The bill for a law to establish the Niger State Character Commission with responsibility to promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the principles of the proportional sharing of all bureaucratic, economic, media and political posts at all levels of government in the state and other connected purposes, 2020 has stirred the hornet nest at the Niger State House of Assembly.
When the private bill by Hon Malik Madaki Bosso representing Bosso constituency was presented for first reading some few months ago the hitherto peaceful house of Assembly ended up on a rowdy note.
Members from Niger South assumed the bill was aiming at the zone that has majority of the civil servants both at the state and federal levels.
As such, it was greeted with stiff resistance, which almost caused the exchange of blows at plenary, forcing the speaker of the house to call off plenary.
Controversy over the bill continued when it was presented again and was assumed to have passed through second reading.
If the bill is eventually passed into law, the commission will work out an equitable formula subject to the approval of the governor for the distribution of all cadres of posts in public and civil service in the state.
The commission as it is applicable at the federal level will also monitor and enforce compliance with the proportional sharing of all positions as described therein.
It is also to work out modalities and schemes, subject to the approval of the governor, for redressing the problems of perceived equity in distribution of positions among the local government areas thereby reducing the fear of marginalisation.
From the bill, the commission shall also have the powers to take legal action against heads of ministries, departments and agencies who fail to comply with any State Character principle or formula prescribed or adopted by the commission and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N200,000 or imprisonment for a term of six months or both.
According to the bill by Hon Bosso, public service positions that the law shall cover include those of the permanent secretaries in the civil service, all political appointments in the government of both state and local governments, directors general of departments and agencies of the state and local governments and all federal appointments zoned to the state.
The bill has generated controversy and his colleagues, from Niger South, who felt their people are the target of the bill , because of their numerical strength in the said services, are kicking against it.
The member representing Bida II state constituency, Engr Mohammed Alhaji Haruna, opposed the bill on the ground that it is targeted at the Nupes from Niger South whom he said were the majority in the state civil service.
He told Journalists that the bill was “an ill wind that will blow no one any good and will deepen ethnic strife that has never been witnessed in the state,” adding that “ though Niger State was known for ethnic and religious tolerance, those who are pursuing this bill were taking their lucks too far.
“Let me tell you something you don’t know. An average Nupe people are looking at this bill as a clog to their progress because they know that the hidden agenda of this bill was to dispossess them of their influence in the scheme of things in the state. Infact they are seeing it as a gang up by the other tribes against their interest” he declared
He added that “ Whether you like to hear it or not, the Nupe people are the largest ethnic group in Niger State. Because of their size, education and industry, they are everywhere both in the state public service and the economic sectors in the state”.
He explained that because of this natural position of influence and given that Niger South is an homogeneous zone, it has “courted envy” from some people and that those behind it were obviously out to limit the zone.
Consequently, he advised that the current status quo be maintained for the sake of peace and social harmony enjoyed in the state since it was created over forty years ago.
“The bill as it is presented seeks to share or distribute posts and economic and social resources equally to all ethnic groups in the state. It’s emphasis, by the way, is all about appointments, be it political or in the civil service of the state. But how is that possible to give the minority two slots and the majority the same two slots. Is there justice in this”, Hon Haruna asked rhetorically.
The member from Bida II was quick to add that the fact that he was averse to passage of the bill , is not to say that he wanted the Nupe ethnic group to dominate or continue having an overbearing influence in the affairs of the state or that the Nupe should feel that they are more important than others .
He said, the resistance is to correct the alleged notion or impression that “because of who we are in this state, we must be cut down”. Comparatively, he argued that at the moment, no state has a similar law in Nigeria because it was divisive hence the need to save the state from ethnic tensions.
The member noted that “To check mate some of this fears inherent in the bill, such as favoring one against the other or ensuring balance and equity, that is why we have the state civil service commission, the local government service commission, the judicial service commission and even the house of assembly service commission. All these are made to address fears and concerns over domination and what have you”,
He explained further that “under chapter two of the Constitution, the fundamental directive principle of state policy, in section 2 and 4, has made provision and enforcement of character commission for each state of the federation and making any law in regards to that a nullity because it is in direct collision with the Constitution.
“If you go further, in chapter 6 of the exclusive legislative list, part 1, provide that the establishment of any authority is to promote the observance of the fundamental principle and state policy contained in the constitution. So if you look at this frantic attempt to do things that will turn the laws on its head, you should know there’s something negative” he stated further
Hon Madaki Bosso told LEADERSHIP that his action was misconstrued, saying that the target was not any ethnic group or a zone as the bill is to ensure equity in distribution of positions in the state irrespective of zone and ethnicity.
He said that “ for instance since inception of democracy in 1999 Gbako local government area in a Nupe speaking area had no Permanent Secretary in the Civil service until now, are they not Nupe speaking area in zone A (Niger South).
“When we came in 2015 yet there was Bida local government was having 9 permanent secretaries, while in zone B we were having 6 permanent secretariesinn the whole of Zone C at that time they were having 4, while then in the whole of Zone A they were having, about 16 to 18 permanent secretaries.
“so what Iam saying that why i came up with this bill, like section 14 (4) that says in making appointment the composition of government, the people of the state should be taken into consideration so that they will feel sense of belonging of that government.
“So when we came now based on that I moved a motion that there were local government areas that don’t have permanent secretaries, , that was why some were dropped and local government without permanent secretaries got.
“It is not about ethnicity, for instance the permanent secretary representing Chachanga local government area is a Nupe Man yet Chachanga is not in Niger south”
Hon Bosso added that the aim was to ensure equity, adding that nobody was instigated him to sponsor the bill as insinuated in some quarters.
Now the house has set up a committee headed by the same Hon Malik Bosso for a public hearing on the bill, the fear in some quarters is that the development will generate political tension in the state.
It is politically getting dangerous as Niger south produces the next governor based on the state’s power rotation formula.