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, General 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.
Since his presidential ambition aroused such anxiety, General 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 President 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.
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.).
I’m willing to hazard that no previous Nigerian head of state, military or elected, ever had a record as clannish as the current president’s. As far as appointments go, he has utterly failed to demonstrate any broadness of spirit.
“Save for the Chief of Defence Staff (a Yoruba) and the Chief of Naval Staff (from Cross River), Nigeria’s entire defence structure with its command and control systems is controlled by one section of the country. Save for the Navy (whose operations, of course, are mainly coastal), Northern Muslims command every security organisation where men lawfully bear arms in Nigeria,” wrote Mr. Odunuyi.
Apparently, his piece has been widely circulated on the Internet. I must state that I identify with his deep concern.
Forget the question of whether these appointees are competent and above board. Even if the case could be made that they are a bunch of stellar performers, one can nevertheless raise the question: Are there no men and women from other parts of Nigeria and from different faiths who could have acquitted themselves well in these positions? Another question: Does President Buhari see Nigeria’s security machinery as the near-exclusive domain of Northerners and Muslims? Is it the case that he regards Nigerian Christians and those who hail from the country’s southern half as collectively disloyal, untrustworthy, even potential or real enemies of the state?
Nigeria is beset by numerous crises, including Islamist insurgency in the North-East, resurgent militancy in the Niger Delta, the agitation for Biafran secession in the South-East, and intermittent deadly attacks by Fulani herdsmen. The scale and spread of these crises demand a security team that is representative of the country’s ethno-religious diversity. I suspect that the sectional composition of President Buhari’s security team, the president’s initial hectoring response to militants in the Niger Delta, and the Nigerian state’s trigger-happy assaults on pro-Biafran agitators, have fertilised the perception that the Buhari Presidency was bent on an agenda of conquest.
A climate of mutual trust among Nigeria’s constituent ethnic units and religious groups is essential for repairing the country’s torn fabric. And that sense of trust is particularly shredded by President Buhari’s costly policy of looking inward, or Northward, any time he has an important appointment to make.
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.
Okey Ndibe novelist, political columnist, and essayist. He teaches fiction and African literature at Trinity College in Hartford, USA. He is the author of the novels, Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods Inc. He tweets from @okeyndibe.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.