quality, not just quantity!
Now, for this analysis, let’s break down President Buhari’s appointments into three categories, based on their relative power or influence. The three are: his inner circle; heads of security services; and heads of agencies. I leave out ministers and special advisers because the former must, constitutionally, reflect national spread and the latter have absolutely no influence. I mean, what advice are they giving to a magisterial president? So, let’s focus on the three categories: what does the list show?
Well, Buhari’s inner circle, of which I include his chief of staff, his aide de camp, his chief protocol officer, his national security adviser and the secretary to the Federal Government, was and remains entirely North-dominated. The recent appointment of Professor Ibrahim Gambari, of mixed Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba heritage, as chief of staff appears to change the situation slightly. But hardly anyone in the South West would regard Gambari, from Kwara State and the North Central geo-political zone, as anything but a Northerner. So, the cabals in Buhari’s government, as his inner circle is called, are entirely Northerners!
What about the security services? In his criticism of the lop-sidedness of President Buhari’s appointments, Col Umar said: “Nowhere is this more glaring than in the leadership cadre of our security services.” He is absolutely right. Of the eight security chiefs, only two are from the South: the chief of defence staff (South West) and the chief of naval staff (South-South). The remaining six, including the heads of the army, air force, police, national intelligence agency and state security service, are Northerners.
What’s more, heads of the quasi-security bodies such as customs and immigration services, are also Northerners. Put simply, the security and quasi-security architecture of this country is almost entirely controlled by Northerners. Shockingly, not a single Igbo from the South East is deemed suitable enough to head any of Nigeria’s security services. It is beyond belief!
As for agency appointments, again, let’s focus on quality, not quantity. Let’s consider only those holding leadership positions, such as chairman, director-general, managing director and chief executive. Well, the presidency’s list showed 31 Northerners holding such positions, 19 from the South West and nine each from the South-South and South East.
This shows that the North and the South West control most of the agencies, which reflect their electoral pacts in 2015 and 2019, while the South East and South-South are marginalised in appointments to the leadership cadre of agencies.
So, balanced or lopsided? Well, with President Buhari’s inner circle, heads of Nigeria’s security services and heads of key agencies being almost entirely Northerners, the answer is clear: Buhari is running a sectional, nepotistic government.
There’s no greater danger to national cohesion. As president, Buhari should be a unifying force, not a divisive one!