When the German Nazi’s under Adolf Hitler wanted to carry out a program of total exclusion against the Jews, they began with a campaign of falsehood. The gullible German public bought into it and more surprisingly German intellectuals who should know better defended, justified and promoted it. The concept of one superior race and the other inferior, one race being competent while the other lacked any merit; irrational as it was, was consolidated and the consequence was the most atrocious program of exclusion and crimes against humanity in history. And yes; Germany was a democracy—at least at the time the whole charade began.
The same scenario unfolded in South Africa. A White racist regime deemed the indigenous Black Africans to be incompetent and inferior. Again the White population bought into it while the intellectuals which by the way included some opportunist and self serving Blacks likewise defended, justified and promoted it. This ideology was used to advance the exclusion of Blacks in South Africa in the then infamous Apartheid system. South Africa was of course also a democracy and the lesson from both countries where exclusion and systemic human rights violations took place is to underline the important fact that grave injustices can be undertaken by democracies contrary to what many think.
On the home front, President Muhammadu Buhari was elected on a platform of change being the first candidate to defeat an incumbent in Nigeria’s chequered history. In three previous attempts he had been dogged by complaints and public perceptions of being sectional and insensitive to Nigeria’s diversity and thus was never able to cross-out beyond the North. This time a coalition with some Southern leaders and an image building campaign that had some success in changing public perceptions about him helped steer the election in his favour. The election was nonetheless divisive along ethnic and religious lines and Buhari came to power in a nation that was virtually on a cliff edge. Given the fact of Nigeria’s fragility, the expectation was that a robust programme of nation building and other structural reforms would be initiated to tackle the existential fault-lines that continue to haunt the nation.
Those expectations were soon dashed as Buhari commenced with parochial appointments that were too deliberate to ignore having himself publicly declared his intention to discriminate between regions that gave him 97 percent of votes and those that gave him 5 percent. In spite of widespread criticisms the trend of lopsided appointments has continued unabated more than 15 months into the administration. Practically all security and top scale appointments have gone to Northerners in total disregard of the nation’s diversity. Yet as much as we blame the president for this lapse, equal measure of blame must go to those who justified and enabled the unprecedented level of nepotism that has become the order of the day in Buhari’s Nigeria. When it all began more than a year ago, many patriotic Nigerians raised alarm about the emerging pattern of sectional appointments.
They harped on the need for Buhari to reach out to all sections of the country, appoint capable hands and run an inclusive nation building government. But Buhari’s apologists including some otherwise rational intellectuals justified the dangerous policies of exclusion with logic not dissimilar to what was advanced by Hitler’s Nazi party and South Africa’s Apartheid enablers. They told us the sectional appointments were all done on merit. While this irrational claim was being bandied, none of the promoters dared explain the basis or criteria with which merit was measured for reasons of its illogicality. Another strange excuse was the idea that the federal character system has failed us and thus we should consciously violate the constitution and try nepotism with its associated corruption.
Furthermore; the argument that what is most important is good governance and not where the appointees come from was just as illogical as all the other reasons advanced. A fundamental element of good governance as defined is political, economic and social inclusion. Thus no matter how much roads and social amenities are provided, where there is deliberate exclusion and group grievance governance remains a failure. The South African Apartheid government for example, built the best infrastructure on the African continent but was still deemed a failure due to its exclusion of Black South Africans. If therefore successful public works and provision of social amenities is all that counts for good governance as Buhari apologists argued, South Africa would have been left alone to continue with its Apartheid system.
Lastly, the frequently advanced idea that the President can only appoint those whom he knows and trusts was and remains patently ludicrous. If that were to be the case, most presidents and even state governors would have only their family or clan members in their cabinets. If after being a military head of state and contested elections four times Buhari does not have trusted associates outside the North then something is wrong somewhere. 15 months later, the jury is already out. The consequence of being antagonistic and excluding sections of the country is ever too obvious. Not only has the nation never been as divided as it is now as declared by former president Obasanjo and other keen observers of events, the economy has virtually collapsed. For all the noise of Buhari appointing trusted aides on the basis of merit and competence by the infamous enablers of exclusion, there is nothing today that vindicates those irrational assertions.
If anything, Nigeria has declined more than ever before. The economy is officially in recession, inflation is at its highest, foreign investors are fleeing, the naira has collapsed, job losses are accelerating with massive retrenchments across all sectors, insecurity has heightened with the added calamity of herdsmen killing at will, roads, hospitals and other critical infrastructure are comatose, ethno-religious conflicts abound while poverty and hunger walks on all fours. If you add the widely condemned Rio 2016 Olympic debacle by the sports minister you get the picture of a dysfunctional government. Alas, those who raised alarm have been vindicated. Though sundry constitutional directives expressly provide for ethno-religious balancing in federal appointments, I have deliberately chosen to focus on the moral aspect because common sense and morality are clearly stronger impulses than constitutional dictates.
This is the reason; even homogenous nations around the world instinctively reflect geographic spread in appointments, attracting talent from a broad spectrum of their society not because the constitution says so but because it’s natural and morally right to do so. Indeed, Nigeria has 36 states including some that are homogenous. It’s noteworthy that without any constitutional requirement, all states reflect geographical spread in appointments. There is no governor in Nigeria todate that has constituted his cabinet exclusively with people from his clan. In fact most southeast states produced their governors through zoning and yet these are homogenous states where it could easily and justifiably be argued that zoning isn’t necessary. Ultimately, considerations of social stability, cohesion and overall justice and equality trump all other exigencies. In that regards, Buhari’s sectional appointments are decidedly immoral.