Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, examines President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to correcting lopsidedness in his appointments.
Fact-check: 81 of Buhari’s 100 appointees are Northerners,” was how a national daily stirred the hornets nest recently and set the Presidency into an overdrive. The seat of power did the unthinkable, releasing a dossier of appointments so far made by President Muhammadu Buhari, disputing the publication.
The publication points out that when President Buhari made his first set of appointments in July 2015, “not a few Nigerians saw the appointments as divisive and heavily tilted in favour of the North and against the South. Indeed, many pointed out that the appointments violated the Federal Character principle.” It goes on to say however that some people actually applauded the president for the way he made the appointments as they thought that despite the provisions of the principle of federal character, Buhari did not violate the constitution as he has the right to choose whomever he likes for government positions.
Notwithstanding the argument in support of the president’s appointments, the publication set off alarm bells in the Presidency which thereafter scrambled to obtain facts in an attempt to put a lie to the claim. Special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, apparently led this effort, working with other relevant government agencies to produce alternative facts to convince Nigerians that the administration has been fair and equitable in its distribution of the national cake. In a statement he authored, the president’s megaphone asserted that the claim by the national daily in question “is either an ignorant effort or a mischievous attempt by the publication to mislead the public and portray the Buhari administration in bad light.” He argued that although the publication claims to be a fact-checking reportage, “what it did essentially is roughly putting together a string of misleading statements across two pages of a newspaper.”
Adesina went further: “To push this biased reportage, which wrongly claimed that 81 of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 100 appointees are Northerners, the writer unilaterally selected 100 appointees to drive home the distraction presented as ‘facts.’ To claim, suggest or attempt to insinuate that the President’s appointments are tilted in favour of a section of the country is simply untrue and certainly uncharitable.” Adesina pointed out the publication’s negligence to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, before the Presidency published a detailed list of Buhari’s appointments. Ironically, the Presidency’s own presentation, was found to be error-strewed, causing Adesina to explain that it was not an exhaustive list.
The presidential spokesman himself seemed to have admitted on occasions that there was a problem with the way some appointments had been made and at times, sought to justify such on the need for the president to ensure merit. But he had also assured that Buhari would look at balancing his appointments in future. For instance, in August, he told a radio station: “Nobody can fault the fact that the persons appointed were appointed on merits. In terms of the spread, the President has prerogative to appoint and he knows there is federal character. I am sure that there will be balance in the future. These are still early days. At the end of the day, we will have a balance. By the time more appointments are made, it will balance out. The President is trying to get the very best of Nigerians. The issue of key positions and no key positions should not be the issue.”
The Presidency’s strenuous defense has done little though to erase the perception of bias on the part of the president in appointments into major offices. Beyond the the South East whose agitation for a separate country is thought to be fueled by perceived marginalisation suffered under the present administration, other sections of the country have also complained of being left out in one form or the other.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) brought the agitation home to President Buhari last Friday when it confronted him right inside the presidential villa, Abuja with the cries of neglect of Christians in particular in key appointments and other areas of endeavor including lack of action against rampaging Fulani herdsmen who the association believes are all around the country slaughtering Christians under the nose of unperturbed security agents.
CAN also vocalised the feeling of many Nigerians who fear that Buhari’s war against corruption may have been endangered unwittingly by his own reluctance to deal with the issue from within, with increasing revelations that some of his closest associates are as corrupt as his political opponents who he is alleged to have hounded over corruption allegations. CAN warned that the success of the war depends on his willingness to bring his corrupt officials to justice with the same eagerness he is prosecuting non-members of his political party.
President of the association, Reverend Samson Oyekunle, in a prepared text he delivered in the audience with the president, argued: “Much more we salute your courage to confront it (corruption) headlong as never done by any government in this nation before to the best of our knowledge and judgement. We do not want you to relent in doing this. The setbacks not withstanding, accomplishing the goal is the ultimate. However, we want you to fight corruption without fear or favour including those around you who may be like the ‘mixed multitude’ who went out of Egypt with the Israelites but were not Israelis. They caused harm along the way. Therefore, let there be no untouchable, hand those close to you that may be corrupt over to law enforcement agents as you have done to others for proper prosecution.”
CAN’s visit seemed to be the last persuasion President Buhari needed to admit that something was indeed wrong with the appointments he has made thus far despite his aides’ best effort to prove the contrary. He gave a commitment to right the perceived lopsidedness in those appointments, as well as to better deal with issues of corruption, insecurity and various injustices in various parts of the country. Going further, the President told the CAN delegation that he had already given instructions for the submission of all the names of heads of parastatals in order to address the allegations of lop-sidedness in appointments. His words: “On the question of one-sided appointments, we will look at it. I have given instructions that a list of all heads of parastatals be submitted to me and I know they will not delay in doing that.”
That was a first from the president – to openly acknowledge the existence of a sore point many had all along shouted about in his administration. Observers believe that accepting the need for adjustments in appointments is a major step towards the inclusion that had been advocated and would now expect to see positive action from the president going forward.