Okey Ndibe writes memo to Buhari

 Editor’s note: Nigerians criticized President Muhammadu Buhari for appointing of a new board of directors for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). They accused Buhari of favouring a particular section of the country in the appointments so far made by him. 

Okey Ndibe writes a memo to the president asking him to take a hard look at Nigeria’s map. 

 Buhari was frequently characterised as a man given to excessive clannishness

 I recently surveyed President Muhammadu Buhari’s top appointments and was left wondering when last he took a long, hard look at Nigeria’s map. Before the president makes another important political appointment, he would do well to spend some time looking at the map of the country that’s under his charge.

President Buhari’s disdain for geopolitical spread and religious diversity in his appointments is so stark as to constitute a scandal. As far as appointments go, it’s as if the man believes that Nigeria is reducible to one half of its geography, the North, and one major religion, Islam. 

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Buhari was frequently characterised as a man given to excessive clannishness. Some critics alleged that his fealty to the northern half of Nigeria and partiality to fellow adherents of the Islamic faith trumped his belief in Nigeria and commitment to treat people of other faiths with fairness. 

His appointments have deeply disappointed many Nigerians’ expectations of equity

 Since his presidential ambition aroused such anxiety, Mr. Buhari might have taken care to reassure Nigerians—as he stated in his inaugural speech—that he belonged to all of them. Instead, he seems to have gone out of his way to validate his critics’ worst fears. His personnel decisions as president have suggested a man whose mindset is as sectional as his political instincts are terrible. In one year as president, his appointments have deeply disappointed many Nigerians’ expectations of equity. He has operated as if unaware of the longstanding requirement that important political appointments ought to reflect the country’s federal character.

 I believe every section of Nigeria has a pool of talented people. Therefore, the president’s default stance, choosing candidates for major positions from his own geographic area and religious group, is troubling. Is Mr. Buhari’s vision so blinkered that, each time he looks at Nigeria, he sees (mostly) Muslims and Northerners? And has he no handlers and advisers willing to speak honestly to him, to save him from his parochial instincts, to tell him, quite simply, that his appointments don’t tell a flattering story about him?

 During Mr. Buhari’s first few months in office, some excused his lopsided appointments on the ground that he needed to surround himself with people he knew closely, whose loyalty he could count on. But even that apologia was untenable. Here was a man who ran for the Nigerian Presidency four times before he got elected. I don’t recall him professing that, if elected, he would fashion himself primarily into a Northern president. Surely, we should expect that a man who spent so much time and energy seeking to govern his country would have made some effort to broaden his base of loyalists.

 Buhari has his contacts within a party to draw from 

Besides, a president never relies entirely—or even primarily—on his own wits when it comes to matters of appointment. He has his contacts within a party to draw from. He also has the apparatuses of the state to help him make judicious appointments. A man who runs a country—and one as complex as Nigeria—should not simply hand jobs only to people within his circle of familiarity. 

Last week, several acquaintances emailed me a piece by Segun Odunuyi x-raying the sectional character of President Buhari’s appointments in the security sector. Mr. Odunuyi began by stating, “With the recent appointment of a new Inspector-General of Police, Nigeria’s entire security architecture took on a distinct sectional shape.” He then gave a breakdown of the heads of the various security departments, showing that virtually all of them were Northern Muslims. They include Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali; the Director General of the Department of State Security, Mamman Daura; Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Abubakar Sadique; IG of Police, Ibrahim Idris; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; Controller General of Immigration, Muhammed Babandede; Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu; the Comptroller-General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd.); Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Ahmed Ja’afaru; Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, and Minister of the Interior, General Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau (rtd.). 

Buhari’s record of appointments has proved disastrous in other ways 

Apart from creating the impression that his vision of Nigeria is a deeply fractured one, President Buhari’s record of appointments has proved disastrous in other ways. Just last week, the Police Service Commission announced the retirement of 21 Assistant Inspectors General of Police, all of them senior to Mr. Idris, the president’s choice for acting IGP. Unless Mr. Buhari can demonstrate that the acting IG is something of a police genius and all the retired officers were deadwoods or worse, his decision to elevate Mr. Idris over many of his superiors has cost Nigeria the service and experience of too many officers who were not statutorily due for retirement. It’s called a waste of manpower. It may be the case that the president is incapable of broadening his horizon when he has a job to fill. In that event, it behooves those closest to him—especially the Muslims and Northerners whose counsel he is likely to listen to—to point him to higher ideals of fairness. These advisers ought to alert the president to take a hard look at the map of Nigeria—especially its southern half—when next he must make a significant appointment.