By DAPO OKUBANJO
YBTC News—If there is any allegation that has dogged the path of President Muhammadu Buhari since his first term in office, it is the claim of inequitable distribution of appointments. His traducers have always posited that a large chunk of his appointees were northern Muslims. It is an allegation that is even more widespread than the President’s ‘dictatorial tendencies’.
This is one misconception that gained momentum within the first two years of President Buhari’s first term and which had socio-cultural groups from southern part of Nigeria as the lead choir.
Afenifere, Ohaneze and PANDEF, led by individuals who had publicly backed former President Goodluck Jonathan’s electoral bid, were the main protagonists, and would gleefully raise their voices a notch higher whenever the Presidency announced an appointment for a Nigerian from the North, but go silent when a Southerner is announced.
For these individuals, the charge against the President is an affirmation of their position in the run up to the 2015 election and which gained currency with support from a section of the media.
Nigerians were later to realise that the allegation stemmed from a pre-election strategy cooked up by a British political consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica at the instance of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to, amongst others, paint the then candidate Muhammadu Buhari as a sectional leader with an “Islamisation agenda”.
This is what led to the PDP and its supporters to use every opportunity to sow a seed in the mind of Nigerians about a President bent on handing virtually every political position to ‘his people’. Perhaps more baffling is that a section of the media fed off this claim without even bothering to fact check allegations of skewed appointments.
But sometime in 2019, a fledgling magazine ‘The Interview’ went against the grain to fact check the nepotism charge against the President and the outcome was-the allegation has no basis!. This was after the publication had scrutinized every single appointment made by President Buhari between 2015 and December 2018.
In a recent statement, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) referenced the niche publication to show that the President had been fair and equitable in his appointment since 2015.
Here is what the group said: “For the avoidance of doubt, the piece which focused on all political appointees including heads of parastatals and Presidential aides, showed that the North had a 51% share of appointments in MDAs to the South’s 49%, while 52.4% of Presidential aides were from the South compared to 47.6% from the North”.
And even with one year into his second term, Nigerians are being regaled with a rehash of same claims after a few appointments, without even a thought for the damage that unverified claims could do in a country with conflict entrepreneurs always waiting on the sidelines to stoke embers of hatred.
It is however gratifying that another section of the media recently published excerpts from an official document that indeed showed that the South has 54.2% (103) of appointees made by the President (of ministers and aides) in his second term while the North produced 45.8% (87)
This revelation which was made to douse tension was even flawed by some Northerners accusing President Buhari of marginalising the region where he got more votes.
Hear them: “Cumulatively, the South as a region has 54.2% while the North as a region, including parts of it that often see themselves as southerners, has only 45.8%. And the figurative analysis (not by percentage) shows that 64 persons have been appointed from the Southwest; 37 from the Northwest; 29 from the Northeast; 24 from the South-South; 21 from the North Central, and 15 from the Southeast!
“Mr President, this is unacceptable! These figures are not a reflection of the lies, mischief, hate, propaganda and Fake News waged against your administration by bigots and hate mongers.
“It goes against the grain of both natural and spiritual justice that those who laboured most to bring a cause into existence are served less by the very cause they played the most prominent role to birth”.
But the dominant position out there, which is unfortunately being peddled by some influential Nigerians and media outlets is that of skewed appointments in favour of the North.
Until a former military governor of the old Kaduna state Colonel Dangiwa Umar (rtd) joined the fray and accused the President of nepotism, some prominent people, including the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Matthew Kukah have been known to attack the President on the matter with little evidence to back their claims.
The Catholic Bishop once bluntly said: “no one could have imagined that in winning the Presidency, General Buhari would bring nepotism and clannishness into the military and the ancillary security agencies, that his government would be marked by supremacist and divisive policies that would push our country to the brink”
Incidentally, Bishop Kukah said this in February 2020 which is more than one year after ‘The Interview’ had put a lie to the nepotism claim and less than a year into a new term when all appointments had not been made.
This is why some Nigerians believe that the priest may have allowed his bitterness over the loss of his preferred candidates, twice to President Buhari, to dominate his emotions.
Equally baffling is that a national newspaper,The Guardian, devoted an editorial in the first week of June 2020 to making a similar accusation without backing it with real evidence beyond the oft repeated claim that ‘ most of Buhari’s appointments had no recourse to either equitable distribution or merit’.
Like many Nigerians, I find it worrisome that a publication of this calibre could descend to the level of making unverified claims.
So how could the likes of Bishop Kukah, Colonel Umar and The Guardian not know that political appointments are a continuous exercise until all available slots are filled, if not for mischief.
Are appointments into parstatatals and agencies made in one fell swoop? So how would anyone reach a conclusion without the benefit of a full list of appointees?
To be sure, all administrations since 1999 have had to battle allegations of skewed appointments-from Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru YarAdua who were accused of favouring the North to Goodluck Jonathan who was believed to have favoured the South-East and South-South geopolitical zones.
Even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar once accused President Jonathan of “turning his administration to one of nepotism, presidentialism and ‘clientelism.’’ But this is one government that has gone out of its way to release official documents and information on all appointments in its first tenure to show that it has respected the principles of fairness and equity.
In fact, the documents showed that some States where President Buhari won massively, especially in northern Nigeria, had fewer appointments than Imo and Delta states
Doubt me? Let me share what ‘The Interview’ described as an interesting pattern in President Buhari’s appointment.
“Out of the 567 executive appointments made to MDAs, 220 or 39% were from states where Buhari lost to Jonathan, far better than public perception suggests. The South-South, PDP stronghold, is number three on the MDAs appointments table with 99 appointees, beaten only by the North -Central and the South-West.
“For example, in Delta State where Buhari lost to Jonathan by 1,162,495 votes and in Rivers State where he lost by 1,417,837 (two states where he suffered his worst defeat) the MDA appointments were 23 in Delta and 13 in Rivers respectively, compared with the three core Northern states of Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara, with 26 appointments combined, but, total marginal winning votes of 1,454,002 over that of Jonathan”.
These are verifiable facts that Colonel Umar, a scion of the Gwandu emirate in Kebbi State, should have put into consideration in his assessment of Buhari era appointments, rather than the unverified ones he fell for.
So from all indications, claims of appointments skewed in favour of the North are more of a myth than actual reality.
I stand to be corrected by superior facts, not tales of nepotism from politically exposed persons and their supporters that have no basis.
Dapo Okubanjo is a journalist and public affairs analyst