Ethnicity plays such a major part in the consciousness of Nigerians so much that, once a list of appointees are released, as most Nigerians go through the list,
instead of accessing the strength of the individuals, they immediately attempt to group the appointees by ethnicity, religion or clans.
Is Muhammadu Buhari an ethnic bigot? I would rather argue, that ethnicity may not be at the back of his mind when these appointments are made, rather in putting together his core team, he goes for colleagues, and professionals most of whom he is comfortable with, who only happen to be northerners by tribe. Definitely, it is not a northern agenda as some have opined, I would prefer to call it “comfort level appointments”.
Comfort level appointments are not new all over the world. Remember more than 20 Harvard Law School classmates of Barack Obama where in his transition team and later made his initial government. Did Americans cry over the fact he appointed mostly his classmates? No. Also, the world of Chicago politics produced his most influential advisers, including chief campaign strategist David Axelrod and businesswoman Valerie Jarrett. So you can see that most leaders, upon assuming office, appoint people closest to them.
Why should Buhari be viewed differently? Fortunately, most people in Buharis inner circles, majority happen to be Northerners, not by choice, but by birth. Do we really need to hold that against them? Ethnicity plays the same role as classmate’s relationships.
Let’s take on David Cameron, British Prime Minister; he surrounded himself with his classmates from Eton College. His core advisers were a clique, a network of friends — the friends he made at school, friends he made at university. So Presidents and leaders, starting their governments with their close friends and aides is nothing new.
Also, lets come back home. Remember, when Donald Duke brought his close friend from Oron Akwa Ibom state to be the head of Cross River State Economic development office in Washington DC is 1999?
While in Washington, Larry Esin directed CRS’ foreign direct investment program and developed initiatives to encourage private enterprise development in strategic industries. Most people even argued at a point, that development projects Donald initiated were mostly Larry Esin concepts. Again, bringing your buddies to work with you is not new in modern day governments.
Now the big question: Why is Buhari’s case viewed differently? The answer is simple. “Resource control” and the “psychology of belonging’.
What this means is that when appointments are made, traditionally, Nigerians expect that “our man is there”, so he bring government largesse to us. That is the mentality of sharing the national cake. However, many will be disappointed with my line of thought.
The change Buhari talked about and the change we all advocated for was not the change to share national cake as we had in the past, it was the change of building Nigeria. As Nigerians, we have a choice to make, we can continue to share our resources or we can decide to build our country. If it will take all Hausas, or Yoruba’s or Efiks to make Nigeria work again, let’s give it a try.
The second and most annoying aspect of this argument is the “psychology of belonging”. Most Nigerians are just contented that someone from their tribe is in office, even if he benefits nothing all through the person’s tenure in office. This is a regressive mentality and will continue to perpetuate underdevelopment in our society.
Thousands of people from Otta Obasanjo’s town have no jobs, no houses, and no food and yet their son was once a President. Thousands of people from Otueke, Jonathans town, have no portable drinking water, no jobs, no houses, cannot afford to pay the school fees of their children, yet they are contented their son was President. Nigerians should come to a mentality that where a leader comes from is irrelevant, what matters is his ability to deliver.
Fellow Nigerians, let’s get it right, it is not about where a man comes from, it is about what he can deliver and how he can change your life. This is the mentality that can change Nigeria, and I pray my generation will live to judge men, not by their ethnicity or place of origin, but by the content of their character and place of residence.
A Yoruba boy, who was born in Calabar, went to school in Calabar, his parent’s pay taxes to Cross River state government, all his friends are mostly in Calabar, should be accepted as an indigene of Cross River state, and should be entitled to all benefits our people have, that’s the new Nigeria we want. Remember the old national anthem? Though tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand.
Finally, I understand some maybe quickly to point out “federal character”, zoning, state-ism and religion in appointments, I understand all of that. But if you want to know the truth, those federal character, zoning, state-ism, ethnicity and religion is everything wrong with Nigeria.
The biggest impediment to Nigeria’s development today is leadership. However, ethnic sentiments have made it difficult to attain national development. Example, if the EFCC start probing politicians, rather than applaud their work, we start counting how many Hausas and Yoruba have been convicted.
If Nigeria must move forward, we need to make a choice. Either we decide to build on an ethnic free future and move on to great heights, or we continue to hold on ethnic sentiments, state-ism and zoning and remain backward.
Now that Buhari has started his appointments, the question should not be the tribes of his new hires, rather the question should be: Are these appointees qualified to deliver the goods and to build a new Nigeria?
Buhari’s initial appointees are mostly those close to him, if they are all Hausas should not be over emphasized, what should concern us at this time is, can they really deliver.
Obama started with over 20 of his Harvard classmates, Cameron of Britain started with most of his school mates from Eton College, Buhari is starting with most of his political aides and associates majority of whom happen to be Hausas, not by choice but by birth, lets us not over labor the fact, Nigeria’s biggest problem continue to be leadership and ethnicity, zoning, religion has over the years kept some of our very best away, Let us support Buharis vision of change, it’s not so much about sharing the national cake, this time around it is about baking the cake. The channel through which this cake is baked is irrelevant, let’s make Nigeria work.
Princewill Odidi writes from Atlanta USA (firstname.lastname@example.org)