Alex O. Atawa-Akpodiete
Leadership is not for the faint hearted. Comparatively, democratic leadership requires more political dexterity than military leadership. This difference is dawning on President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) daily. Our President, who has politically reincarnated himself as a democrat, is now faced with the task of choosing those who will help him pilot the affairs of the country. He has ruled essentially without an Executive Council (EXCO) for almost 100 days. September 5, 2015 will mark his 100th day in office, without Ministers. This, to some, is tantamount to being a Sole Administrator. Nonetheless, the body language of the president seems to be that of a person that knows where he is going, and damn you if do not like or agree with him. It may be his military training or the magnitude of the onerous task before him.
In the build-up to the March 2015 Presidential election, I wrote an article with the question, Will Rebranding of Buhari work? I sought the input of the populace on whether the rebranding of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) will demystify the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
President Muhammadu Buhari
What was on my mind was also the question that since the President truncated our democracy in 1983 as a military dictator, could we trust him as a democratically elected President? Also, I noticed that in the 2015 campaign, he visited other parts of Nigeria, which he did not do in the 2011 campaigns. As I stated, “Gen. Buhari has been visiting various ethnic groups in Nigeria and even donning their clothes. The native of Daura in Katsina State has been seen wearing Igbo outfit, resource control, and even tying Urhobo wrapper when he visited the indomitable Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) before the group’s current fiasco. The APC General has also changed his Hausa/Fulani regalia for a corporate suit and even a tuxedo on at least two occasions. All these recent transformational rebranding for a party with “Change” as its motto, makes one wonder if it is really genuine. Anyway, we will know in a few days if the rebranding of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) will work.” Some pundits have stated that the electorate answered in the affirmative.
Last week, the President made the following six meritorious appointments: Pastor Babachir David Lawal – Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Abba Kyari – Chief of Staff to the President; Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd.) – Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service; Kure Martin Abeshi – Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service; Senator Ita S.J. Enang – SSA to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate); and Hon. Suleiman A. Kawu – SSA to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives).
Based on his anti-corruption mantra, the President arguably may be finding it difficult, in exercising his prerogative, to choose appointees that will not tarnish his image. Empathetically, I asked myself: if I were the President of Nigeria, won’t I pick those close to me or those I know, to help me run the government. The proverbial “kitchen” cabinet may not be suitable for unknown or strange bedfellows. The President may be in need of those he can personally hold accountable. That may explain his use of many retired military personnel and northerners. Someone asked me, is it that the President does not know many southerners or is it that there are no qualified and trustworthy southerners. Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Chris Ngige were rumored to be prospective candidates for the position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Were they not capable and trustworthy? How can six recent appointments have only one southerner? Why was his first set of appointments also lopsided? These are questions that only the President is in the best position to answer. Unfortunately, the Aso Rock Press crew is not historically known for asking controversial questions, unlike in civilized climes.
I stand by my previous opinion that at this time, we should be more interested in whether or not the President delivers on his campaign promises, even if it means doing it with his Hausa-Fulani kinsmen? Will it really matter if corruption is stamped out and we all have better lives?
Unless one is biased, there is no argument that the appointments of the President to date, violates the spirit (if not the letter) of the Federal Character enshrined in Section 14(3). However, we should probably cut him some slack while we watch and pray, as opposed to taking to the streets in protest – for now.
In a few weeks, the President will release the list of his ministerial nominees. What if he still does not take cognizance of the federal Character? In the avoidance of doubt, Section 14 (3) if the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, states “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 State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
Posterity will always be the judge. For those who were clamoring for change, it is here. The last administration believed in zoning and rotating the positions in government. That was why, you saw, the Speaker of the House of Representatives being zoned to the South-West (although sabotaged), the Deputy Speaker, SGF, Senate President and Deputy Senate President were handled the same way based on the fact that the President was from the South-South and Vice President was from the North-West. Even the position of Chief of Staff was not excluded from the sharing formula. This was all in an attempt to carry every geo-political zone along and make the various ethnic groups feel a sense of belonging. The question that begs an answer is whether we really appreciated the approach of the previous administration, including the empowerment of women as Ministers. Do we really believe in federal character or zoning? Also, should we sacrifice accountability on the altar of federal character?
The President has defended the appointments. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, assured Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari’s political appointments will balance out soon and that the President was aware of federal character. We have been further reassured that “He gave a deadline of September for the appointment of ministers, and he will keep to it.” The President’s Senior Special Assistant Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, also urged critics of the President’s appointments to be patient and that the appointments made so far constitute less than five per cent of the total that would be made. He also added that the people so far appointed by the President are mostly people acting as his staff or unofficial advisers, many of whom had been working with him in official capacities. According to Mallam Shehu, “Statistically, the appointments don’t amount to five per cent of what is to come. There will be ministers, heads of government departments, federal boards and ambassadors.”
Let us give the President the benefit of doubt and support him. However, Nigerians should start practicing advanced democracy. In the upcoming elections and 2019, we should vote our conscience and apply result-based voting. Is sectarianism so bad? Did the President deliver? Answer these questions with your votes or shut up. Get involved and be active.
Rev. Atawa-Akpodiete, a public Affairs Analyst, wrote from Okpanam (Delta State). Contact him on 08138391661 or Profatawa@gmail.com.