Dissecting Buhari’s Appointments

Steam about President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘lopsided’ appointment has refused to die. How could he appoint only seven people from the South out of the 29 such appointments? The other 22, representing about 76%, went to the North. Yet, emotions, rather than reasoning, have engulfed the issue. They say he is carrying out a Northern agenda. The media, public commentators and, of course, politicians have all queued up against the president. The most critical of them have been people of the South-east, as they have been completely left out of the ‘allotment’.

Even the northern group, Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, has disowned the president. “I am beginning to feel uncomfortable because the complaint is that the appointments are seen to be lopsided,” its President, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said. “However, no matter how we pretend, the reality is that things are not done in the right way.”

But Buhari has promised to ‘balance out’ the equation in future appointments. Will that really make much difference? Ministerial appointment is regulated by the constitution. Will he violate the constitution to deny Northern states their ministerial allocation for the South-east? That is not the solution, Mr President.

The thing is, presidential appointments in Nigeria are implicitly divided into three functionalities. Only by analysing this will you be able to see clearly what the President has done (or has not done). The appointments are naturally divided into the State House, the Government Bureaucracy and the Military. The State House, headed by the President’s Chief of Staff, includes all presidential aides (SAs and SSAs). The Bureaucracy is made up of ministers and heads of agencies, with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation atop. And the military, of course, has all its chiefs and the National Security Adviser.

So far, Buhari has appointed eight aides in the State House, five from the North and three from the South. Is there a problem with that? These are his personal staff, dear countrymen. They want him to employ those he is not familiar with as personal staff. But he is smarter.

It would be unfair to blame Buhari in his military appointments, too. This is certainly beyond political or tribal bargaining chip. That’s why Nigerians didn’t really complain when he appointed only two people from the South, of the seven military appointments. The country’s sovereignty has been simplified by the Boko boys in the North-east. For good cause, therefore, the President appointed three military chiefs from that region.

Then the Government Bureaucracy. This is the heart of the government. This is where government finances and projects are processed. The ministries. But the ministries are not alone here. There are also the agencies. Most of which Buhari have filled their vacancies. With mostly our brothers from the North. Eleven out of 13. But aren’t the agencies under the ministries? And didn’t the constitution guarantee a place for every state in federal cabinet? So why the fuse?

“The government should be seen to be more nationalistic than sectionalised. If we truly believe in true federalism and federal character, it should go round.” This quote by the northern group cannot be shoved aside. I wish I could. In the ideal world, nobody cares about the ethnic background of government officials. Nobody would give two woops in Hades. What matters is their credibility or credentials.

That’s the ideal thing. But in Nigeria, that’s not the real thing. Buhari didn’t spot the difference in his appointment. Nigerians are very passionate about two things: Region and Religion. The president, perhaps, wanted to appoint only those he can trust for the posts not regulated by the constitution. The expectations are too high. But he must remember that most Nigerians still see things through tribal binoculars. He won’t go far without such recognition.