By Bala Ibrahim.
The Federal Character commission of Nigeria, FCC, came into existence pursuant to the yearnings of Nigerians for a reform that would address the thorny issues of inequality and ethnic domination in Federal agencies, by ensuring the equitable representation of different groups in all tiers of government, as well as monitoring the implementation of these righteous objectives.
For starters, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, made it clear that the FCC should be composed in a way that would make it the custodian of the principle of Federal Character, and be given the responsibility of ensuring that all Federal agencies and parastatals in Nigeria respect and adhere to this principle. To this effect, the 37 commissioners of the commission are appointed from each of the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja, the Federal capital Territory.
The ambition of this distribution of commissioners is to ensure balance and equitable representation, in a way that would make every part of the country feel a sense of belonging.
Since coming to power in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has been assuring Nigerians that he would do whatever it takes to remain honest and just in steering the country towards a better future. To this effect, in his inaugural speech on the 29th May, 2015, as the first opposition candidate to defeat a sitting President, the President spoke in a manner that touched the instinctive emotion of the nation, when he said, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”
To prove his determination of adhering to what he said and ensure that every part of the country is carried along, it took the President six months before the list of ministerial portfolios and offices was announced. By the time the list came out, everyone was convinced the president matched his words with action.
By 2019, when he returned for the second term, the President elected to expand the cabinet positions from 36 to 43, in order to inject the principles of equity in the distribution of appointments.
However, despite his resolve at ensuring equity, President Buhari seems to be, knowingly or unknowingly, playing into the hands of his adversaries, by allowing some agencies under his watch to operate at variance with his promise to right the major wrongs of Nigeria, particularly nepotism. One of such agencies that is working with a reversed ambition to the President’s mission is the Federal Character Commission.
Sections 4 of the subsidiary legislation states that, ‘Where the number of positions available cannot go round the states of the federation or the Federal Capital, the distribution shall be on zonal basis. But in the case where two positions are available, the positions shall be shared between the northern and southern zones.
But sadly, at the Federal Character Commission, they are operating in conflict with the provision of this article, hence at variance with the President’s promise of ensuring equity and fairness in the distribution of positions.
Since inception, the FCC has been operating on the principle that makes the Chairman and Secretary to be appointed from the North and South. But for the first time, both are from one region. The FCC Chairman, Dr. Muheeba Farida, is from Kwara State while the Secretary, Muhammad Tukur Bello, is from Taraba State.
Also, Section 14(3) of the Constitution stipulates that, “the composition of 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, command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the Government or any of its agencies”.
To compound the violation of the provision of equitable distribution of appointments, sometimes early this year, twenty out of the thirty Seven commissioners wrote a petition against the chairman of the commission, Dr. Muheeba Farida, accusing her of making secret recruitment that gave majority slots to her kinsmen from Offa, Kwara State. The aggrieved commissioners alleged that the chairman single handedly recruited 22 employees, out of which 11 were from her senatorial district in Kwara State. They alleged this was a breach of the FCC Act and, therefore, requested the intervention of The Presidency.
She was also alleged to have constituted herself into a one-man committee, supervising some select MDA’s like the defunct NNPC, DPR, PPPRA and PEF, NCDMB, PTDF, DSS, NPA, NIMASA, NDIC, NDDC, and 18 other agencies, hence recruitment by these agencies is only viewed and managed by her, in violation of the true essence of FCC.
What is more, the Certificate of Compliance, a process check system to ensure correction of lopsidedness, which mandates that the request be presented at plenary for approval before issuing to Federal MDAs has not been followed since Dr. Muheeba became chairman. This is totally against the Federal Character provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. And clearly at variance with the promise made by the President.
Furthermore, allegations of unwholesome arrogation of power to self, humiliation of team of commissioners, failure to render account of financial transactions to the plenary and usurpation of the statutory responsibilities and roles of the secretary, among others, have also been levelled against the Chairman of the Commission.
Rather than work with the Directors and Commissioners of the Commission, she hired two Resident Consultants to help her carry out the day to day management of the Commission in a bid to hide her gross incompetence.
The chairman’s high handedness has gotten to the level where the FCC is being ran like a sole trader, without regards to the principles of public accountability, transparency or probity, to the extent that most of the departments are presently not functioning.
Many observers are of the opinion that never in the history of the commission, had the positions of the commissioners been relegated to the level of redundancy and appointments made lopsidedly, at the discretion of the chairman, as in the current dispensation.
It is pertinent to note that, while the president has raised hopes on redressing the historical imbalances in Nigeria’s civil service, the actions of the chairman FCC, are making it hard for anyone to see if any progress has, or will be made in this direction. The workings of the FCC under Dr. Muheeba remain plagued by the exhibition of extreme nepotism, incapacity, complete disregard for rule of law and proper administrative ethos.
Perhaps it is due to her lack of cognate experience required to run a commission with such huge responsibilities. Many complaints have been made against her, but there are allegations of nepotistic cover given to her from the ministry of Information, where her kinsman is holding sway.
PMB has just returned to Nigeria yesterday from the UAE, where he had assured that Nigeria remains the most viable and attractive investment destination in Africa, saying that the country is on the path of becoming the continent’s leading industrial and trading nation, as a result of the many corrections made to restore investors confidence, through justice and equity in the way rules, norms and actions are structured and held accountable, in order to smoothen the ease of doing business in the country.
The President needs to act decisively fast, in order to reverse the callous character of the Federal Character Commission, which is the engine of control of all the MDA’s, and ensure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done.