The recent news report that the Federal Character Commission (FCC) is operating with only one commissioner out of the 37 required by law is not only disturbing but unacceptable in a plural society like Nigeria.
The report shows that 36 commissioners have served out their tenures but have not been replaced by the federal government. The current acting executive chairman of the commission, Amb. Abdullahi Halidu Shinkafi, the only remaining commissioner at the agency, will serve out his own term by April this year.
And so far, there are no indications as to when these commissioners would be appointed.
The FCC is a federal executive body established by Act No 34 of 1995 to implement and enforce the Federal Character Principle of fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructure among the various federating units in Nigeria.
The provisions of the 1999 Constitution in sections 14 and 153 consolidated the establishment of the FCC for operation in a democratic system of government. The commission is mandated by Paragraphs 8(1)(a) and (b) of Section C, part 1, Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to “work out an equitable formula, subject to the approval of the National Assembly, for distribution of all cadres of posts in the public service of the federation and of the states, the Armed Forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force, other government security agencies and government-owned companies/parastatals of the states.”
It is also mandated to “promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the principle of proportional sharing of all bureaucratic, economic, media and political posts at all levels of government. The commission is to also work out and ensure equitable distribution of infrastructure across the federating units of the country.”
Also, Section 2(1) of the Federal Character Act of 1995 provides that members of the commission shall consist of a chairman who shall be the chief executive of the commission; a representative each of the states of the federation; and a representative of the FCT, Abuja. Subsection 2 provides that the chairman and members of the commission shall be appointed by the president, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The act further provides in Section 3(1) that the chairman and members of the commission shall hold office for five years in the first instance, and for a further term of five years on such terms and conditions as may be specified in their letters of appointment.
The commissioners are expected to meet periodically to ensure that “each state of the federation and the FCT shall be equitably represented in all national institutions and public enterprises and organisations” as outlined in the commission’s guiding principles.
Section 7(4) provides that the quorum for a meeting of the commission shall be “not less than one-third of the total number of members of the commission at the date of the meeting.”
But surprisingly, as at December 2018, only seven states had commissioners representing them at the FCC and there was no move to appoint commissioners for the states where the tenure of their commissioners had expired.
The situation has remained the same till now with the commission left with only one commissioner. That also means that there has been no meeting of the commission since December 2018 since they could not form a quorum and therefore no reviews of the activities of the government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in terms of appointments or employment.
This newspaper wonders why this very important body has been abandoned to lapse into insignificance by the current administration. Is this an indication of the measure of the importance this administration attaches to matters of federal character and equitable distribution of positions and amenities in the country? We recall that President Muhammadu Buhari has on several occasion declared his government’s commitment to fair distribution of appointments across the country.
However, the present situation at the commission may have affected policy making and monitoring of recruitment exercises and provided room for job racketeering in MDAs.
There has been allegations of secret recruitments in the MDAs.
During the 2020 budget defence in October 2019, chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Bolaji Owasanoye, told the joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes that after the commission discovered N9.2 billion as over-bloated personnel costs of MDAs, it went on secret recruitments for a cover-up.
According to him, “They hurriedly started employing people. Appointments given yesterday were backdated by one year, and ad hoc staff upgraded.”
These are the kinds of abuses that happen when there is absence of monitoring by the mandate agency.
As it stands now, any Nigerian who has issues bordering on lopsided appointment has nowhere to lay complaints as there is no board to hear them.
We, therefore, call on the president to quickly rise to his constitutional responsibility by appointing commissioners for the FCC to save the nation the endless cries of marginalisation in the distribution of appointments in government ministries, departments and agencies.