In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, human rights lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, speaks about President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments
You are from the South-South. Why have you come out to defend President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments which are largely in favour of the North?
I am not a tribalist. If I was, I wouldn’t have campaigned for Buhari. I just wanted the best for Nigeria. I agree that some of the best brains are from the South while some of the best are from the North. We have brains everywhere. However, why people are clamouring for these positions that have just been filled is that people see them as juicy positions and this is my problem. About 95 per cent of the positions are yet to be filled. Buhari has filled just about five per cent of positions. For me, no government position is different from the other and that is the ideal situation. We should not classify some positions as more beneficial than others because that is a euphemism for corruption. It is a euphemism to say that some positions are better than others. People were clamouring for the position of Secretary to the Government of Federation and Chief of Staff because in the past, the Peoples Democratic Party turned those positions into money-making machines. Nigerians have seen the ostentatious lifestyles that others who have occupied these positions have lived. And the nation allowed them to get away with those crimes. And yet we say we want a change. We must begin to change our orientation. So, we are saying that we cannot make a holistic assessment until the President fills all these positions. For those positions he has filled, they are supposed to be occupied by those who are personally loyal to the President. I do not expect him to leave those positions to be filled by his political party. For example, you cannot say the chief of staff should be someone that is loyal to a power bloc in his party. That kind of person would close everyday from work, pick his telephone, and report all the activities of the President to his political camp. That would not be fair because that kind of person would not be loyal to the President but by the person who nominated him for that office. There are many positions that the political party can fill that will not have direct access to the itinerary and activities of the President. That is why I said people should be calm. There are ministerial positions to be filled, heads of agencies and many others.
We must change our orientation such that any appointment given to anybody from any part of the country must be accepted with dignity and pride and patriotism. The argument is that certain ethnic groups have seen some positions as being exclusive to them. They argue that since the presidency has gone to the North and some positions have gone to some other geopolitical zones, the next one must come to them. The clamour is because they see these as hierarchies of juicy positions and I say no.
Is it coincidental that the South-East, where Buhari got low number of votes, has not received any political appointment?
Buhari got the lowest number of votes from the South-South. But as I said, the appointments are not yet complete. You say he has not appointed any Igbo but the biggest position so far has gone to an Igbo man: Emmanuel Kachikwu who is the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. It is just by modern political divide that the man falls within Delta State but he is a Delta Igbo. They speak Igbo. It is only by political delineation that he falls within Delta State but there are Igbo speaking Deltans. He is an Igbo man but only on the other side of the Niger. He is not an Urhobo man. What language does he speak? Is it not Igbo? So what are we talking about? That is the biggest position and they have it already. So, you can see that all this noise is being made by frustrated and jobless politicians who just want to use ethnicity to get juicy positions. It is orchestrated. We the elite should not be moved by this noise and selfish agenda. Imagine a whole ethnic group campaigning for a position! Initially, they said chief of staff, then SGF. Now, with all the noise they have been making since May 29, imagine if one person from that region is appointed to that position. That person will then see himself as a champion of his ethnic group and his kinsmen will descend on that office in the area of contracts and gifts. He will destroy the sanctity of that office and turn it into a political chessboard because that person will see himself as representing a region in that position. It removes professionalism from that position. So, we should not campaign for offices on the basis of representing an ethnic bloc. Yes, every region will get appointments but once he is appointed, he should not see himself as representing that ethnic group but the whole country.
But Section 13 of the constitution states that 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 as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity.
Yes, I agree but the government has not been fully composed. Is it the SGF and chief of staff that constitute the government? So what is the noise all about? Five per cent of all appointments have not even been made. All these noises would have been valid if positions had been filled and it is lopsided. What if the next 10 appointments made are all Igbo? Wouldn’t those people castigating the government look foolish?
Do you think these fears are misplaced in the light of Buhari’s statement that constituencies where he didn’t get many votes would not be treated equally with areas where he got many votes?
It is very simple. It doesn’t mean that they would be schemed out. But if he says that, it is his prerogative. If the President says he will leave certain sensitive positions to certain areas because those ones directly have to do with his security and if he leaves these other positions to a certain area, what is wrong with that? It is the President’s prerogative. Like I said, all appointments should be received with dignity and pride. That is why he is the President.
The constitution states that each of the 36 states must produce a minister. However, you have said that all the appointments could be made at different times in order to save costs. Do you think this would be wise in the light of the recent allegations of marginalisation?
I believe that our priority as a people should not be appointments but conservation of national resources. If I know that a minister is supposed to be appointed from my state but the President is making appointments in bits because we cannot afford 36 ministers at the same time, why shouldn’t I make the sacrifice because by the time it is the turn of my state to produce the minister, another state would not have. That is balancing and nothing is wrong with that. If for two years, a person from Delta is heading a ministry and within that same period, Edo State doesn’t have a minister and after sometime, the role is reversed such that Edo has a minister and Delta does not have, is that not equity? But the real issue is that people cannot wait to touch public funds and that is why they are complaining.