President Bola Tinubu’s list of 48 ministerial nominees incurred the anger of south-easterners after only five people from the region made the cut – the lowest figure of candidates among the six geopolitical zones in the country.
In parliament, 15 senators described the president’s action as unfair and a disregard for the country’s constitution.
“They only gave us [minister-nominees] based on states. It is not fair. It offends the principle of federal character,” says Tony Nwoye, an opposition senator from Anambra, southeast Nigeria.
The president had submitted the list of 48 names to the Senate for screening. He nominated at least one person from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Tinubu selected candidates from Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones – northwest (10), northeast (8), north-central (8), southwest (9), south-south (9) and southeast (5).
Several Igbo (the dominant ethnicity in southeast Nigeria) groups criticised the development, with Ohanaeze Ndigbo describing it as “disturbing”.
“The Ohanaeze Ndigbo believe in one united Nigeria and this can only be achieved in an atmosphere of fairness, justice and equity,” the group’s leader Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu says.
“We, therefore, demand justice, fairness and equity for every ethnic group in Nigeria including the Igbo.”
Tinubu’s ministerial nominees’ list with 48 names, the North-West got 10 slots; the North-East got eight, North-Central, eight; the South-West nine; the South-South, nine; while the South-East got five. Injustice against the Igbo*s will never work.This is a wicked act— micheal elekwachi (@michealelekwac4) August 11, 2023
Since the end of Nigeria’s civil war in 1970, the southeast region has complained about being marginalised, which they say is punishment for attempting to secede from Nigeria.
The federal government’s marginalisation of the region led to the formation of separatist groups such as the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
With the return to democracy in 1999, the cries of marginalisation by the southeasterners continued, reaching a fever pitch after the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over the government in 2015.
Muhammadu Buhari, the APC’s presidential candidate in the election, who defeated the incumbent and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s Goodluck Jonathan, barely got a glance from the southeast voters.
In 2015, of the over 15m votes Buhari polled in the election, he got a mere 1.3% from Biafra. In 2019, the former president’s vote tally in the southeast region doubled to 2.7% of his overall poll support.
In response, Buhari made fewer appointments from the southeast in comparison with the other regions. For instance, in his 44-person ministerial list in 2019, only six names were from that region.
Five ministerial slots to South-East unfair & unjust, Ohanaeze tells Tinubu.— Comrade Ikpeme David (@ikpeme_comrade) August 11, 2023
But 5% votes to APC is fair and just.
Like his predecessor, the southeast region barely voted for Tinubu during February’s presidential election. The president secured 127,370 votes across the five southeastern states – less than 2% of his total votes.
Tinubu responded by nominating only five people from the region, reigniting the claims of the region’s marginalisation in political appointments and federal projects.
On the sidelines
Usman Lukman, a lawyer, says it’s normal in politics for politicians to reward those who worked hard for their victory.
“I don’t think there is a marginalisation in that aspect, because it’s a political appointment and it’s the prerogative of the president,” Lukman, a former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association in Yobe State, northeast Nigeria, tells The Africa Report.
Where they really come from is not a problem because, at the end of the day, they won’t do anything
“Even in the northeast, Bauchi is a PDP State but got two slots of ministerial nominees, while other APC states got one apiece. The reason being that APC got more votes in Bauchi than the other APC-led states.”
Rapulu Ernest Nduka, a former publicity secretary of the NBA, says the issue of ethnicity has continued to stall Nigeria’s growth since independence.
“For me, apart from the federal character, I don’t really care if every minister comes from a particular zone,” Nduka tells The Africa Report. “If they will work, where they really come from is not a problem because, at the end of the day, they won’t do anything.”
“And the southeast is not so dependent on government patronage or whether they are in governance. How many of those who served as ministers in the previous administrations actually did anything for the southeast?”
Nigeria’s constitution mandates the president to appoint ministers in a manner that reflects the federal character and promotes national unity.
Presidents usually nominate one person from each of the 36 states and then select candidates from each of the six geopolitical zones.
Blaming southeast leaders
Ajuri Ngelale, Tinubu’s special adviser on media and publicity, did not respond to requests for comment.
But Osita Okechukwu, a founding member of the APC in the southeast, tells The Africa Report that the party’s leaders in the southeast are to be blamed for the lopsided ministerial appointments.
Okechukwu says people like Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo and the former Ebonyi governor, David Umahi, have access to Tinubu and ought to have raised the issue with him.
“That’s why they are the leaders,” Okechukwu says. “I’m not saying the president shouldn’t get any of the blame, but the blame should be laid squarely where it belongs most.”
Not one Igbo state gave Tinubu 10% of their votes yet my igbo brothers want more than constitutional slots of Ministers!— Mr Ejikeme AdeLeke Chimezie (@Onyeudo6) August 10, 2023
Which figure of Speech is that?
Lukman said it’s not out of turn for the president to give preferential treatment to particular regions of the country in terms of appointments.
“Look at the total number of votes [the APC] have in the southeast, one local government in the north produced what they gave to the APC,” he says.
“But it is not only from the ministerial slot that you will get inclusiveness. There are other appointments which may be even much more important to the people of the southeast than the ministers.”
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