One of the most discussed issues relating to the Nigerian federal character implementations is the issues of the principles as relating to the merit sacrificing in our public service. It is therefore assuring when the President, Muhammadu Buhari, when swearing in members of the Muheeba Dankaka-led members of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) directed them to embark on the holistic reforms of the commission to enhance its institutional mandates of making our federal character principles laws work for the benefit of all.
The Chairman of the commission, Dr Muheeba Dankaka, unmindful of the fact that true nationalism has in the past eluded Nigerian mainly due to its ever present Achilles heels-tribalism. Tribalism that stems from the past failures of policy and legislation in addressing social cohesion, improper federal government response to ethnic tensions as they arise, and political naivity from the polity which allows local political actors capitalise on tribal differences and shift blames toward a central government.
One signature policy which has always been there in our constitution for addressing these problems is the federal character framework as enshrined in the 1999 constitution.
Unfortunately, upon further assessment, it appears to many that the framework pursued a quasi-quota system approach to selection, rather than engagements with the myraid of issues that makes tribalism such a problem for Nigeria. This is one critical reforms that the Muheeba Dankaka led management of the FCC is pragmatically and systematically reforming today.
Essentially, are systematic reform is targeted at using the institutional framework of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) as a bulldog to ensure that no one tribe is favoured above another. But, as experienced in the past when the commission is regarded as a toothless bulldog that watched taking no action given Nigerians the impressions that as with many Nigerian policies, the idea of a Federal Character Commission is a window dressing to simply ensure that people appointed originates from different geo-political zones, ignoring the need to conduct the nations affairs in a manner reflective of the federal character.
This has in the past immensely affected the perceptions of Nigerians of the people who has bombarded the policy because most people only understands it by what it has become associated with-ensuring patronage is evenly distributed on governments boards and committees.
In practice in the past, rather than ensure proper representation, merit is shunned in order to prioritize the drive for diversity.The problem is even more significant because, even when major regions are represented, it is still difficult to find enough position to reward both merit and diversity in a country with different tribes.
The policies are seen as reinforcing the glass ceilings for many Nigerians, who even when qualified, are given an unequal field due to quota system. The people then see federal character regrettably, as an euphemism for recruiting unqualified people into the federal civil service.
The narrative is changing today with the reforms of the commission by the Muheeba Dankaka led management who sees the relationship between merit and federal character as a relationship that is inseperable in the application of our federal character laws.
Today, the narratives are changing because of this reforms and despite the past criticisms and calls for the scrapping of the provision of the federal character entirely from the constitution, many now see that call as hasty.
With her new reforms and as it stands today, people are now aware and recognising the fact that the policy still ensures that no single region or tribe can be in full control of a federal government agency itself. Without it, it would have been relatively easy for a dominant tribe to wholly corner the federal government for itself.
It is a well known fact that most people believe before now that, despite the federal character principle laws, that some some tribes dominates key agencies of government but not anymore due to her reforms. An example would suffix here, a popular belief is that the north, a catch-all term for those with origins from Northern Nigeria dominates the military and the police. At least such a perceptions can be checked under the present reforms of Muheeba Dankaka led federal character commission for instance, the new federal character commission swing into action when allegations were levelled against the Department of State Security (DSS) for recruiting 52 candidates from Katsina state alone, as against the 41 candidates from the whole of the South-South states combined.
The response from the FCC should remind us that even though we see the federal character commission as a toothless bulldog in the past, today it barks and take actions independently and it is heard.
That being said, we should not being said, it is time we as a people give the new management of the commission a chance to reform the system as fixing the federal capital policy through reformations is not a magic wand.
Beyond tokenistic representation, we ought to holistically push for policies that are representative and promote equity on issues around resource allocations, as well as criminalise hate crimes and speech or any form of tribal discrimination.
Of course, she is today improving on the federal character implementation frameworks through her reforms by first reforming the federal character commission (FCC) to ensure more transparent criteria and a stronger emphasis is placed on merit in the implementation of its enabling laws and mandates.
As tribalism debates spurs tensions, the reforms ate addressing the details of an improved framework with widely acceptable and careful legal drafting. She knows that a useful legislative framework would be the use of a more holistic Act that ensures that available positions are now equally publicised in all parts if the country to tackle the inequality of opportunity.
Beyond this approach, she is placing now more emphasis on qualifications, ensuring that merit is not sacrificed on the alter of diversity.
The federal character framework guarantees some semblance of equality in public service. But her removed from now on would be to make sure that the price of this catalogue of underqualified civil servants flaunting public offices without qualifications is never again allowed to happen. This is because it breeds a new type of tribal discontent as Nigerians remains disappointing with the quality of government officials.
We ought to have pursued reforms long time ago but thank God that with Muheeba Dankaka, it is better late than never.
– Musa Wada writes from Abuja.