It is time for the president to be more of a statesman than a politician. At 73, Buhari has an obligation to unite the country, heal our fault lines and not exacerbate them. Nigeria has given him enormous opportunities to be what he has become and the only gift he can give back is to leave Nigeria more united than he met it. Our most pressing need now is unity and peace and the best way to start the process of healing is to give every section of our country a sense of belonging…
Nigeria has never been more divided than it is today. The various fault lines of our geo-political space have been deepened and become more manifest in the various agitations from different segments of our society. The collective hope and euphoria that greeted the change in leadership from Goodluck Jonathan of PDP to Muhammadu Buhari of APC may have given way to hopelessness and possibly, regret. The continuous existence of the Nigerian state has never been this threatened, as a result of deep feelings of mutual suspicion between the various groups that make up Nigeria. The leadership class appears never to learn much from history – even that of the recent past. One major reason for this unfortunate situation is the inability of our leaders at all levels to be statesmen rather than ordinary politicians.
Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 presidential election largely because of his political miseducation, despite his remarkably impressive economic performance. He never really understood Nigeria and Nigerians very well. He was learning on the job even as a president. However recent happenings in the polity have propped up some questions which need answers urgently. If Jonathan was sectional in key appointments in favour of his ethno-geographic zone, why Buhari? If Jonathan stubbornly defended and shielded his close allies on corruption charges, why Buhari? If Jonathan used anti-graft agencies to persecute his opponents, why Buhari? If Jonathan did not show much concern towards the Boko Haram insurgency in the North, why is Buhari seemingly showing less concern towards the Fulani herdsmen scourge in the South? The answer may not be far-fetched. Both men have some things in common. They are alike in different ways – as isotopes of the same element. This sad realisation has led to hopelessness and widespread dissatisfaction, with consequent agitations from different quarters. Nigerians rejected Jonathan and accepted Buhari because he promised change, but sadly nothing has really changed.
President Buhari has not shown enough sensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity. If Jonathan was sectional, Buhari has taken sectionalism to a scandalous level. A close look at both men’s trajectory to power will show why. Both men are the only individuals in the history of Nigeria to have come to the presidency with the massive support of their ethnicities, states, geo-political zones and members of their respective religious groups. Both were actually sectional candidates who got elected purely on the exigencies of the time. But the political miseducation of both men lay in the fact that they attribute their electoral successes on the support they received from their own sections of the country. What they fail to realise is that it equally takes so much from other sections to make the difference and guarantee victory. No section alone can guarantee victory for its own. The president’s failure in national integration is most manifest in the South-South and South-East regions. These regions have largely been treated like conquered territories. Their only sin being voting overwhelmingly against the president in the last election. The obvious marginalisation of these regions, has led to serious separatist agitations, which are threatening our corporate existence as a nation. It is expected of the president to take deliberate steps to warm himself into their hearts and embrace them with a fatherly arm.
Buhari, a Northerner, has given more appointments to the North in contrast with Obasanjo – a Southerner, who gave more appointments to the North, and this is not statesmanlike enough.
Some of the president’s supporters have said that his appointments are based on loyalty, trust and merit. But this argument falls flat on logic and sound reasoning. It is an indictment on the president to claim to trust more people of his ethnic group, region or religious leaning. It simply shows a man who is not broad minded enough to accommodate people of diverse backgrounds. There are so many Nigerians of Southern origin who supported the president against their own and who deserve his trust and confidence. The issue of merit is also devoid of logic and common sense. A region which is classified as educationally disadvantaged, whose students are given admission into higher institutions by lowering national standards and not on merit, but quota system, so that they can catch up with their Southern counterparts, cannot also benefit most from key appointments based on merit. The president’s actions have substantially reversed the gains made in the last sixteen years at national integration and unity.
In 1999, when former President Obasanjo, a Southerner was elected, he distributed the positions in his kitchen cabinet in such a way that did not favour his state, region or ethnic group. And this has distinguished him as a true statesman, who has moral authority in any part of Nigeria. He appointed Ufot Ekaette from South-South as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. His National Security Adviser was Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau from the North-West. His Chief of Staff was Gen. Abdullahi Ahmed from the North-Central. His ADC was Col. Giwa Amu from the South-South. He appointed Andy Uba from South-East as his special assistant on domestic matters. Gen. T.Y Danjuma from the North-East was minister of Defence, Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi from the North-Central was chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Victor Malu from North-Central was Chief of Army Staff, Air Marshal Isaac Alfa from North-Central was Chief of Air staff, Musiliu Smith from South-West was the Inspector General of Police and Col. Sunday Are was Director-General of the Department of State Services.
Compare this with President Buhari’s appointments: NSA, Gen Babagana Mungono, North-East; Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, North-East, SGF Babachir David Lawal, North-East; ADC, Lt. Col Muhammed Lawal Abubakar, North-West; CSO, Abubakar Usman, North-West; DG DSS, Lawal Daura, North-West; Minister of Defence, Gen. Mansur Mohammed, North-West; CDS, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, South-West; Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai, North-East; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Saddique Abubakar, North-East, Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, South-South; IGP, Ibrahim Idris, North-Central. Buhari, a Northerner, has given more appointments to the North in contrast with Obasanjo – a Southerner, who gave more appointments to the North, and this is not statesmanlike enough.
The structure of Nigeria favours the Northern region more than the other three original regions of the Western, Midwestern and Eastern. The North has 19 states out of 36 and 419 local governments out of 774… Any attempt to alienate other regions further is gross injustice, which is a worse form of corruption.
It is time for the president to be more of a statesman than a politician. At 73, Buhari has an obligation to unite the country, heal our fault lines and not exacerbate them. Nigeria has given him enormous opportunities to be what he has become and the only gift he can give back is to leave Nigeria more united than he met it. Our most pressing need now is unity and peace and the best way to start the process of healing is to give every section of our country a sense of belonging, by evenly re-distributing sensitive positions, to reflect fairness and justice. Sectionalism breeds corruption because it is characterised by unmerited favouritism, nepotism and cronyism, which eventually lead to financial crimes and embezzlements of public funds. Therefore, the president’s sectionalism puts a doubt on his credibility and integrity.
Interestingly the Northern region is not going to benefit from these skewed appointments, because it will only benefit the individuals concerned. The president should rather concentrate on policies and programmes that will develop the North and make it more self-sufficient economically and depend less on oil mineral revenues from the South. This will restore pride to the North and Northerners and forge mutual respect and love among Nigerians. The structure of Nigeria favours the Northern region more than the other three original regions of the Western, Midwestern and Eastern. The North has 19 states out of 36 and 419 local governments out of 774. With federal character and quota system, the North has a fair share of the national resources and positions. Any attempt to alienate other regions further is gross injustice, which is a worse form of corruption. I am a Northerner and Muslim. I love the North, I love my country, I love my president but I love the truth more.
Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through email@example.com.