Recently, the Federal Government made some appointments to the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Out of the 15 appointments, 10 of the appointees hailed from the northern part of the country and were mostly Hausa Fulani; three hailed from the South-West and two of them were from the South-South part of the country. None of the appointees was from the South-East.
The appointments have generated bad blood in the polity, with ethnic lenses being used to view them. For instance, almost immediately the appointments were made, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the umbrella body of the Igbo nation in Nigeria, rose against them, stating that they were done as a continuation of the ploy by the government to continually keep the Igbo down in the scheme of things. Its President-General, Chief John Nwodo, in a statement made available to the media, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately review the appointments in the spirit of equity and unity. Not adhering to this call, he said, would confirm the fears of the East that the government’s action was consistent with the alleged unrepentant disposition and disdain for the South – East by the Buhari government.
“This brazen disregard, marginalisation and non-compliance with the Federal Character provisions in our constitution are the causes of the lack of confidence which our youths have in our present governance structure. As long as President Buhari continues to live out his speech abroad that his government will favour those who voted 97 per cent for him against those who voted 5 per cent for him, dissatisfaction and unrest in our polity will subsist. There is no oil well anywhere in Northern Nigeria. Four of the five states in the South-East have proven oil resources, some of which provide our nation’s revenue, yet our people are not found fit to be adequately represented in a key corporate institution like the NNPC,” he said.
Almost immediately, Afenifere, the umbrella body for the Yoruba people, also condemned this action. According to its spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, justice had not been done, nor was it seen to have been done. “The issue for us is not about whether it favours us or does not favour us; it is about justice to all. It is skewed and that is not the way to build an inclusive society. You must carry everybody along. Does that mean that there was nobody qualified from the South-East? Why the sheer impunity? I think that those who are running Nigeria now should be mindful of the need to build an inclusive society. You must earn the confidence of all, and it is not too late for this administration to listen and do something that is more balanced in a multiethnic society,” he said.
There is no doubting the fact that the NNPC appointments are obviously skewed and sectional. Coming from a government which is suspected to have a no-love-lost relationship with the Igbo ethnic stock in Nigeria, the appointments could be seen as setting fire to tinder. They palpably violated every code of equity and are a flagrant disobedience of the Federal Character principle, the core of the principles enshrined in the Nigerian constitution to manage the acrimonies arising from ethnic disaffections in a supposedly federal Nigeria. The appointments are also a clear indication that the government is not listening to the outcries of Nigerians of the South-East extraction that, in virtually all its policies and body language, there is a vindictive undertone against the Igbo by this government. Indeed, the perception was succinctly captured by the Ohanaeze which made reference to President Buhari’s maiden travel to the United States of America where he unabashedly said that since the Igbo nation did not give him enough votes, it could not expect to reap equal benefits with those who voted massively for him. This is absolutely and patently unstatesmanly, and an affront on the practice of federalism in Nigeria.
Since the beginning of Nigeria’s pseudo-federal practice, ethnic relations in the country have been very fragile and manifest indications that they could explode at the snap of a finger. The most sensible thing to do is to continue to fill the cracks of these ethnic relations, not to deepen the fissures. When President Buhari delivered a broadcast at his resumption of office after over three months on medical vacation in the United Kingdom, he hankered after the need for ethnic relations in the country to transcend the level of acrimony where it had always been. Even though the speech was vacant and uninspiring about Nigeria’s togetherness, it was at least expected that its pretence to the unity of the nation would be manifested in practice. The appointments belie the principle of that broadcast and signify that they were mainly done to provoke the Igbo ethnic stock into further anger and disenchantment against Nigeria. If Nigeria goes deeper into division today, appointments of this hue should be held partly responsible.
The most redemptive thing to do is to reverse the NNPC appointments and do the needful by including the South-East in a reviewed list. Non-compliance with this would be a confirmation that the Federal Government is adamant and not bothered by the ethnic tensions that are enveloping the land.