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The ethnic presidency

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By Emmanuel Aziken

Pity the lot of President Muhammadu Buhari. Moved by the repeated attacks by herdsmen on Nigerians, he has had to defend himself against allegations of sheltering, and if not, keeping mute in the face of the senseless killings by people generally suspected to be of his ethnic hue.

President Muhammadu Buhari and cross Section of Ministers during the FEC Meeting held at the Council Chambers in Abuja

After the latest horrendous attacks on the Plateau by suspected herdsmen, President Buhari was compelled during a visit to Government House, Jos, last Tuesday to elaborate on the injustice in the allegations against him.

“People are even blaming me for not talking to them because maybe (they say) I look like one of them,” the president said during the condolence visit.

Indeed, allegations of a Nigeria president propping up his ethnic folks are not really new. While some presidents have been accused of favouring their kith and kin, none has been accused of sheltering their own in engaged bestial ravage against fellow countrymen. So, for one who fought to keep Nigeria one; that allegation must have been very grave to have reciprocated a response from the otherwise taciturn former general.

Before Buhari, President Goodluck Jonathan was famously accused of enthroning an Ijaw cabal in the presidency that dictated pace and policies of governance. Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi who was minister of sports in the Jonathan government was reportedly sacked on the instruction of members of the Ijaw cabal who were furious that he, Abdullahi refused to denounce Senator Bukola Saraki during a political rally in Ilorin in March 2014.

It is remarkable that by the time Jonathan was vice-president, the Ijaw were hardly around him. Besides his famous friend, King Amalate Turner, the only other prominent Ijaw person in government who came around Jonathan was Senator Paulker Emmanuel. Some Ijaw at that time murmured that he did not want his Ijaw brothers around him. The only Ijaw high level staff around him as vice-president was the likeable but now deceased Oronto Douglas.

However, after the enthronement of their son as president in May, 2010, the Ijaw flocked to Jonathan with aplomb throwing influence around the presidency.

It got to the point that other nationalities in the South-South muttered about the Ijaw riding roughshod over the region.

Before the Ijaw Cabal, there was the original cabal in the Yar’Adua presidency, from Katsina known as K34. This was the group that brought the phenomenon of the cabal to political renown. That cabal essentially comprised of associates of the then president who enthroned themselves in power through their connection with the Umaru Yar’Adua administration in Katsina State between 1999 and 2007.

That Cabal was renowned for projecting some of the state’s leading intellectuals in governance including Dr. Abba Ruma and Dr. Tanimu Yakubu who political operatives in Abuja confessed operated with brutal efficiency.

Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency before then was, however, a notable exception in not promoting an ethnic presidency. His closest political enforcer was from Anambra, his chief of staff was from Kwara and his Aide-De-Camp was from Edo State. Indeed, the Obasanjo presidency could indeed have been the Nigerian presidency. Indeed in ethnic balance, it was undoubtedly exceptional in its attitudinal perceptions. That perhaps bequeathed it with the grace of positioning some of the most qualified Nigerians in the appointments it made.

How the Buhari presidency came to be profiled as projecting an ethnic hegemony may have arisen from its indiscretions. The lopsided appointments in the security services and the education sectors have been especially contentious.

Even more was the appointment of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Whereas all other presidents since independence had appointed chairmen of the electoral commission from outside their ethnic blocs, the choice of a qualified but fellow Fulani in the person of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has been an issue.

It is in the light of these strategic indiscretions and behind the scene influence of kith and kin that the Buhari presidency is now pitiably profiled in ethnic colourations. That is even if it has not been marshalled as a state policy or the fact that some non Fulani have for selfish gains helped to fuel the dissonance by giving the president the impression that all is well.

It is in this light that the different ethnic groups now see the enthronement of their kinfolk in the presidency as a political motif. But indeed, none has been so mentioned and remained more of a mirage than the famed Igbo presidency!

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