The federal character principle which has been enshrined in Nigeria’s constitutions since 1979, seeks to ensure that appointments in the federal public service fairly reflect the linguistic, cultural, religious and geographical balancing in the country.Application of the principles in the Federal Civil Service and the military has amounted to a confused balancing of the merit principles and the quota system based essentially on the state of origin.This has had adverse effects on both institutions in terms of discipline, morale and general effectiveness and efficiency.
Faithful implementation of the universal primary education and the imaginative rehabilitation of all secondary and tertiary institutions would serve as veritable tools in ensuring equal opportunities for all to compete for opportunities in the country’ss public service. This too will be done on the basis of merit because any country that sacrifices merit on the altar of greed or federal character would be forever shooting itself in the foot. As regards the military, only rapid implementation of the continuous training and the sticking of the country to civil and democratic rule can guarantee the survival of the federal character principles in Nigeria.With President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Dr Muheeba Dankaka, who hails from Offa, Kwara state, as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Character Commission, FCC, a position she roundly merits, the issue of capable leadership in the institution that serves as the ombudsman for the implementation of the country’s federal character principle has been resolved.Her appointment is coming at a time when there are many criticisms of the federal character principle and its implementation in the country. She is an avid believer of the federal character principle as a tool for unity through equality. She believes that the call for the abrogation of the federal character principle is hasty.The policy, she opines, still ensures that no single tribe controls or dominates any government agency or the government itself and this is a departure from the system of the past that makes this possible. Without the federal character principle, it would have been relatively easy for a dominant tribe in Nigeria to control the federal government. Indeed, there is a perception that the North, a catch-all region in Nigeria, controls the military and the police.
However, now with Dr Muheeba Dankaka at the helm of affairs of the commission, such perception can be checked through the faithful implementation of the federal character principle. Through her leadership, the perception that is always held that the commission is a toothless bulldog will be a thing of the past. When the FCC barks, it must be heard because the legal instruments to ensure it is heard are enshrined in the extant 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, simple and clear.
She is already working on a framework to improve on our federal character principle, perhaps reforming the FCC, to ensure more transparent criteria and a recourse to merit as overall arbiter on who gets what. As tribal debate spurs tension, the FCC helmsman would be addressing the details of the new framework to make widely acceptable by its careful legal drafting. A useful legislative framework would be the use of a more holistic act that would ensure that available positions are publicised in all parts of the country to tackle inequality of opportunity.This is a cardinal part of her plans. She believes beyond this approach, emphasis must be placed on qualifications, ensuring that merits are not sacrificed on the altar of diversity.That said and promised, Nigerians should not believe that fixing the federal character principles is a magic wand. Beyond tokenism representation, we ought to hollistically push for policies that are representative and promote equity on issues that revolve around resource allocations, as well as criminalise hate crimes and speeches or any other form of tribal discrimination. This Muheeba Dankaka is also working on. The federal character principle guarantees some semblance of balance in the federal public service, but the price of this is the catalogue of unqualified civil servants branding public office without qualifications.
More so, it breeds a new type of tribal discontent as Nigerians become dissappointed with the quality of government officials. This, she would be working hard to eliminate through sound policies and legal frameworks.We ought to have pursued reforms here long ago, to do so now, Nigeria needs to break bad character. Our amazon of reforms in the federal character principle and commission is here. Let’s support her for the nation’s unity.
Musa Wada, Abuja