• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

How not to govern a heterogeneous and divided country

Unity

It is now apparent that President Mohammadu Buhari has betrayed the hope of millions of Nigerians who hoped and yearned for a president that will be a symbol of national unity and will unite the country fractured by severe ethnic, religious and regional tensions especially in the periods leading to the 2015 general elections. Rather than heal and ameliorate such divisions, the President has, by his actions, deepened the divisions and is now feeding the perception that he is an ethnic champion incapable of being a true national statesman. At no time since the end of the civil war is Nigeria more divided and fractured along ethnic and regional lines than it is now. This has unleashed centrifugal forces on the country like never before and is feeding the predictions of naysayers that the current president may preside over the disintegration of the country.

If the President’s unfortunate comment at the United State’s Institute of Peace on July 22, 2015 that he cannot “in all honesty” treat constituents who gave him 97 percent of votes equally with constituencies that gave him 5 percent is seen as a Freudian slip, then his filling of his kitchen cabinet with people from just one part of the country, the gradual filling of all top security positions by people from the same section of the country, the treatment of the marauding and killer-Fulani herdsmen with kid gloves while at the same time setting up a task force to be stationed in Zamfara state to fight cattle rustling, the rush to defend an Army Chief accused of buying choice houses in Dubai even when his salaries in the army is unable to buy the houses and now the deliberate omission of a former Army Chief, still from a particular section of the country, from probe over the arms deal scandal cannot be so classified. They are deliberate actions of a president who has continued to prioritise the interests of people from just a section of a country to the detriment of others.

Truth is, the President has failed to appreciate the complexity of the country and the need to carry along and give a sense of belonging to every part and people of the country. Apparently, he only nominally complied with the strict constitutional requirement to appoint a minister from every state of the federation while substantially ignoring the federal character principle which seeks to ensure that appointments to public service institutions fairly reflect linguistic, ethnic, religious, and geographical diversity of the country.

The excuse that the appointees are competent people and they are the people the president knows and could trust flies in the face of logic. There are qualified people in all parts of the country. The president is president of Nigeria and not president of a particular section of the country. He is supposed to be sufficiently exposed to and have associates from all parts of the country. That is why it is constitutionally required for a candidate not only to secure the highest number of votes cast but to also secure a minimum of 25 percent of the votes cast in at least 2/3 states of the federation.

Clearly, the president’s inability to build bridges across all parts of the country is hurting the country and giving ammunition to ethnic champions to continue to call for and work for mobilisations along ethnic lines while actively working to subvert the goal of building a united and strong nation.

The president may not be sectional or does not deliberately choose to be. But his actions are feeding that perception and that is where he and his handlers and minders should be most concerned.

Perception generally need not be true. But that is why it is particularly dangerous because it is not open to factual verification. That is also why the president and his minders should have avoided feeding such perceptions in any way and working actively to demonstrate his Pan-Nigerianness. Currently, his actions do not in any way match his words that the unity of the country is non-negotiable. Leading ethnic champions and bigots have used his appointments and actions that portray him as leaning towards a particular section of the country to make their cases for the disintegration of the country.

It is time the president take a step back and evaluate his appointments and actions. He was elected to united and move the country forward. That task requires unity of purpose.  And now that the unity of the country is being lost, the overarching goal or task of moving the country forward is being jeopardised.