A Federal Character Commission without federal character!

By Martins Oloja   |   18 June 2017   |   3:40 am

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I am fully persuaded this week that it is time we began to identify some of the little, little foxes that have been spoiling our vines in this country where we are again beginning to compose hate speeches 50 years after Biafra. Yes, we are again being made to recall a needless civil war fire that “soldiers of fortune” set off, which ‘militicians’ and politicians have failed to put off since 1967. One of the little spoilers of our vines we should discuss now is the Federal Character Commission, (FCC) set up to promote national unity within the context of nation building so that our leaders at all times can command national loyalty. It is indeed a paradox of development that the national body enshrined in the organic law of the land, (1999 constitution) has become a major promoter of national disunity. And sadly, our elders and leaders have not been vigilant enough to note that the Commission’s abysmal failure to carry out its constitutional mandate is at the core of why agitations for self-rule and restructuring have been of recent been louder than usual in the county.

Certainly, as I have noted on this page before, there have been even presidential actions and appointments that have violated constitutional provisions on federal character principles. Besides, there is a peculiar government in which all appointments should reflect federal character and promote national unity, but which has also failed the nation in this connection. Hold your breath, I mean the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the constitution recognises as “the capital of the federation”. The peculiarity of this government that I have been covering since 1988 as a reporter, writer and editor, makes it imperative for it to be an exemplary federation government within the federal government where federal character should be reflected quintessentially. Sadly, this is not the case today in Abuja. And sadly our so-called ‘nation builders’ have also dozed off about government of Abuja that a section of the country has since 2011 effectively taken over. Although, this is not a piece to address the monumental destruction of Abuja as a “Centre of Unity” that the military gave the nation barely 41 years ago, it is important to note again that if the Federal Character Commission had been alive to its responsibility since 1999 as one of the guardian angels of this democracy, Abuja would have been a safe haven as the nation’s capital. And here is the thing, today, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Executive Secretary of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) are all from the North. There are so many other chief executive officers of agencies and civil service directors within the FCT bureaucracy that will be unveiled later in this not-so-federal capital (anymore) of the federation who are also from the same section of the country. This is not the space for that. This is to draw just some attention to the great degeneration within the Nigerian project that is facing revolts on all fronts at the moment. And so, if the FCC leadership had been consistently purposeful, dynamic and resourceful, Nigeria would not have come to this sorry state of anomie in its nation- building project. As noted earlier, this is to draw attention to the tragedy that the Federal Character Commission has triggered because it has failed woefully in its national mandate to unify the nation through public sector appointments and projects management.

What is worse now, the FCC itself has to remove a big log from its own eye before it can remove the federal-character logs in the eyes of the nation. It is sad that a look at the constitutional body itself has revealed a tragic breach of the law that sets it up. There is a federal character palaver within and the officials of the body have been covering it up. And this may have been unknown to the Vice President (now acting) who was reportedly misquoted to have suggested scrapping of the body in June 2015. He was then quoted to have said that the body that was promoting mediocrity should be scrapped so that there could be a culture of meritocracy in public service. But he later modified the suggestion to the extent that he only suggested that merit should not be totally sacrificed in the name of federal character.

The Trouble within FCC:
There has been a petition to the presidency on the expediency of reflecting federal character in the appointments of Chairman and Secretary of the Commission. As in many agencies and extra-ministerial departments in the federal bureaucracy at the moment, the Chairman of the Commission too has been acting too. Even officials and commissioners within the FCC have been asking for “equity and fairness” within the Commission as they ask for a Chairman from the South.

The Federal Character Commission is one of the Fourteen Independent Federal Executive Bodies established by Section 153 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. We should recall that its actual existence pre-dates the 1999 constitution by three years. The regulatory body was set up by the Federal Character Commission (Establishment, etc) Decree No. 34 of 1996 (“the Enabling Act”, a direct result of the recommendations of the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference.

The FCC was established to give effect to section 14 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which provides the following:
14(3):The Composition of the Government of the Federation or any of the 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 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.
14(4):The composition of the Government of a State, a Local Government Council, or any of the agencies of such Government or Council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or Council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the Federation.

The power to appoint the Chairman of the Commission in thus vested in the President by virtue of Section 2 (2) of the Federal Character Commission (Establishment ETC) Act, which states that, the Chairman and members of the Commission shall be appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate.

It is, therefore, rather curious that since its inception in 1996, the Northern Region has consistently produced the Chairman, and/or Acting Chairman, while the Southern Region has been producing the Secretary to the Commission. This is the evidence in the following sequence:
Alhaji Adamu M. Fika, Chairman, (1995-2001) – Yobe (NorthEast)
Effanga E. Secretary, Cross Rivers (South-South).
(b)Alhaji Bello Kofar Bai, Chairman, 2002- 2007 – Katsina (North West).
Mr.Patrick Emenerah, Secretary, Edo State (South South)
Prof. Durosimi Etti Secretary, Lagos State (South West).
(c)Prof. Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem, Chairman 2008-2014, Kwara State (North Central).
Prof. Durosimi Etti Secretary, Lagos State (South West).
Barr. Rex Ogbuku, Secretary Bayelsa State (South South).
During the period of interregnum, the Northern also produced the Ag. Executive Chairman in the persons of:
Alhaji Ari Gwaska,Ag. Chairman, Nasarawa state (North Central.) 2012 – 2013.
(b)Alhaji Lawan Funtua – (Ag. Chairman, Katsina State (North West) 2013- 2014.
(b) Alhaji Muhammed Bello Alkali, Ag. Chairman) Kebbi State ( North West) 2014-2015.
(a)Dr. Shettima Bukar – (Ag. Chairman) Borno State (North East) January 2016 – Date.

It is understood that tension began to rise in the Commission again when recently, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a new Secretary for the Commission,Mallam Bello Tukur Who hails from Taraba State, the same geo- political zone (North East) with the current Acting Chairman; Dr. Shettima Bukar. This is considered a serious breach of the law of the land, specifically in an agency set up to correct lopsided-ness in the distribution of government positions, posts and projects.

Why will the federal character not be impaired in the country when it is now being noted that since the inception of the Commission in 1996, the North has consistently produced the substantive Chairman and/or Acting Chairman while the South is restricted to producing the Secretary?

The call for caution and redress is not misplaced at the moment as the present Ag. Chairman, Dr. Shettima Bukar (Borno State) is from the same geo-political zone with the new substantive Secretary-Barr. Bello Tukur from Taraba State. The current petitioners are said to be calling on the president to begin the process of promoting stability and peace building now by appointing any qualified person from the South as the substantive Chairman of the Commission.

As Adamu Adamu had noted in a comment on the Vice President’s controversial view on this subject in a July 3 & 9, 2015, serialized comments in the Daily Trust, the founding principle behind federal character is the search for fairness and social equality in national togetherness. And so its objective is to compensate for past discrimination or enforced deprivation. It, therefore, seeks to create the kind of diversity in elite and leadership positions that gives everyone, especially its historical victims, the fact and satisfaction of participation in national affairs and a sense of belonging to the nation.

Let’s continue with the relevant discussion points next week when we can realize that Nigeria is, after all, not an Island in establishing a body to apply this kind of principle for national cohesion. But the point to the authorities today is that the Federal Character Commission that should promote national unity and cohesion needed at the moment is a Commission that is not fit and proper to carry out its legal duty. There is a need to allow the law to rule in its house first before it can apply it properly in the nation’s public service. Or what do you think?




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