Service chiefs’ appointment: Dear Buhari, Igbos are good enough! by Buchi Obichie (Opinion)

Service chiefs’ appointment: Dear Buhari, Igbos are good enough! by Buchi Obichie (Opinion)

Editors' note: The writer, Buchi Obichie, analyses a statement made by President Buhari in Onitsha, concerning his criteria for appointing service chiefs. She also takes a look at other statements made by the president as regards the attention he pays to different sections of the country, and insists that Igbos are good enough and more than equal to the task of leading any branch of the Armed Forces!

I believe in competency in professional service; that the best man/woman ought to be given a particular job, based on abilities and proven efficacy in past positions. I believe in an honourable track-record as a yardstick for future appointment and that exceptional service should be rewarded with promotions at different stages of one's professional life.

I have never believed in cutting corners or relying on one's tribal, family or even social affiliations to get ahead in life; and I've carried that approach through various stages of my life, as I've matured.

And it is in this same manner that I expect leaders to act - putting the best men/women in top positions.

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Since he came into office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari has been plagued with accusations of tribalism in his appointments. He has been accused of favouring the section of the country where he hails from - the North - to the detriment of other parts of the country; most especially the south-east.

The president has placed people of Northern origin in top security positions, and has remained unfazed by the blow-back and outrage from the people of the south-east, who have claimed marginalisation since the inception of his presidency.

To be fair, the current chief of defense staff is a Yoruba man, General Abayomi Olonisakin, and the chief of naval staff is from the south-south, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas. However, that’s as far as the 'diversity' goes.

The chief of Army staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, is from the North; as is his Air Force counterpart, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.

The current acting inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu is also from the North, as is the president's national security adviser, Babagana Monguno. We can't also overlook the fact that the current director general of the DSS, Yusuf Magaji Bichi is also from the North.

In all, there's no Igbo man at the helm of any of the security agencies!

Recently, Buhari was in Onitsha, Anambra state, where he was once again confronted with the allegation of exclusion of Igbos in his government. He remained defiant in his response, repeating the familiar talking points of being fair to all.

He said: "The most competent or senior person is the one that gets there. The present chief of Army staff, the chief of Air staff, the chief of Naval staff, even the previous inspector general of police that just left, I didn’t know them personally before I appointed them. I follow records.

“The same thing with the IG, the one that was appointed last week, I don’t think I have ever seen him, I follow records. So, appointments in the Armed Forces and other law enforcement agencies depend on individual performance after recruitment not where you think you come from. At least, between me and God, this is what I do.”

Wait a minute. It's one thing to insult our intelligence by feigning fairness when we can clearly see that your actions do not match up to your words. But it is another thing to add salt to injury, by essentially implying - in my opinion - that Igbos are not up to the task of heading such agencies.

I mean, what else was he implying when he said appointments "depend on individual performance after recruitment"? If the president's appointments are supposedly based on individual performance, doesn't that translate into meaning that the Igbos who have been clamoring for a service chief to be appointed from within their ranks, don't just measure up- performance wise - to their northern counterparts who got the jobs?

That is just preposterous!

It is all the more so ridiculous when you take into consideration, the fact that Igbos are usually associated with academic excellence - as seen in common entrance cut-off marks for the south-east - and are known to be dogged, fearless and hardworking folks who go over and beyond in discharge of their duties, in their chosen fields of endeavor.

So, when did Ndigbo become so under-performing as to be excluded for high ranking service positions?

Now, I am not a member of the Armed Forces and I do not know the exact composition of Igbo officers in the Army, Navy or Air Force; but i think it's an absurdity for anyone to insinuate that among the top cadre of officers in the different branches of service, there isn't one Igbo person qualified to lead!

It's a shame that a man who campaigned on the promise of being a 'detribalised Nigerian' should now turn out to be one who seems to be so tribalised in his appointments.

Whatever happened to the principle of Federal Character, which states, in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution, that: "The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its 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 to 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 any of its agencies."

That's right, 'need to promote national unity' are the key words.

Nigeria is such a diverse territory with a blend of various ethnicities; chief amongst them being the Igbos, Yorubas and Hausas. But why does it seem as though the country 'belongs' to only one section of the country?

Now, I am not one to stoke flames; but I cannot help but point out that it has been noted that ever since the January 1966 coup spearheaded by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and his comrades, the Igbos have been looked upon - especially in the Armed Forces - with suspicion; and it is that suspicion (and anger over the coup) that led to the mutiny/counter coup of July 1966 which then culminated in the Civil War.

And taking into consideration that the average Igbo man, by nature, is stubborn, hard-headed and carries himself with notions of grandeur (I mean, Ndigbo refer to themselves as the Jews of Africa), the other tribes may feel that they have some reason to be wary of their south-eastern brothers.

However, is that fear and suspicion reason enough to keep the Igbos excluded from top leadership positions - especially highly sensitive and powerful ones? Is it not the job of the president, as father of the nation, to ensure that all tribes feel included in this entity? Is it not his job to foster national unity?

The president has explained that the 5 south-eastern states have ministers represented in his cabinet; however, judging by his actions, i am inclined to think that if not for the unbending principle of Federal Character which guides the appointment of ministers, he (Buhari) would probably have put together a cabinet whose composition mirrors his other appointments.

The president probably still feels slighted by the fact that he only got a low volume of votes from the south-east in 2015. In his own words: “Somebody made an observation that I was not patronising the Igbo from the south-east. I told him that when I won the election, I studied the amount of votes I got from all the geopolitical zones.

“I said I got 198,000 from the whole of the south-east, which virtually any local government can give me."

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At the US Institute of Peace, he also said: "The constituents, for example, that gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political realities."

So, are we to assume that the Igbos are being 'punished' for not voting massively for Buhari in 2015?

Hmm...

In any case, right now, my interpretation of Buhari's statement about how he appointed service chiefs is that the performance of Ndigbo is not good enough to warrant one of their own emerging as leader of any branch of the Armed Forces.

However, we know that the Igbos are good enough...that they are not just outstanding, but exceptional and excellent. Igbos deserve one of their own being appointed as leader of any branch of the Armed Service. They are fearless, rugged and determined; and I dare say the nation will benefit from the expertise of an Igbo man/woman at the helm of any of the security services...or anywhere else for that matter!

This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.

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