IN DEFENSE OF NIGERIA
There is no more potent common denominator for all sections of the Nigerian state than corruption, which is using public office or opportunity for private gains in complete disregard of relevant restraining laws. And there is wide agreement across borders that corruption has crippled Nigeria, and shall eventually kill this country if not quickly destroyed from our culture and economy. From outright stealing of public funds through various hideous schemes such as inflation or padding of public contract funds, manipulated claims on government, and stealing or withholding of returns from the sale of crude oil, to bribery in public and private transactions, all parts and regions of Nigeria are guilty, and no part should blame the other for being responsible for Nigeria's current reproach, which the present government of Buhari appears set to wipe off. There is another form of corruption that is hardly detected in Nigeria—the misuse or wrong exertion of pressure under claims of Section 14 (3): “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.”
Does the above section encourage sacrifice of merit and statutory considerations? Does it encourage sectional loyalty as against national loyalty? The Nigerian constitution affirms national loyalty thus in Section 15 (4): “The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.” There are constitutional claims or imputations that are being made by Nigerians with respect to “federal character”, which I find disturbing as they are distracting from the serious business of governance and nation-building.
What is Federal Character, which Section 14 (3) requires to be “reflected” in the “composition” of Government of the Federation or of any of its agencies and in the conduct of its affairs? The Nigerian constitution recognizes only States as federating units, not regions (geo-political, religious, etc.) The constitution, as highlighted in Section 14 (3), also gives consideration to “ethnic or sectional groups” representation in the Federal Government or its agencies. And as if to safe-guard against abuse of Section 14 (3) to deny personal competencies and statutory rights of ranking within federal agencies in matters of appointment, it is enshrined in Section 15 (2) that, “Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” It is unconstitutional to violate Section 15 (2) under the pretense of fulfilling Section 14 (3).
Nigeria's major political parties are all guilty of foisting on the consciousness of Nigerians their un-oneness in the name of “zoning according to the six geo-political zones.” Those six geopolitical zones are aliens to the Nigerian Constitution. This is one example of extra-constitutional contrivances that have been forced on Nigerians by their politicians and political elite, who have failed to educate, inform, and lift Nigerians from the cesspool of dividing ignorance. How, for instance, is a Nigerian from Niger State of more sectional proximity to a Nigerian from Benue State than his Nigerian brother from neighboring Enugu State? The Abacha-day contraption of those six geo-political zones or the North-South divide cannot be used in applying Section 14(3). Only federating States and ethnic groups are recognized in the Nigerian Constitution for such considerations as specified in Section 14 (3). And that is exemplified by the constitutional requirement to appoint a minister from each State of the Federation. Nigerians and foreigners who assault our senses with North, South or the “six geo-political zones” in describing origins of federal appointees should spare us the torment. Nigeria is made up of more than 250 ethnic groups. It is not the intendment of framers of the Nigerian Constitution that all of the ethnic groups should be represented in a federal agency. What is required is that there should be no predominance of persons from a few States or ethnic groups in any federal agency. And we have the Federal Character Commission to seek redress from if there is evidence that section 14 (3) has been violated on the basis of composition of the Federal Government or any of its agencies in accordance with States of the federation or ethnic groups, and not some weird “geo-political zone.”
Fostering a feeling of belonging in Nigerians is not dependent on appointing people from their states or ethnic group into public offices as it is on providing very basic amenities like reliable electricity, quality education, efficient and quality public transport infrastructure, well-managed waste system and clean environment, dependable and affordable public healthcare, employment with decent wages, and security. With this the constitution is agreed [See Sections 15 (3) (a), 16, and 17]. Specifically, Section 15 (3) (a) states as follows: “For the purpose of promoting national integration, it shall be the duty of the State to: provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation.” Failure of good governance is what endangers national unity. Nigerians must not waste energy buying into the selfish outcry of politicians seeking appointment into public offices, when they mouth banal allegations that “the government is appointing people from only few geo-political zones.” What did they accomplish with their previous public appointments for their people?
Bayelsans are not better off than other Nigerians simply because a Bayelsan was president for more than 5 years. Poverty is taking a toll on many Bayelsans. In fact, environmental pollution is a big problem in the state, and good water is scarce. The people of Otuoke have been without public power supply for a long time; they are used to it now. The Yoruba States did not fare better than the rest of Nigerians simply because a Yoruba man was president for 8 years. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway reminds us all of the futility of fighting to have our “son of the soil” presiding over the affairs of the nation. Benue State produced a Senate President for 8 years, yet it is not better than other states in the quality of public infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools, etc. Otukpo is such a dirty un-kept town with pot hole-filled and dusty roads; yet it is the hometown of the former senate president. I can talk of more states. Adamawa State produced the most famous Vice-president yet in the history of Nigeria. But poverty in that state, and the level of begging there, would make you wonder if that state has produced public officials like vice-president, party chief, super permanent secretary, ambassadors, EFCC chairman, police IG, etc. I have given those few examples to say this. Appointing someone from your village into public office is not a guarantee that your hometown (not to talk of your state) would get the very basic amenities needed for comfortable living. Let us change our perceptions about good governance and national-building.
In anger, some Nigerians may claim they are not Nigerians, and may even seek others to blame. I will defend Nigeria because I do not have another country to call mine. I will speak for the health of Nigeria. I am not pleased with what some of Nigeria's public officials use their public offices to do. But I cannot because of that do things that are injurious to Nigeria. Through reading of comments by Nigerian readers, I have come to understand that our words are generally too corrupting rather than edifying, and we are too easily distracted. We are not patient enough to listen, understand, and appreciate other people's views before we launch our verbal missiles of invectives. Before you know it, we descend into the gutter of ethnic bigotry and feel we are doing service to ourselves. I love my Tiv nation and have affirmed before that I am first a Tiv man before I am a Nigerian, because that is how the constitution defines my Nigerian-ness by birth. However, I would not wage war against Nigeria or the Tiv nation; they define each other. Now that we have this rare opportunity to have a president that even the opposition says “is not corrupt yet”, let us not assess his public office appointees by the geo-political zones they come from; rather, let us judge by their competences and character, just like we do our Super Eagles players. The president spoke about the tragedy of having many knowledgeable but compromised Nigerians in government. Let us allow him time to choose his team. We must not allow columnists mislead us to think that just because there are no ministers yet, governance has been grounded. If you are following news about Nigeria, you sure have heard about some of Nigeria's refineries resuming production, improvement in the generating capacities of our electricity power plants, the highest in years, and the consequential improvement in power supply, revved up EFCC, recovery of looted funds, and some strategic steps of government to curb crude oil theft, Boko haram activities, and economic bleeding.
Let us defend Nigeria by supporting actions of government that build up our foreign reserves, stabilize the naira, curtail crude oil theft, and encourage Nigeria's unity.
Written by Leonard Karshima Shilgba.