After reading Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar's recent letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, I couldn't help but recall my encounter with Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Nigeria's foremost constitutional lawyer, five years ago. Umar, former Military Governor of Kaduna State, a respected voice on national issues, cautioned Buhari in the Sunday, May 31, consequential letter that his lopsided appointments will destroy Nigeria and warned that history will be unkind to him unless every section of the country was treated fairly.
Prefacing the letter titled, "Mr. President; please belong to all of us", with words of wisdom from Buhari's progenitor, Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio, who said: "One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom is to give preference of one particular tribe over another or show favour to one group of people rather than another," Umar reminded the president of "the chaos that has overtaken appointments into government offices" in his administration.
If nothing is done to correct the anomaly, Umar, a Fulani Muslim, warned that "Nigeria has become dangerously polarised and risk sliding into crisis on account of your administration's lopsided appointments which continues to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others. Your skewed appointments into the offices of the Federal Government, favouring some and frustrating others, shall bring ruin and destruction to this nation."
Simply put, Umar, who lost his commission in the Nigerian Army because of his campaign for the de-annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, is saying that appointments made by Buhari egregiously breach the Nigerian Constitution. Will Buhari heed his advice? I doubt because the only reason he ran for the presidency four times and cried when he thought it was all over after his third attempt was to do what he is actually doing now - promote ethnic supremacy. And for him, success is the extent to which he accomplishes this self-assigned task, notwithstanding how degenerate the goal is.
It does not matter to Buhari that his actions run contrary to the Oath of Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which he took first on May 29, 2015, and again in 2019, to "be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria ... ." When the President swore that he will discharge his duties to the best of his ability, faithfully and "in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria," he knew he was going to observe that solemn pledge in the breach.
It was never his intention to "do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will." Some clear-sighted Nigerians like Nwabueze were wiser. Two months after Buhari assumed office, the legal luminary said without mincing words that the newly minted president lacked the emotional intelligence, ideological balance and capacity to adhere to the Oath and insisted that his sole agenda would be the Northernisation of the country's socio-economic and political commanding heights. "So, the Oath of Office he took means nothing to him, it is mere ritual," he said.
I thought that conclusion was harsh. Nwabueze looked at me pityingly. "In the course of Buhari's presidency, he will deliberately and consciously populate the ministries, departments and agencies of government with Moslems and Northerners. His actions will haunt this country for years," he intoned gravely. How prescient. But I left him unconvinced, still prepared to wager on my hunch that the erudite professor of law was wrong in his prognosis. But not for long. When Buhari started appointing members of his kitchen cabinet, I realised how perspicacious Nwabueze was.
On August 27, 2015, I took to Facebook to lament what Umar is lamenting today. "Buhari is the most provincial leader Nigeria has ever had. ... How can he continue appointing top officials of government - Customs, Immigration bosses, SGF, Chief of Staff - all from the North?" Many of those who claimed to love Buhari more, most of them Yoruba, skewered me for that post. "You are entitled to your opinion Ikechukwu Amaechi. Leave this man alone, I believe those he appointed are qualified for the job. So, you expect him to appoint Igbo men? Let us wait when he appoints his ministers," wrote Peter Ojo.
Olamilekan Andu agreed with him. "My editor, you missed the point! If appointments under previous governments were meant to address ethnic consideration, Federal Character and similar sentiments without giving us good results, should we continue the trend? For me, competence, honesty, diligence, effectiveness and good results are better than ethnic bullshit many parochial minds, especially from the South are ranting about over Buhari's appointments.
Nigeria must be fixed to work for us and future generations. Let Buhari do his job, please." My good friend and fellow Chevening scholar, Olugbenga Odugbesan, also waded into the fray. "I remain a minister in the temple of justice. I am irrevocably committed to the rule of law and supremacy of the constitution. But I won't lose my sleep just because less than five per cent appointments have been announced and the scale is in favour of the North. I'll rather wait till September," he wrote.
Motivation behind the criticisms
"I also abhor the arguments that certain 'juicy' positions should be spread. What is the juice in positions other than a return to 'stealing isn't corruption' era? My abhorrence of such 'juice' logic was the same reason I didn't complain when under GEJ the CBN governor, ministers of works, finance and petroleum were all South-Southerners, not even shared among the three southern zones.
"Interestingly, no one has been able to impugn the character of President Buhari's appointees. Rather, ethnic bigotry has been the motivation behind the criticisms. It is good to prompt the president not to forget his constitutional obligations regarding the spread of appointments but it is weird to demand certain positions for certain ethnic groups on the basis of spreading the 'juice.' Nigerians aren't 'goats' anymore. So, let's not equate call to service of fatherland with 'yam' allocation."
September 2015 has since come and gone. Five years down the road, Buhari has made many more appointments and I wonder what the "patriotic" Nigerians and Buharists who thought that competence, honesty, diligence, effectiveness, etc., are values domiciled in a specific geo-political zone still think. But the truth then, which remains same today, is that it is illegal to breach the constitution on the fatuous excuse of serving public good because the Constitution itself is the only thing that can guarantee public good.
It is the guardrail that has long protected democracy, rule of law, social justice and equity. To wantonly violate the country's grundnorm for the sake of a phantom public good is the height of dishonesty. That is exactly the point Col. Umar is making in his open letter. Expectedly, the presidency has replied him by presenting a list of how appointments under the Buhari Presidency are distributed.
Out of 190 appointments made by Buhari, the South West was said to have got the lion's share of 64 (33.7 per cent), North West 37 (19.5 per cent), North East 29 (15.3 per cent), South-South 24 (12.6 per cent), North Central, 21 (11.1 per cent), and South East 15 (7.9 per cent). Those who released these figures were smart by half by not attaching positions.
It will be highly duplicitous to claim that the position of a Service Chief is on the same pedestal with an inconsequential Special Assistant who does not know the way to the president's office. Besides, anyone who thinks that conceding a paltry 7.9 per cent appointment to a zone in a country where others got 33.7 per cent does not matter should be pitied just like Buhari.