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Nepotism, clannishness and federal character

In reaction to mounting criticism of his recent “Clarion Call” former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) says he didn’t issue the statement lightly or frivolously, but…

In reaction to mounting criticism of his recent “Clarion Call” former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) says he didn’t issue the statement lightly or frivolously, but out of deep concern for the welfare of the nation. Claiming that contrary to widespread opinion he did not write out of malice or “bad belle”, OBJ implored people to take time to impartially consider what he said. Although it initially appeared as if he was trying to pour oil on troubled waters, shortly afterwards OBJ was at it again stirring up controversy. 

After registering as a member of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement he re-iterated his accusations of both nepotism and clannishness in governance which he says has violated the spirit of our Constitution. Nepotism and clannishness should not be placed in the same and category because Nepotism is not in itself inadvisable. Anyone placed in a position of public trust would be well advised to surround himself with those he knows well, whom he feels are competent and he can rely on. Even in America whose democracy we claim to be copying, President Trump has included both his daughter and his son-in-law in his inner cabinet, and the legendary much revered President John Kennedy (JFK) appointed his younger brother Robert as his Attorney-General. Nigeria is not as advanced as the USA and is still at the nation building stage of development.  Such actions would not be tolerated over here. 

Nation building is a process which should give every citizen a feeling of belonging and a stake in his or her country and there are increasing calls for the constitutional provisions of Federal Character to be strictly observed. These calls highlight one of the main problems surrounding appointments in the nation. As far as Nigeria is concerned there is the story (true or otherwise) of a former President who was accused to his face of giving appointments and contracts only to his friends, relations and people he knows. The reply has gone into legend in Nigeria. The complainant was advised that if he ever became president, he should feel free to give appointments and contracts to his enemies and those he doesn’t know! It is difficult not to agree with this belief that only those who a President knows and trusts should belong to his inner circle. 

Much has been made of the fact that the majority of the nation’s security apparatus lies in the hands of people from a particular geographical zone. It could well be that those appointed are the best hands for the job, but that is immaterial at this point in time. The Federal Character provisions in the Nigerian Constitution were included in order to ensure that leaders appoint competent office holders from all over the nation and avoid concentration in a few ethnic hands or geographical places. It could be argued that appointments of security chiefs fall within the area of “inner circle” appointments therefore some degree of nepotism should be expected.  However, widespread clannishness is another matter altogether.  

The implication of such an attitude is that even when it concerns appointments which can in no way be considered “inner circle”, favouritism towards a select group is still apparent. This is a perceived fault of this administration and the problem is assuming new dimensions. Some officers of the Nigerian Immigration Service are alleging fraud, ethnic bias, and religious discrimination in the recent promotion exercise. They claim in a protest letter that the Service is being “Islamized”. Whether they like it or not Religious bias isn’t an allegation that should be looked into to. There are Christians and Moslems who come from both Northern and Southern parts of the country, and the Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of worship. Perhaps one of the most inappropriate responses to OBJ’s allegations is that he himself appointed so many Christians into positions when he was in power. Christianity is not an ethnic group and there is no requirement under Nigerian constitution for any “religious spread” in government appointments. 

The religion of any government appointee is not an issue to be considered. Of far more importance is the claim that Katsina State produced five comptrollers of immigration while some Southern States had none, or that out of 280 CSI promoted to ACI over 250 are of northern/ Muslim extraction. There is no basis for discriminating against any Nigerian on the basis of religion, but there is on the basis of ethnicity. Although discrimination is in itself abhorrent, the truth is the Federal Character principle is a form of affirmative action which constitutes discrimination. In the USA affirmative action was adopted as a means of uplifting less qualified blacks to give to them opportunities which would not normally have arisen.  Affirmative Action was used to appoint blacks into positions of authority and integrate them fully into society. 

There was a backlash by White supremists who regarded the policy as a form of discrimination against whites in favour of blacks. In the same manner the Federal character principle discriminates against students from particular geographical zones who are denied admission because less intelligent students from other areas must be admitted. It discriminates against optimal location of industries, because they must be spread throughout the nation rather than in the best locations. It also discriminates against promotions and appointments because they must be seen to reflect our diverse ethnicity rather than merit. 

Appointing or promoting the most capable isn’t constitutional. It’s not the Nigerian way of doing things. It is a national tragedy that mediocrity in line with federal character is preferred to excellence.  However the law is the law and government cannot afford to look the other way and pretend that all is well when things are going wrong. The increasing number of complaints about appointments and promotions in the Security Services, Immigration Service, and Civil Defence must be looked into by both the National Assembly and the Federal Character Commission as a matter of urgency.