Omoniyi Salaudeen, and Uche Usim, Abuja
The loud disquiet that followed the list of six nominees recently sent to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari for confirmation as Chairman, Director-General and National Executive Commissioners of the National Pensions Commission (PENCOM) again brought to the fore the perceived lopsidedness in the distribution of key offices across the agencies of the Federal Government.
The latest being the nomination of Aisha Umar as the substantive Director-General of the PENCOM contrary to Section 20 (1) and Section 21 (1) of the National Pension Commission Act 2014, which state that “In the event of vacancy, the president shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure”.
In the letter which was read on the floor of the Senate by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, President Buhari had nominated Oyindasola Oni for Chairman, and Umar as a replacement to the former Director-General of the PENCOM, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, who is under investigation for alleged procurement irregularities.
However, since Anohu-Amazu is of the Igbo extraction, some aggrieved Senators from the Southeast led by the Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, sharply objected and described the action of the president as a flagrant violation of the Act that established the PENCOM.
Umar’s nomination only served as a catalyst for the renewed resistance against the perceived marginalization of some sections of the country by the Buhari administration. Just last month, the list of Justices nominated to the Supreme Court for the Senate’s confirmation was said to be allegedly skewed in favour of the North. The nominees were Lawal Garba (Northwest), Helen Ogunwumiju (Southwest), Abdu Aboki (Northwest), and M. M Saulawa (Northwest). Others are Adamu Jauro (Northeast), Samuel Oseji (South-south), Tijani Abubakar (Northeast), and Emmanuel Agim (South-south). Nominees from the Southeast and North-central were conspicuously missing. In view of this, question is now being asked whether the judiciary has become an exclusive preserve of the North.
The story in other national institutions like the Customs and security is also not in any way different. Sunday Sun investigation revealed that all major revenue generating commands and enforcement units of Customs had literally become an exclusive preserve of the North under the watchful eyes of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd). For instance, other than FOU Zone C that is currently headed by an officer from the Southwest, the CACs of Apapa, Tin-Can, Federal Operations Units Zone A, B and D are all under the firm grip of northern officers. So also the Port Harcourt Area I, ll and III (oil and gas) commands. Southeast and South-south zones are not at all in the picture here. While there is a general discontent arising from the lopsidedness in the sharing of responsibilities within the commands, there is also a growing trend of entitlement mentality among the favoured officers within the organizations.
A member of the Presidential Task Force on the Reform of the NCS, Mr Lucky Amiwero, who could not hide his dissatisfaction with the system, expressed concern that a critical institution like Customs had become more political than a professional body. “When you create the impression that some people from certain parts of the country are superior to others, we can’t make the best of the place. And that is what we’re seeing here. We have lots of issues. There are so many things happening in Customs that are not making it operate optimally”, he said.
However, the Spokesperson for the Customs, Joseph Attah, reacting to the issue, dismissed the allegation of favouritism, insisting that Customs board had always adhered to the principle of federal character in the appointment of Assistant Comptrollers-General (ACGs) and Deputy-Comptrollers General (DCGs).
He further clarified that vacancies for new appointments were made available through retirement, resignation, dismissal or any natural cause.
“When any of the above occurs, such vacancies are filled by new appointments from the zone(s). In the last few months, there have been retirements of two Deputy Comptrollers-General (DCGs), one from the Northeast and the other from the Northwest. There were also three Assistant Comptrollers-General (ACGs) that exited the Service – two retired and one was dismissed (one from the Northeast and two from Northwest).
“The two DCG vacancies provided spaces for two senior serving ACGs from the same zones of Northeast and Northwest to be appointed to the rank of DCG. This, therefore, increases the number of ACG vacancies to five which must be filled from the two zones that have the vacancies. Officers of the ranks of ACG and DCG are appointed considering the zones they represent”, he explained.
While the senators from the Southeast are making frantic effort to lobby their counterparts from the Southwest to checkmate the president’s lopsided appointments, some eminent Nigerians who spoke to Sunday Sun on the matter roundly blamed the National Assembly for abdicating its responsibility to enforce strict compliance to the principle of federal character in the distribution of key positions in government.
A respected elder statesman and former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Pius Ezeife, unequivocally declared the breach of the principle of federal character by President Buhari as an impeachable offence. For failing to call the president to order, he accused the lawmakers of being part of the plot to breakup Nigeria.
His words: “We in the South and Middle Belt Forum sued the government of Buhari for violating federal character in his appointments. That was about three or more months ago. And yet there is no sign to show that he knows what is going on. I think the National Assembly has a question to answer. It is part of their (lawmakers’) responsibility to ensure that the constitution is respected. It is an impeachable offence to deny federal character. But I haven’t seen any query from the National Assembly. It is no longer news that Southeast is being excluded, humiliated, cheated, and treated unfairly.
“There is something behind it. How can a system be so insensitive? I don’t know what is happening in the country. Appointment is so lopsided and it cannot be for nothing. Maybe God is teaching us something with what is happening.
