COLUMN/OPINION

THIS CLAMOUR FOR ‘OUR OWN SON’ By Mahmud Jega

Right now, the big clamour in town is that the next Inspector General of Police [IGP] must be a native Igbo. Were the Buhari Presidency to agree beforehand that this will be the case, the issue will not end there, because some people will say that the IG must come from “core Igbo” areas of the South East and not peripheral Igbo areas in Delta and Rivers states. Other will say no, the last Igbo IGP, Onovo, was from Enugu State which historically included the present Anambra and most of Ebonyi states, so this time we must look across to “marginalized” Imo and Abia states. Others could still say that look, Abia State produced an Army Chief, Ihejirika, not too long ago, so it should be omitted from this calculation.

There is even a dispute as to which top security post properly serves the interests of a major ethnic group. A day after President Jonathan appointed Ihejirika as Army Chief in 2010, I went to see Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu in Abuja and he told me that “we [i.e. Igbo] prefer an IG to Army Chief.” As I left his house, I pondered over what he said. Certainly if you are a prominent politician in this Republic, access to the IG would serve your purposes better than access to the Army Chief. What can the Army Chief do to me, as a politician? He can’t post a platoon to my house; he can’t send soldiers to accompany me to the polling station; he can’t arrest my political opponents and detain them in Quarter Guard until the election is over. These days he probably can’t even seize power, so of what use is having my kinsman as Army Chief?

It wasn’t like that during the long years of military rule. That time, the Army Chief, whether it was Hassan, Ejoor, Danjuma, Babangida or Abacha, was a very powerful force in the Supreme Military Council [SMC], by whichever name called. A member of Murtala’s Supreme Military Council once told me that when the Justice Ayo Irikife report on state creation was tabled before it in 1976, Army Chief T.Y. Danjuma single-handedly removed his native Wukari Division from Benue State and placed it in Gongola State. He presciently foresaw the current Tiv-Jukun crises; if both were in the same state, Benue would have become ungovernable by now. These days an Army Chief cannot influence the creation of a local government, much less a state.

Foreigners resident in Nigeria will be wondering why people are not talking about the next IGP’s crime busting record, his human rights record, his education, the courses he attended, how he handled his many assignments along the way, and whether or not he has the skills and temperament to confront security challenges of the modern day. How does it matter in the UK for example, whether the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police comes from Sussex or Manchester, as long as he can keep the streets safe from criminals ranging from pick pockets to terrorists?

Well, that is UK and this is Nigeria. In 2003 an NTA interviewer asked former Senate President Dr. Chuba Okadigbo why senators regarded some committee assignments as “juicy” whereas others were regarded as “dry.” Chuba, who always called a spade a spade, said, “It is not only senators. Nigerians generally think that way. If a minister from our state is assigned to Finance, they will say, ‘Beautiful! They gave us Finance!’ But if the minister from our state is assigned to Labour, they will say, ‘Oh! They only gave us Labour.’”

Here in Nigeria, we place psychological feeling high above substance. It be will best for the country if the man appointed as IGP will rid the country of crime. But since most Nigerians place the psychological satisfaction that he came from our state, ethnic group or religion far above the person’s suitability for the job at hand, the President must bend over backwards to accommodate their feelings, or else things could come crashing down.

In other climes, I will not vote for my next door neighbor or even my blood relative who is standing for election once his views on taxes, climate protection, gender issues, labour laws and foreign policy differ from mine. In this clime, one runs around from pillar to post shouting himself hoarse and clamouring for his kinsman or woman to be elected or appointed to a certain position, without the slightest idea what the person will do when he gets the office. Your townsman enters a high office and immediately clamps a ban on employment, when you have three graduate children sitting at home without jobs for years. How did that serve your purpose? Or he announces a hike in VAT, a ban on rice imports, a hike in electricity tariffs or bans the Keke Napeps that you used to ride around in. But you are still satisfied because he is your kinsman.

The advantage of having kinsmen at the top table, such as most Nigerians see it, is that he or she could help us to get the few jobs available, favour our kinsmen to get into juicy positions, help our kinsmen to secure juicy contracts, direct public projects to our home area, and ‘prevent others from cheating us.’ What if we put policies and institutions in place that ensure that everyone gets a fair chance at whatever he is aspiring to get, without anyone having to unduly favour him or her?

With regards to projects, there was always an element of favouritism but it was much reduced in the days when we had National Development Plans. The bureaucracy applied some rationality in the choice and location of projects. Which roads, for example, will give the best fillip to agricultural production or industrial location? That was a heck better than the present system where every governor or Army Chief sites a university in his hometown. Or where a minister or agency head sites a project in the president’s hometown in order to obtain tenure elongation.

However, since the thinking of Nigerians at present is about the ethnic origins and not the quality or outlook of a top appointee, presidents cannot run away from it without political consequences. One way out is to informally pair some top posts; in all cases give one to a Northerner and another to a Southerner. A rough formula could be, CBN Governor and NNPC GMD; Army Chief and Airforce Chief; National Security Adviser and Police IG; Finance and Petroleum ministers; Health and Education Ministers; DGs of NPA and NIMASA; DGs of NTA and FCRN; CGs of Customs and Immigration, etc.

This is not ideal, but then, I remember what Prof Godwin Soglo said in defence of the then newly introduced federal character principle at a NIPPS seminar in 1980. He said anything that brings peace to a diverse polity is ideal. To those who said it lowers standards, Soglo said a formula that brings peace is our highest standard and there is no standard higher than that. If the President has to go all the way down to the rank of CPs to pick the next IG of Igbo extraction, there will be casualties in the number of his or her police seniors that must retire. But he would not have lowered any standard, according to Soglo, if it ensures peace. Hopefully the person will still be able to fight crime.

I was living in Sokoto throughout the Second Republic period and I sometimes wondered if the inconvenience of having the president from your hometown was worth it. President Shehu Shagari visited Sokoto only once in a while but whenever he was coming, often in the afternoon, police will seal off all the major roads from dawn until he drove by. Just wait until Mopol seal off Aba roads for a native IGP’s next visit. Its traders will be wondering if it was worth it.

View from the Gallery in 21st Century Chronicle today, Monday, February 8, 2021.

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