Rather than elicit applauses or reassure Nigerians of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s determination to accelerate decision making thereby fast-tracking the nation’s transformation process, appointments made by the president have continued to polarise the country, as well as deepen ethnic and religious fault lines.
The alleged lopsidedness in appointments last week prompted elder statesmen and leaders of socio-cultural platforms from the South to launch a mouthwatering N50b suit against the president.
Joined in the suit with Buhari is the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Ataba Sani Omolori, and the Federal Character Commission as co-defendants.
In the case filed on their behalf by Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the group, led by 16 elders, claimed that since the inception of his administration in 2015, Buhari’s appointments have contravened the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the federal character principle.
Some citizens listed in the suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/595/2020, where the plaintiffs further alleged that the southern region had been “deliberately marginalised by the President Buhari government” include, Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Dr. John Nnia Nwodo, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, Mrs. Sarah Doketri, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, and Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd).
In the suit, where they are praying the court to, among other things, determine whether it was not “reckless and adverse to the interest of Nigeria, for President Buhari to obtain a loan facility from the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, the World Bank, China, Japan, and Germany, amounting to $22.7 billion, for infrastructural development, only to allocate the bulk of the fund to the northern region,” the other plaintiffs are Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, Prof. Julie Umukoro, Elder Stephen Bangoji, Alhaji Tijani Babatunde, Mrs. Rose Obuoforibo, Mr. Adakole Ijogi, and Dr. Charles Nwakeaku.
Stakeholders from the South East, yesterday, eulogised southern leaders over the suit as it portrayed them as persons that value civility.
They added that a proper determination of the suit would define the true meaning of federal character as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), which commended the move, which is aimed at whipping the president into line for alleged abuse of federal character principle, regretted that the nation failed to address these and sundry infractions by the Buhari-led administration before they went out of hand.
DR. Ezeife, a former governor of Anambra State and one of the plaintiffs in the suit said they initiated the action to salvage the country, which constitution has been roundly disobeyed and implemented to favour a section of the country, against the others, stressing that they would not fold their hands while “injustices” reign.
Ezeife lamented that the South East was being treated as if the Buhari administration wanted them to leave Nigeria, adding, “The boys are reacting in IPOB and we the older ones are worried about the situation.
“So, the present government is not obeying the constitution and we want it to obey the constitution. There are too many things going on against this government. Northern states, especially Katsina and others are indeed complaining, but things have gone so bad and we will not continue to watch things go awry,” he stated.
A former National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie in his reaction said: “It is good that leaders of the four of the six geo-political zones have chosen the court option to address their grievances. As far as I am concerned, it is a civilised and legitimate way of addressing perceived grievances. I had expected (because they control the umbrella organisations of these socio-cultural zones) that they would have had either individual groups or collectively called a kind of summit or interface with our representatives at the National Assembly who not only make the laws but oversight the implementation of these laws.
“It is a long time I have been expecting these lawmakers to address these worrisome aspects of our federalism. This thing did not just start with the President Buhari-led administration. Before I founded Igboezue, it was there and I had used Igboezue to fight injustice and propagate justice. The documents are all there. So what I am saying is that our representatives in the National Assembly from 1999 till date have never made it a cardinal objective of their representation. Now, socio-cultural organisations have felt so aggrieved that the only option they have is to go to court. The more effective approach should have been representatives from these areas in the National Assembly. This is because when you are talking about four geo-political zones, you are talking about the majority in the National Assembly and for them to keep quiet and wait for the court to make a pronouncement of what they should have done in the cause of carrying out their duties as legislators, speaks volumes of the kind of representations we have.”
The Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, also welcomed the development and described it as a “civilised way that things work in society than carrying arms to pursue an issue.”