“Federal Character Commission is supposed to look into the appointment and ensures that every part of Nigeria gets a fair share of federal appointments, but it does not have the fearlessness to challenge the government. If the society is well organized, the Federal Character Commission should point out to the government the lopsidedness of the appointments. And if they are not doing that, why should they continue to exist? It is being treated as if it means nothing. Our young men in the Southeast are protesting the exclusion, marginalization and humiliation of the Southeast people. And for that, they are calling for secession or self-determination and some people failed to understand them. Those of us who are elder statesmen are still hoping and praying for one Nigeria. Every group in Nigeria – Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Middle Belt etcetera, will benefit more from restructured and reorganized Nigeria. But the way things are going now, some people are pushing for Nigeria’s breakup. North is actually working for Nigeria to breakup. It is obvious that the Federal Government is working for the break up of our country.
“This violation of the constitution in many ways cannot be anything other than ignoring the collective interest of the country. The permanence of one Nigeria is not helped by what the Federal Government is doing. Southeast is among most qualified zones in terms of human power. Yet nobody is picked from there. And you consider them to be Nigerians.
“The violation of the principle of federal character as enshrined in the constitution is an impeachable offence. So, it is a matter of asking the National Assembly whether they are doing their job or they are not. Or are they part of those who want Nigeria to break up. Is the National Assembly supporting the break up of Nigeria because the Federal Government has shown very clearly that it is supporting the break up of the country.”
Also speaking in the same vein, activist and renowned former labour leader, Chief Frank Kokori, accused the lawmakers in the National Assembly of a total letdown.
He said: “The blame should be put on the doorstep of the National Assembly. The primary reason the lawmakers in the National Assembly were elected is to ensure check and balances on the activities of the government. That is why they represent their various constituencies. If they can’t call the president to order, nobody can do it.
“Activists can only talk and criticize the lopsidedness; the civil society can also make their voice, they can’t do more than that. The most powerful civil society is the organized labour and organized labour doesn’t care any longer. So, the National Assembly should monitor the activities of government. They are letting Nigerians down.”
He accused President Buhari of sidelining the Federal Character Commission.
“The Federal Character Commissioner was actually created to perform the function of ensuring equity and justice in the distribution of offices to achieve even geographical spread. But for now, it can’t perform that function because the presidency is sidelining the agency. The presidency and the cabal are more powerful than the Commission. And this is Nigeria where people don’t resign their appointments; otherwise, those who head the agency should have resigned. The people in the presidency don’t follow the principle of federal character in appointments. The presidency uses its own discretion in appointing people into various offices. Of course, he has that right to do so, but he is supposed to use it sparingly and rationally,” he pointed out.
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe also didn’t spare the lawmakers of hash words as he accused them of being part and parcel of Nigeria’s woes.
He fumed: “There is nothing the Federal Character Commission can do to checkmate the president in his appointments. And there is nothing we can do unless we change the system of government we run in this country. We stand the risk of total destruction the way things are going. The power of the executive is so high that he can even dissolve the board of Federal Character Commission because he appointed them. This is even more so with a dictatorial president we have now. We run a government that is not in conformity with national development. We had a choice between democracy and national development, but we opted for democracy and left out national development. There are countries that don’t practice democracy and they are thriving even far better than we do. Our democracy is so expensive and unattractive to national development and it will consume and destroy us. There is no way we can survive with this type of democracy.
“Unfortunately, the type of National Assembly we run is anti-people and anti-development. It takes an average of four years for the National Assembly to pass a bill into law. So, what do you expect from the National Assembly that only concentrates on budget and loans? This National Assembly is part and parcel of the executive and they are not hiding it. They are even holding seminars together. During the two-day seminar they recently held, there was no mention of any critical legislation the president expected them to address. They have left us to our fate. We are faced with the threat of total destruction.”
But for Muhammed Tsav, son of the late Abubakar Tsav, who is a legal practitioner, it is only the people of Nigeria who can stand up to resist the perceived lopsidedness of appointments by the present administration.
He said: “The Federal Character Commission has failed woefully in its mandate. But then, you cannot point accusing finger at the commission because it is not independent. It is supposed to be independent, but it is not in the sense that the people who run the agency are themselves appointees of government. So, the government expects them to listen to them. They are not allowed to run the commission the way it should be run. The statistics speaks for itself. A certain section of the North is being favoured by the president’s appointments, whereas, every state needs representation in the Federal Government’s appointments.
“Besides, the issue of federal character is an arm of discrimination. While the western world is concerned with competence, we are busy here talking about tribalism which is another arm of discrimination. To be honest with you, it is a dicey area to delve into at this point in time. But I still agree that some certain sections of the country are being favoured at the expense of others.
“It is the people of Nigeria that will stand up and say we don’t want this kind of thing again. It is for the populace to stand up and say we have had enough of this; we can’t tolerate it any more. Civil disobedience can make a lot of difference. We are not going to fight, we are not going to burn houses, we are just not going to do it that way anymore. If 500,000 people say they are not going to work, are you going to fight 500,000 people? I think it is time for the people to stand up themselves.”
The Federal Character Commission (FCC) was established by Act No. 34 of 1996 to implement and enforce the Federal Character Principle of fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructure among the various federating units in Nigeria. Part of its mandate is to ensure 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. In the same way, state governments and local government councils and their agencies are expected to reflect the diversity within their areas of authority. But the recent happenings have portrayed the commission as a toothless bulldog, as the president continues to ignore the principle of federal character in his appointments. This development has made some watchers to question the basis of continued existence of the commission.