By Bola Bakare
NIGERIA, since attainment of independence in 1960, has experienced recurrent tensions due to severe horizontal inequities that exist between different regions and ethnic groups where one divide of the country appears to be better placed than the other.
The Nigerian civil war was fought and ended with a declaration of ‘no winner, no vanquished’, so consecutive regimes embarked on a reform process intended to address the sensitive issues of inequality and ethnic domination. This included the adoption of the federal character principle to ensure the equitable representation of different groups in all tiers of government, and the formation of the Federal Character Commission, FCC, to monitor and enforce its implementation.
While the FCC has raised hopes on redressing historical imbalances in Nigeria’s civil service, little progress has been made over time. The workings of the FCC remain plagued by legal and administrative constraints and political dependence. The federal character principle was first included in the Second Republic Constitution but is now enshrined in provisions 14.3 and 14.4 of the 1999 Constitution.
It requires that there is ‘no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups’ in the Federal Government and its agencies. Similarly, state governments and local government councils and their agencies must reflect the diversity within their areas of authority.
The Federal Character Commission, FCC, created through a decree in 1996 by the military regime of Sani Abacha, was included in the 1999 Constitution as one of the 14 independent federal executive bodies. Its first mandate is to work out an equitable formula, subject to the approval of the president, for the distribution of posts in public service as well as political appointments. To a large extent, this has calmed frayed nerves whenever infractions are spotted in the distribution of opportunities.
The composition of Nigeria and the sharp ethnic diversity informed the mandate 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 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”.
This mandate is noble in all ramifications considering that Section 7(7) of the Act states that “the commission (which consists of the plenary) shall have powers to regulate the proceedings and may make standing orders with respect to the holding of meetings, the notice to be given, the procedure thereto…”
Deriving its powers from the section above, the commission empowers the plenary consisting of all commissioners as nominated from the thirty six states, the Federal Capital Territory and the chairman to run an overview of reports being the nominal rolls of MDAs of any recruitment exercise observed by members of an operational committee, being the supervisory body, and presenting such report to the plenary thus facilitating for the issuance of certificate of compliance by the Commission.
However, since the inauguration of Dr. Muheeba Dankaka-led Commission about a year ago, there has been a radical departure from the laid-down mandate, thus eroding in the citizenry and the commissioners nominated from the states the sense of justice and confidence hitherto reposed in the commission. Her sins are as enumerated below. Foremost and necessary of urgent mention is the chairman’s deliberate acts at sidelining the operational committees and relating directly with monitored MDAs.
This act is not only a usurpation of the constitutional roles of the operational committees and membership thereof, but tends towards recklessness and non-compliance on the parts of these MDAs. This leads to lopsided conferment of benefits and nepotism. This infraction engenders complicity and can result in legal backlash. The most damning aspect of this is instances where heads of MDAs have had to rudely tell operational committee members that they relate directly with the chairman, thus withholding sensitive information. This is totally unacceptable and should be discontinued.
Another grievous sin is the withholding of MDAs deemed sensitive, purportedly with presidential directive, thus foreclosing commissioners’ access and visibility to the transactions and activities of such MDAs. This is grossly against resolution at 282nd plenary of Wednesday, August 16, 2020 where it was resolved to put in place 37 trial operational committees for six months premised on memo from same erring chairman.
Over 40 MDAs from the above 600 which includes NNPC, DPR, CBN, FIRS, PEF, NDIC, DSS, EFCC, NPA, NIMASA, NCDMB, e.t.c have surreptitiously been placed on the prerogative list with claims that these MDAs “were specifically instructed in line with the tradition of the Commission by ‘The Presidency’ to keep for overriding executive interests.”
This is not only laughable but a total and complete breach of the established process, public service work ethics and a total indictment of the presidency as well as an insult to the collective intellect of the commissioners and the states represented. The question is: while adhering to this executive directive from the presidency, if there is any, what benefits are accruable to Kwara indigenes and the senatorial district she hails from? We cannot live a lie. Even the internal recruitment she supervised is fraught with allegations of irregularities.
