The appointment of Yusuf Bichi as Director-General of the State Security Service (SSS) by President Muhammadu Buhari is the latest political salvo in Nigeria. Bichi replaces Matthew Seiyefa, who was appointed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on 7 August 2018 as interim head of the SSS following the removal of the notorious Lawal Daura. Seiyefa was in office for just over one month and was removed despite clear indications that he sought to reposition the SSS, boost confidence in its ranks and improve its image.
The appointment of the head of any government agency is inherently political. Our system of government gives enormous powers to the Office of the President. Therefore, President Buhari was merely exercising his constitutional powers in naming a substantive DG for the SSS. However, reasonable heads of state and governments are conscientious and intentional about sending clear messages through their appointees. For instance, in Canada, there is a conventional rotation of the largely ceremonial position of Governor General between Anglophone and Francophone Canadians. The Francophone once engaged in efforts to secede from Canada. There was a terrorist campaign in the 1960s by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) to secede from Canada. FLQ was defeated in 1970 but agitations for secession remained. A referendum was held as recently as 1995 (the second in the French-speaking Quebec history) on the question of independence. Voter turnout was reported to be over 90%. Those who voted “no” won marginally — 50.58%. Therefore, national unity had to be painstakingly earned.
The balancing act in appointments also includes minorities. Michaëlle Jean, a Canadian woman of Haitian descent, was appointed Governor General of Canada in 2005 although blacks made up less than 3% of the population. The moral? Reasonable political leaders deliberately engage in balancing appointments across the broad spectrum of society to build trust, foster unity and strengthen institutions even in the most advanced democracies. Some leaders approach power with sophistication but it appears others are mere ethnic champions and occupiers of space consumed with the adornment of power.
President Buhari’s appointments have been largely unreasonable and detrimental to national unity. Major appointments in the military and security services had come under close public scrutiny prior to the appointment of Bichi, an indigene of Kano, who has been asked to take over from Seiyefa, a person from Bayelsa state and the most senior SSS official at the time of his appointment in August. Heads of the Army, Air Force, Customs, Immigration, Police, the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) and many other non-security related government agencies are headed by northerners despite the rather precarious status of Nigeria’s unity and laws regarding federal character.
The idea that Seiyefa was removed because he was due to retire next year is idiotic. The president could have prolonged Seiyefa’s tenure as he had done for the military service chiefs. It is a function of how a leader chooses to play politics. The new appointment is definitive prove that President Buhari does not have the instincts of a national leader. Consider that Professor Osinbajo asked Lawal Daura to hand over to the most senior SSS officer. He did not seek someone from Lagos. The appointments made by Buhari routinely damage our fragile institutions through bigotry and ethnic chauvinism. These issues continue a pattern that quickly emerged after 29 May 2015. Retirements in the military and police as well as illegal hiring exercises have left people with a scintilla of objectivity befuddled by the actions of the president. For instance, multiple careers of senior officers were ruined and resources squandered to ensure the emergence of “Mr Transmission” as the Inspector General of Police.
Most of Buhari’s appointees have been either totally incompetent at worst or mediocre at best. His knack for sticking with his appointees despite poor performance has damaged Nigeria’s national fabric. The security situation has worsened due to a trifecta of incompetence, politics and corruption. Killings by herdsmen in states like Benue and Plateau continue while Boko Haram remains active. Security forces have chosen to clampdown harshly on Biafran agitators in the southeast. While herdsmen and Boko Haram ravage the country, 112 pro-Biafran women were arrested in August 2018. The economy under Buhari has deteriorated. Nigerian citizens are being driven to suicide at an alarming rate while hunger and abandonment of children are on the rise.
Buhari’s ardent supporters appear inebriated by him despite his poor performance in office. A beneficiary of the abject poverty in the North, where most of his support derives, he has done little to lift the people out of poverty and has worsened socioeconomic conditions in the south. There is a pervasive failure to accept that there is a distinction between supporting a kinsman in office and the fact that holding him accountable for his deeds is not betrayal but one of the highest forms of duty.
Make no mistakes about it: President Buhari knows how to use power. He has demonstrated yet again his real character. Any further analysis is a mere academic exercise. This is a world-class enemy of meritocracy. Only moderately educated himself, Buhari sees nothing wrong in putting forward names of co-ethnics who often fail to perform. Where is the integrity? President Buhari has become a diminished person nationally and a laughing stock internationally given President Donald Trump’s reported “lifeless” comment.
The removal of Seiyefa is disrespectful to Vice President Osinbajo. Osibajo must now think about the implications of continuing to serve as deputy of a man who knows very little about 21st century governance and is too parochial to hire competent persons from all parts of Nigeria. The people of the Niger Delta must also ask hard questions about their place in Nigeria given the enormous contributions of oil wealth from the region amidst economic hardship and marginalization.
To be clear, Buhari has abandoned all pretensions to one Nigeria. One Nigeria for him is an avenue for corrupt enrichment of close family members and friends and clannish appointments. He is daily revealed as just another jobber and ethnic champion. Buhari has proven definitively that we currently have no national president. What we have is a self-righteous, over-rated power-hungry intellectually empty know-nothing, who is too arrogant to learn the nous of statecraft and too mired in identity politics. He has become a national waste of time, a liability and pretender to national unity and development. He began with the presumption that his body language was the solution to our problems. He will likely leave power in ignominy.
How times change. I would have voted for Buhari in 2015. I did not because we did not have any mechanism for people in diaspora to vote. I realized less than three months after Buhari’s swearing in that we had elected a Tribalist-in-Chief. Buhari is proof that we should stop telling children they can be anything they want; rather, we should tell our children that they could be anything their abilities and hard work allow them to be.
The appointment of Bichi might have been made with an eye on the 2019 elections but that qualifies Buhari as an enemy of merit and hater of institution building. All Nigerians regardless of ethnicity and religion must be concerned because Seiyefa’s removal sends the message that hard work does not pay, where you come from matters more.