With people like Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is no wonder why the much-touted quest for positive change has remained a mirage. If Dambazau who is the Minister of Interior had ever made any pretentions to being pan-Nigerian, this façade has been exploded by the recent appointments he made in his ministry for Nigerians to comprehensively apprehend who he is: A bigot who is only beholden to the narrow interest of his tribe and religion.
Dambazau attained a top rank of a lieutenant general before he retired from the military. He also served as the chief of army staff. For a person with such a breathtaking military career that was rendered possible by his country, we would have thought that he had developed a broad vision of the nation. After all, it is commonly believed that the military institution is impervious to the fissiparous tendencies in the larger society. And this is why former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari do not brook any objection to the existence of Nigeria as one entity as long as they have a role to play in deciding the fate of the nation.
It is regrettable that Dambazau does not see his being in public office as an opportunity to serve the whole nation. He rather sees it as a means of favouring only those with whom he shares ethnic and religious affiliations. This was why when Dambazau made appointments in his ministry, he only considered those who shared his religious and ethnic ties. Brazenly, Dambazau appointed only northerners as heads of all the paramilitary agencies under his ministry. The agencies are the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), whose new Comptroller-General (CG), Mohammed Babandede, hails from Kano State, where the minister is from and the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) where Ahmed Ja’afaru of Bauchi State is the Controller-General. Before now, Abdullahi Gana from Niger State had been the head of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) while the Controller General of the Federal Fire Service (FFS) was Joseph Anebi from Benue State in the North-central. At the NIS, Dambazau opted for his preferred candidate Mohammed Babandede.
In making the appointments, Dambazau had no qualms in violating the sensibilities of Nigerians. He did not care about the federal character principle. As far as he is concerned only his fellow northerners are qualified to hold such offices. What he has done has only reinforced the perception that the northerners see other citizens from other parts of the country as their vassals who are only meant to serve them. Of course, we are not oblivious of those who would make the self-serving argument that in a modern society, there is no need to represent all the parts of the country. But what easily betrays the insincerity of that argument is that those who make it do not insist that the federal character principle should be jettisoned for a totally merit-driven system. Even if such appointments were made on merit, did they not betray the parochial vision of Dambazau who cannot see beyond his northern region? Are there no competent citizens from the other parts of the country who could have been given some of these offices to ensure ethnic and religious diversity in a pluralistic society like ours?
Now, consider this in contrast to the narrow-mindedness of Dambazau. His counterpart in the Ministry of Information and Cultrure, Lai Mohammed made appointments which represent different parts of the country. Above all, Mohammed strove to enthrone excellence as those he appointed are no doubt eligible to hold those offices in terms of their professional pedigrees.
It was the same Dambazau who was the bulwark against the emergence of former Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President when former President Umaru Yar’Adua was terminally sick. It was the same Manichean affliction that prevented Dambazau from seeing an operative of the State Security Service attached to him as a man with dignity who was only rendering his professional service to him. Thus he had no qualms in assigning him the menial task of cleaning his shoes in the public.
It is the arrogance of people like Dambazau that makes other citizens to be racked by a sense of alienation. These other citizens understand the message that they are only servants meant to be subjugated by their northern masters. For, if Dambazau could impudently make these appointments which of course must be made public to favour his northern region and religion, it means that many other offices that may escape public scrutiny would only be filled with northerners and Muslims. Employment into agencies that are usually identified as juicy ones such as the customs and immigration would only favour his fellow northerners. The crumbs that may fall to other citizens in other parts of the country would be from the Nigeria Prisons. This is why what is needed to stop the agitations in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country that are resisting their marginalisation for decades is not force. Rather, the country should be run in a way that should be clear to all that all the citizens are recognised as equal stakeholders.
What Dambazau has done is probably only a reflection of the disposition of the president. After all, it was Buhari who first filled his kitchen cabinet with people from his own part of the country. As far as he is concerned, it is only those people he can trust to run the country that belongs to all the citizens. However, if Buhari is sincere in pursuing a transformational agenda, now is the time to make amends for past mistakes. A man like Dambazau should not be allowed to occupy a public office that is meant to serve the citizens.
Because Dambazau is his friend, Buhari may not contemplate the option of sacking him. But the least Buhari can do to rein in misguided public officials like Dambazau is for the president to immediately cancel the jaundiced appointments that his minister has made. He should then make appointments that would reflect an equitable representation of all the parts of the country. Unless this happens, the change agenda of Buhari as he begins his second year in office would remain a national swindle.