The fabric of the Nigerian nation is frail, the people are despondent, our oneness is threatened as ethnic nationalities allege marginalisation. What is presently playing out at the Federal Character Commission, if not addressed and nipped in the bud, will rubbish the nationalistic attributes of Nigeria.
Since all commissioners statutorily report to the national chairman, withholding the aforementioned MDAs would amount to her acting as judge in her own case. This will infringe on the dispensation of justice and management of conflict of interests. How do the commissioners, representing the states, ensure fair and equitable representation in the affected MDAs; how are the slots outside of the presidency protected from alienation?
To all end, these actions can only lead to mistrust, deprivation, anger and chaos. The Federal Character Commission, set up primarily to instill sense of fairness and confidence, will, ultimately, become an object of disdain, causing disaffection, agitations and criticisms. This will be extended to the Nigerian presidency.
To solve this problem, it is suggested that: •All MDAs be allocated and assigned to committees in compliance to the establishment Act and in line with Rules 40 and 41 of the Federal Character Commission Rules for the Plenary. To balance and resolve this anomaly, it is also suggested that:
- Waivers and certificates of compliance issued since the inauguration of the commission on July 2, 2020 be reviewed to determine the compliance or otherwise to the Federal Character Principles and, subsequently, come up with appropriate recommendations for corrective action.
- The Chairman should desist from indiscriminate issuance of waivers, certificates of compliance and, subsequently, adhere strictly to the provisions of the Establishment Act and rules, thereof.
- The internal lopsided recruitment which she unilaterally conducted should be suspended and it should be subjected to due process. Many are the atrocities of the chairman.
Though, of grave consequences are the establishment vices, yet, also grievous are her many financial ineptitude that call to question the accountability of the commissioners as the crime, by extension, rubs on the integrity of the commissioners by virtue of their membership of the Commission.
Where MDAs are assigned, files of such MDAs are made inaccessible or relevant vital documents expunged. Rather, though, all MDA files should be centrally domiciled under the control of the registry which is in conformity with administrative processes and procedures. The movement of these files should be detailed documented on a daily basis.
This measure will deter from tampering and doctoring of files and documents, therein. This should be done, alongside ensuring that operational committees are granted unfettered access to the files of their assigned MDAs.
Of note and of very grave concern is the refusal of the national chairman to render account of financial transactions as it concerns income and expenditure of the Commission, even of assets. This is clearly at variance with the financial rules and regulations of the Commission and that of the public service. This also negates the much-cherished principles of accountability, probity and transparency and runs contrary of the Federal Government policy of zero-tolerance for corruption which accounts for the very core of our national problems inhibiting national growth and development. How can this be corrected?
It is recommended that a five-man financial panel of inquiry be constituted. The panel will look into all financial transactions of the Commission as presently constituted. The scope will include but not limited to receivables, earnings as well as expenditures as approved under the public service rules and regulations.
The committee shall come up with findings and recommendations, such would be brought to the plenary, being the appropriate body, for deliberation, decisions and sanctions, if need be. There is no sacred cow under the law of probity and accountability.
For a deterrent in future, the Chairman shall be required to adhere, strictly, to the public service financial transaction rules and regulations whereby expenditures will only be by approvals while such expenditures are adequately documented. The Commission’s budget proposal was neither presented to the F&GPC nor the plenary for scrutiny and approval before submission to the National Assembly. This is a gross violation of budgeting and expenditure regulations
Though already passed into law, it is suggested that the budget still be brought to the plenary for appraisal, while future budgetary proposals, mandatorily, should receive plenary approval before such becomes public or is presented for legislative approval.
It is thus suggested that to restore confidence of and in the plenary, every allegation should be investigated by the appropriate body and sanctions, thereof, be given. Then, and only then, will the Federal Character Commission regain its esteem.