By FELIX OBOAGWINA
Who will tell the President? How do we get General Muhammadu Buhari to realise that appointing his namesake and fellow Northerner, Mr. Mohammed Umar Abba, as replacement for the disgraced Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, another Arewa son, further rubbishes his swearing-in promise to “belong to everybody and belong to nobody” and pours scorn on the Nigerian Constitution he swore to uphold?
That Buhari’s government swiftly announced Abba as replacement for Magu has unruffled Nigeria’s equal-opportunity crusaders who fear it further deepens the General’s plunge into the quagmire of Hausa-Fulani chauvinism and Northern domination.
Abba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, lately served under Magu as Director of Operations. Despite whatever eminent qualifications the newcomer may be bringing on board, however, his appointment gives egalitarians and nationalists a sour taste for one disquieting reason. It brings the agency under the management of an unbroken stream of five Northern Muslims. One Northerner has handed the baton to another Northerner… five times! In fact, since EFCC’s inception 17 years ago, Northerners have monopolised the institution’s driving seat completely. Following the anti-graft body’s creation in 2003, it has never been headed by a Southerner. Its all-North cast includes: Nuhu Ribadu, Farida Waziri (Mrs.), Ibrahim Lamorde (twice), Ibrahim Magu and now Mohammed Umar. That list features not a single Southerner.
Comparatively, the pendulum of leadership in the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), EFCC’s more introverted twin, has swung between Northern and Southern administrators. President Olusegun Obasanjo established ICPC in 2000 with Justice Mustapha Akanbi as pioneer head and EFCC in 2003 under Mr. Nuhu Ribadu. ICPC has passed through the hands of seven heads, balanced out four-three in a South-North distribution. Apart from Akanbi and its current Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, ICPC has had Southerners like Justice Emmanuel Ayoola and Barrister Ekpo Una Owo Nta at its wheel, while the North’s quota has been filled by: Professor Uriah Angulu, Dr. Rose Abang-Wushishi and Barrister Abdullahi Bako. This ICPC regional balancing many want replicated in EFCC this time around.
With its northerly slant, EFCC’s organogram history throws up a whole bunch of heartaches for Nigerian nationalists. For them, this latest appointment in the anti-graft institution provides fertile opportunity to open a review on the agency and several others that government has turned into no-fly zones to Southerners.
Although not originating with PMB, the trend evokes genuine fears that a high-profile agency like EFCC is being moulded into Northerners’ exclusive birthright and patrimony. Buhari maintaining the trend assaults sensibilities and fuels fears of a Northernisation, some say Islamisation, agenda. PMB heightens such misgiving by carrying on like an ethnic jingoist determined to pocket for his North the nation’s commanding heights.
People point out that whereas his predecessors filled the landscape with conducted appointments reflective of Nigeria’s delicate regional balancing, Buhari charges through the country on a behemoth of Northern oligopoly, flying an ultra-North flag and making chauvinistic appointments that tear up the fabrics of national unity. This style has sown the seeds of discord, despondency and distrust and has provoked bashings and warning from even fellow Northerners like Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah, retired Colonel Abubakar Umar Kangiwa and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, who hailed from the South, chose Northerners to head the agency; and pundits had crossed their fingers in the hope that Buhari would reciprocate his predecessors’ gesture by choosing EFCC’s chief executive from the South. Buhari is looking out of a different window. And why would none of the plethora of eminently qualified folks from the South-East, South-South and South-West make EFCC chairmanship? Only Buhari can tell. But it would not be from any holier-than-thou faith in his Arewa cousins, for ironically, all EFCC’s anointed henchmen have left office in disgrace, many stained by reports of (of all things) corruption!
However, apart from the monopoly in EFCC, several other institutions appear reserved for the North today. Northerners supervise sensitive and juicy portfolios like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC, Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, Customs, Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, Nigerian Universities Commission NUC, the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Chief of Staff, the Covid-19 Presidential Task Force PTF, the Directorate of Security Service DSS, Prisons, Immigration, Civil Defence and the Inspector General of Police.
Take the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for instance. Since the designation of Abuja as the nation’s capital, the city has been administered by 16 Ministers and Mayors. Only one hailed from the South and the remaining 15 from the North. Mobolaji Ajose-Adeogun, a Yoruba man, pioneered as Minister of Abuja in 1976. Thereafter, the FCT’s administration has witnessed an unbroken monopoly of 15 Arewa indigenes: John Jatau Kadiya, Iro Abubakar Dan Musa, Haliru Dantoro, Mamman Vatsa, Hamza Abdullahi, Gado Nasko, Jeremiah Useni, Mamman Kontagora, Ibrahim Bunu, Mohammed Abba Gana and Nasir el-Rufai. Other Northerners in the FCT saddle have been: Aliyu Modibbo Umar, Muhammadu Adamu Aliero, Bala Mohammed and Mohammed Musa Bello, its current Minister.
Could Northerners’ monopoly of Abuja’s administration be due to the FCT’s geographical location in their belt? Indigeneship never played a role in appointing administrators for the nation’s capital in the past. When Lagos still served as Federal Capital, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu in the First Republic reigned as the Minister for Lagos Affairs from 1959 to 1960. When appointed Minister of Defence, Ribadu relinquished the post to Katsina-born Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua (the father of President Umar Yar’Adua).
Bottom-line, if Northerners were appointed to administer the Federal Capital in the South, why would Southerners be excluded from administering the seat of government now it has moved to the North? Does it matter little to the hegemonists that the resources that built modern Abuja came from Nigeria’s oil-rich South? For crying out loud, Abuja is the Federal Capital! Carved out of Nasarawa, Niger and Kogi states, the territory traditionally accommodated the minority Gwari ethnic stock, now pushed to the outskirts. And they feel insulted to be ignorantly referred to as Hausa or Fulani, preferring their distinct primordial identity.
Agreed, the current trend of Northerners being entitled to the FCT position began way before PMB. But he has maintained this lopsided keel with much deliberateness, impunity and entitlement. What does that do for Nigerian unity? How does this satisfy the spirit and letter of the Constitution? The 1999 Constitution he swore to protect in Sections 3 and 4 dictates that:
The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies. The composition of the Government of a State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such Government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.
For the way he has carried on so far, the President looks to be swaying to a philosophy of “Northopoly” –a government of Northerners, by Northerners, for Northerners. At the apex of this shaky structure perches a stubborn veteran whom sceptics have accused of giving a curious twist to the acronym FGN as the “Federal Government of the North” instead of its truest sense as the “Federal Government of Nigeria.” In any position left by a Northerner, His Excellency finds a replacement in another Northerner. But the opposite mostly happens when a Southerner leaves office. It has got so bad that the Presidency’s announcement of appointments nowadays evokes reactions of, “Oh no, not another Northerner,” to the embarrassment of even the President’s Hausa-Fulani kinsmen.
As Nigerian leader, Buhari must show himself a born-again believer in the Nigerian Constitution and Nigerian unity, beginning with head-hunting qualified Southerners to take the seats of EFCC Chairman, FCT Minister and similar national institutions currently considered the birthright of the North.
FELIX OBOAGWINA IS A JOURNALIST AND WRITES FROM LAGOS