He stated further, “We have been reading in the media, the interface between the government and these leaders on behalf of the people that they represent. These are ethnic nationalities and Nigeria is made up of various ethnic nationalities. It is these people that have gone to court to get an interpretation of what we know as federal character. I would have even loved that they add the issue of the 1999 constitution. That the court should interpret whether that constitution has the mandate of Nigerians to function,” he said
Ezike is of the view that the elder statesmen should have taken the matter to the National Assembly before heading for the court, saying: “I believe that most members of the National Assembly should have vested interests and that is what they saw and decided to go to court. So, let the court say what becomes of the rule. I believe it is a topical issue because whatever the court defines as the federal character should henceforth guide appointments that we make as a country going forward.”
On his part, emeritus President General of Pan-Igbo group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike said: “The disregard of the constitutional provision for federal character by this government is well known. So, elders can no longer fold their arms and swallow this insult. The Buhari-led government completed its first term and promised to correct the ills of the preceding four years. Instead, the parochialism and even myopism became too prominent to be ignored.”
The former national publicity secretary of the Ijaw National Congress, Victor Burubo, commended the court option, saying, “it shows they are alive to their responsibilities to defend, promote the interest of the South.”
Burubo, who claimed that the level of nepotism and bigotry exhibited by the Buhari administration was unacceptable, accused the president of failing to see the country beyond the borders of the core North, otherwise, he would not continually breach the Federal Character Commission Act.
The president’s action is a result of bigotry; it is xenophobia. If you read the coup speech made in 1985 by those who overthrew him, one cardinal accusation made against him was that they could not get him to appreciate and understand the fact that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. So, his mind is closed to the idea of a nation. Even when solutions to the nation’s problems can come from other parts of the country, his mind is so closed,” he said.
However, a socio-political group in the South West, Yoruba Ronu has said the suit was ambiguous and incapable of doing the country any good.
Its president, Akin Malaolu said that last year, the Presidency gave details of all its appointments and the statistics showed that the South, especially South West has more appointments in this government than any other region in the current dispensation.
According to him: “As long as our elders have their right under the 1999 Constitution to express their views, what they are contending with Buhari actually started under former President Goodluck Jonathan, and it would be recalled that these same set of people challenged Jonathan, but unfortunately they (the elders) eventually used the agitation to negotiate with the former president and that was how Brigadier General Jones Oladeinde Arogbofa (rtd) got an appointment as Chief of Staff to the president under Jonathan.”
He also faulted the suit, saying, “Nigerians cannot be challenging fellow Nigerians who were offered appointments to serve.”
BUT the General Secretary, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, described Malaolu’s argument as lacking the understanding of how governance works.
According to him, “In the first instance, the present administration has not complied with the federal character principle in making appointments, and that is the reason that the country is facing serious challenges. We have allowed Buhari to succumb to human tendencies of ethnocentrisms, which we ought to have confronted before the end of his first tenure. It is however better late than never. The incumbent must obey the constitution in his choice of appointments.”
Faulting Malaolu, the YCE’s scribe said the appointment of 200 messengers or clerks in any federal ministry cannot be equated with one permanent secretary just as the appointment of 100 low-ranking officers in the security agencies cannot equate that of a service chief in the military.
For the former President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee: “If I were in the position to make a decision, I am not sure I will opt for legal action in the sense that if there is some pronouncement from the judiciary that gives legitimacy to what you and I know to be illegitimate, then it will deflect from the main issues. Because you can go to court and lose the case not because the issues you have raised are not real, but there could be technical reasons why an action can be lost. And most times, people will now say that the reasons you went to court have no basis,” he said.
Mitee suggested that Nigerians from every section of the country should raise their voices to question the lopsided appointments that, in some cases, border on nepotism that have been prevalent in this administration.
According to him, the National Assembly should join Nigerians to pile pressure on the President because his actions have left Nigeria more divisive.
“It is either he (Buhari) is insensitive to public opinion or he only sees the country from a particular prism, so whatever every other person says he does not care. The damage this does to the polity, the unity of the country will far exceed the life span of this administration. Nigeria is becoming more divisive. I doubt if some think Nigeria first,” he said.