ixteen leaders of socio-cultural groups in the Southern part of Nigeria recently sued President Muhammadu Buhari and his government over the lopsidedness in his appointments and allocation of federal favours against the South.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/595/2020 was filed for the plaintiff by a group of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) led by Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN) and Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN).
In the N50 billion suit before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, the plaintiff alleged that most appointments since the inception of Buhari’s administration in 2015 were in the breach of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Federal Character Principle.
The plaintiffs included Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Dr. John Nnia Nwodo, Dr. Pogu Bittus, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Alaowei Bozimo, Mrs. Sarah Doketri, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Air Commodore Idongsit Nkanga (rtd).
Those joined as 2nd to 4th Defendants in the suit were the Attorney-General of the Federation, Clerk of National Assembly and the Federal Character Commission.
They further alleged that Southern Nigeria has been deliberately marginalised by the Buhari-led government.
The plaintiffs want the court to determine whether it was not “reckless and adverse to the interest of Nigeria” for President Buhari to obtain a loan facility from the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, the World Bank, China, Japan and Germany amounting to $22.7 billion, for infrastructural development, only to allocate the bulk of the fund to the North.
They also want a declaration that the loan facility purportedly for infrastructural development wherein less than one per cent of the amount is to be allocated to the South-East of Nigeria for specific infrastructural development, violates section 16 (1) (a) (b) and S16 (2) (a) (b) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
They equally want the court to declare that the 1st defendant’s procurement of any loan, which would increase Nigeria’s outstanding debt by up to 30 per cent of its GDP or which would increase its interest payment above 50 per cent of government revenue, is unconstitutional.
The plaintiff went further to question the appointment of permanent secretaries, Services Chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Directors General (DGs) of Department of State Services (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA); heads of the Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps (NCDSC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), among others, arguing that Buhari has not lawfully exercised such with fairness. They are contending that these appointments are not in compliance with the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The suit is the climax of a long call by the Southern and Middle Belt leaders on Buhari to play fair in his appointments and dealings with Nigerians of all shade and opinion. But the more the calls come, the more the president sticks to his guns, taking actions that seem to alienate some parts of the country the more.
Take the issue of service chiefs, for instance. For five years, the Buhari government has held onto the same service chiefs, which, to some, is lopsided and in favour of the North. The Chief of Army Staff, the Inspector-General of Police, the Chief of Air Staff, the National Security Adviser, the Minister of Defence are all from the North. Only the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Defence Staff are from the South. Save for the Ministry of Interior that has Rauf Aregbesola from the South-West, all other key positions in defence, paramilitary and other key agencies are domiciled in the North as well.
A similar thing is also visible in the finance department of the country, with all key positions, except the Governor of the Central Bank, in the North.
But the one that appears to rankle the most, apart from appointments, is possibly the $22.7 billion loan the president is obtaining from different multilateral agencies. The loan has been approved by the National Assembly, despite protests from the representatives of the South-East. The president would go ahead and obtain the loan without any share to the South-East, one of the six regions of the country. The loan would be marked as taken by Nigeria.
Of recent, image makers of the president and some spin doctors have come up with stories about how Buhari has appointed more Southerners to positions than northerners. Some northerners have also come up with stories of how Buhari has favoured the South more than them. All those remain in the realm of arguments.
But what is clear now is that the battle to remind the president that he was elected as the president of Nigeria, not a section of the country, has shifted to the courts. We know for sure that at the courts, more facts would emerge on how well the president has treated his larger Nigeria constituency. Whether he has done well or not is now an open contest in the court.
We, however, commend the Southern leaders for the move to seek redress in the court. In a democracy, that is the way to go, rather than making inflammatory statements and overheating the polity. We believe that the resort to the courts is a right step, which would help bring to light the truth about the nature of things in the Presidency since 2015.
We also expect the president and his team to put up a robust defence of his performance and actions. At least, we know the rule that one is innocent until proven guilty. We await the verdict of the court on this.