By Percy Owaiye
YOU can accuse President Muhammadu Buhari of all you like, and like all humans, he has his fair share of faults, but this one about being nepotistic and skewing appointments in favour of his ethnic or geographical North does not add up in the light of the verifiable hard facts. It reminds one of a famous quip: “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”
We may just be dealing here with the manipulative ingenuity of bitter political opponents and entrenched interests whose purpose is better served by portraying the president as nepotistic. In any case, the president’s case, we must admit, is not helped by this negative perception people have of him which, sometimes, go further than reality.
For one, the President can be painfully slow when it comes to taking decisions, but that is quintessentially Buhari. Whether with the constitution of his cabinet, or with making up his mind on what to do with his indicted ally and former SGF, Babachir Lawal, Buhari can take eternity to act. But, the good part is that he eventually acts.
Perhaps, as a good student and dedicated follower of the Murtala Muhammed leadership of this country (the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime of 1984-85 referred to itself as an ‘off-shoot’ of the earlier Muhammed administration), he may have been strengthened in his instinctive reclusive resolve, going by the verdict of most critical analysts of that era marked by the instantaneous and very decisive temperament of that leader. Ultimately, we are all political beings, and we learn from our real and perceived frailties every day.
So, on the matter of presidential appointments, you can hold a torch to it or turn it with the fine teeth of a comb, and what you find may not exactly conform to the narrative out there. Has President Buhari in the last two or so years of his presidency skewed appointments in favour of his ethnic and geopolitical North? A dispassionate analysis would help.
The presidency recently published a list of 157 appointments in response to a newspaper publication that selected 100 appointments to show that 80 of them went to the North alone. This is the kind of mischief that feeds the narrative that the man, Buhari is nepotistic.
The latter list of 159, to be sure, is not exhaustive either, and the publishers have admitted that. But, its breakdown shows that the South may have in fact benefitted from more appointments than the North by 80 to 79. Buhari’s North-West geopolitical zone, despite the advantage of having one more state than any other zone, has only 30 appointments representing 18.8 per cent of the whole.
And you would be stretching logic to imagine that all of the appointments that were not reflected in that official list could have belonged to any one region or zone alone. I know for example that the appointment of Professor James Momoh as Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and lately, Dr. Adeyeye as Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) were not listed, and they certainly do not come from the North or Buhari’s North-west for that matter.
So, where is this perception that would not just go away coming from? First, it is from the failure of President Buhari to appoint someone from the South-east to the highly visible office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), which we must now admit would have been maybe politically expedient, given the current of bad blood that was already running in that part of the country and that the then newly elected president does not like that part of the country. But, our South-east brothers forget that they could have easily got the Number 3 position in the entire government, and not just the Number 3 in the executive branch, as the SGF amounts to.
If the then senatorial candidate, Dr. Chris Ngige, was re-elected from his Anambra Central district, there was no doubting his chances of becoming Senate President, given his own record of service as a former governor of his state and experience in the National Assembly.
He had the charisma and gravitas to pull it off, too. If the Igbos are ready to forgive themselves for that grave political miscalculation, why kill Buhari for his naivety in not appointing an Igbo to the less powerful and less glamorous office of SGF?
Again, that is just Buhari. The first thing on his mind when he is making such appointments would not be the candidate’s ethnicity or religion. I think his antecedents bear him out. As a military commander in the Awka sector during the Civil War, then Major Buhari allowed reporters free access to the POWs and greatly aided them to do their work. As the then Daily Times war correspondent and now traditional ruler in Anambra State wrote in a newspaper piece, the POWs were well taken care of and fed three times a day.
When the same Buhari became head of the military government in 1984, now retired Ambassador Ignatius Olisemeka testified of his surprise at getting a letter to resume at once as the Nigerian envoy to the U.S. In those days and maybe even until now, the belief was that you could not get such plum diplomatic posting without the highest connection.
But here was Olisemeka, without any of such strings, and getting the posting nevertheless. Olisemeka made this point in an article he wrote in the run-up to the 2015 elections, remarking that he believes the current president is one of the last titans standing and that he hopes the country does not miss the opportunity to elect him.
Anyiam-Osigwe is a big and very successful name in the country’s oil industry. Perhaps, Buhari’s current traducers may want to know how the patriarch of the family, Emmanuel Onyechere Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe got his break with the total and decisive support of then Col. Buhari as Federal Commissioner in charge of the Petroleum Ministry. The details, which his beloved wife still shares with this writer until date, are captured for posterity in the biography written in his memory by his closest friend and now late.
In the end, perceptions remain what they are—perceptions. Though they greatly colour reality, they are different from reality. We can choose to believe what we may, but please give the man a break!
Owaiye writes from Lagos.