Friday, July 25, 2008

Lopsided federal appointments?

There has been a deluge of public outcry, especially from the South, against perceived lopsidedness in the appointment of candidates from the Northern part of the country into political offices at the expense of the other parts of the nation by President Umaru Yar’Adua.

A prominent Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, for instance, has accused the President of breaching the logic, letter and philosophy of the Federal Character principle as entrenched in the 1999 Constitution. The fear is that, under the ongoing rotational presidency, this development may set a dangerous precedent in which each region will henceforth see governance as a means of extending patronage to its own section of the country at the expense of the progress of the nation.

The North, it is claimed, is effectively in charge of the three arms of government. The President of the Federation, the President of the Senate and the Chief Justice of the Federation – come from the same region – the North. Key ministerial appointments such as Finance, Justice, National Planning, Federal Capital Territory, Agriculture and Water Resources and Defence are also in the hands of northerners.

Northerners hold sensitive security positions such as Director-General of the State Security Service, the Chief of Army Staff, Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff and the National Security Adviser.

The petroleum sector is also effectively in the hands of the North. While the President directly supervises the ministry as was obtainable under his predecessor, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Director of the Department of Petroleum Resources are Northerners.

Some critics are also of the opinion that ‘juicy’ positions in the public service and the parastatals are being held by people from Yar’Ardua’s part of the country. These include the Accountant-General of the Federation, the Comptroller-General of Customs, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority.

Besides, Northerners are fully in charge in the judicial arm of government as they hold the three most senior positions in that sector – Chief Justice of the Federation, the President of the Court of Appeal and Chief Judge of the Federal High Court. The suspicion is lingering as well that the current travails of the Central Bank Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, may not be unconnected with a plan to completely northernise key finance positions.

Moreover, the panels recently constituted by the President – Council on Energy, the Electoral Reform Committee and the Police Reform Panel – have all been headed by Northerners.

The official response to this allegation is that all the appointments were based on merit.

It is unfortunate that different sections of the country are squabbling over federal positions. It is because the centre controls the lion’s share of the nation’s oil-based revenue. Every section of the country wants its own people to be well represented in the sharing of the ‘national cake’. The Obasanjo administration had been similarly accused of lopsided appointments. The bitter rivalry for the control of the centre is partly due to the nation’s skewed federal structure.

Nevertheless, President Yar’Adua should take another look at the appointments he has made so far with a view to being fair to all sections of the country. Section 14 (3) of the Constitution states 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 to 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.”

The notion of federal character was coined to foster the corporate existence of the nation, ensure unity and give every Nigerian a sense of belonging within a pluralistic and diverse nation. This is even more so after recalling that it was perceived marginalisation of a section of the country that plunged the nation into a civil war in 1967. The Federal Character Commission and the relevant committees of the National Assembly should look at the complaints of those who feel marginalised.