At the Senate Committee level last week Monday, issues of merit and federal character in public service appointments by the Federal Government surfaced. TAIYE ODEWALE reports .
Genesis of federal character
Nigeria being a diversified federation of peoples of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions spread across 36 states that constitute the component units of the federation made constitutional provisions for application of federal character in public service appointments and allocation of resources, for the sole purpose of giving every part of the country the required sense of belonging in the Nigerian project.
Specifically, the need for such equitable representation in government by people from every segment of the Nigerian society and distribution of resources is stated in section 14 (subsection 3 ) of the 1999 Constitution. The section states: “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 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 of other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies”.
Though provision and application of the section have generated controversies over the years as regards its usefulness or otherwise, particularly in the case of issue of merit for whatever appointments but the need for sense of belonging for all Nigerians in public service irrespective of ethnic, religious or even political affiliation; made it to remain relevant and very necessary in the business of governance at all levels.
Emphasis from the Senate
Little wonder that at the confirmation hearing of the Senate Commitee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters held for Hon Justice Salisu Garba Abdullahi for the position of Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) last week Monday, the need for strict application of the principle was stressed.
Specifically, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central), while giving the admonition, declared that it was not only morally and politically correct to ensure compliance with federal character principle, but also a fundamental obligation imposed on government and all its functionaries as contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He urged all individuals and bodies saddled with the responsibility of making appointments recommendations to the President, to ensure compliance with both the eligibility criteria and federal character principle.
This, he said, was to avoid unnecessarily heating up of the polity and eroding the unity and strength of the country.
His words: “The need for merit and compliance in the consideration of citizens for appointment, including the ones that will come before the Senate for confirmation, must be re-emphasised for the record.
“In addition to ensuring that potential appointees meet the eligibility criteria stipulated for the relevant public offices into which they are being appointed, adequate care must also be taken to ensure that the federal character principle established by virtue of the clear provision of Section 14, Sub-section (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) is not undermined.
“As the committee of the senate that is in charge of Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, we will like to appeal on behalf of the leadership and our distinguished colleagues in parliament, to urge all the stakeholders who participate in the process of executive and judicial appointments in this country, especially individuals and bodies saddled with the responsibility of making recommendations to the President and Commander-in-Chief of our dear country, to ensure compliance with both the eligibility criteria, as well as the federal character principle, established in our constitution in order to avoid unnecessarily heating up the polity and eroding the unity and strength of our country, and in the process, weakening the foundation of our country as well as the hope of its federating units.
“We have an extremely bright and exciting future in one indivisible and indissoluble nation that is propelled by unity in diversity and all hands must be on deck to ensure this aspiration is guided jealously.
“This shall remain our guiding principle in the 9th Senate under Senator Ahmad Lawan’ s watch as we continue to guard jealously the spirit and letters of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which we all swore to protect in the overriding public and national interests”.
Reaction from Presidency
Expectedly, since it was a screening session for a nominee by the President, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Christopher Babajide Omoworare, was at the event and reacted promptly.
Omoworare in his response to the committee’s admonition said: “The issues raised about the federal character principle and merit are well noted and will be communicated to the appropriate quarters.
“The principle as observed by the Committee and to a large extent, being adhered to, by this government, is very necessary in terms of application; for a highly diversified federation like ours “.
The Committee’s observation cum admonition, came barely a week after the Senate spokesman, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Bashiru (APC Osun Central), protested alleged lopsided appointments into the Board of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the floor of the Senate.
Obviously, the Senate, whether in plenary or at Committee levels, is making the required observations and clarion calls on the relevant authorities in the executive arm of government for strict adherence to the principle in the general interest of all Nigerians and Nigeria itself, as a diversified entity.