When Nigeria's Federal Character Commission (FCC) was established in 1996, it was supposed â€śto enforce the federal character principles which aimed at ensuring fair and equitable distribution of posts; social-economic amenities; and infrastructural facilities among the federating units of the nation.â€ť
The intention was obviously for it to be the watchdog of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in ensuring an evenly distributed workforce that reflects ethnic diversity and the geopolitical divides of the country. Also, it was supposed to ensure that socio-economic amenities and development infrastructure are equitably distributed across the country.
However, the commission seems to have merely been struggling with the first mandate and just waking up to the business of the second mandate. The first mandate was to ensure equitable distribution of bureaucratic, civil and public posts, and working out the modalities at the three tiers of government. Different strata of the Nigerian society have different views of the Character Commission. While its activities or rather reasons for being are not clearly understood by some, most people do not subscribe to the tenets of its mandate as they alleged it only goes to divide us the more.
In addition, the execution of the first mandate has been criticized by some Nigerians who alleged nepotism and poor service delivery due to incompetence of those wrongfully employed based on federal character principle. They claimed the activities of previous managements of the commission led to gross abuse of employments into the civil service especially at the federal level as mediocre people are employed at the expense of well-qualified Nigerians who are denied the opportunity to contribute to national development through public service simply because of where they come from.
So it was not surprising that the commissionâ€™s announcement in Port Harcourt after a stakeholdersâ€™ retreat that it has concluded arrangements to kick-off implementation of its second mandate has generated so much interests from different strata of our society including civil society organizations. And this is why we must get right whatever the commission sets out to do in its second mandate. All sections of this country deserve fair treatment in the distribution of social amenities and development infrastructure as this will help correct the glaring development imbalances that currently exist across our nation.
The FCC said it had delineated the country into national, state and local government levels as channels of distribution among the federating units for ease of implementation. Allocations at the national level, it said, would be based on the 36 states and Abuja or the six geo-political zones or north and south, depending on available resources. At the state level, the federating units shall be the number of local governments in the state or the three senatorial districts within the state, while the federating units at the local government level shall be the electoral wards.
What the second mandate means to the citizens is that any section or community that has been neglected in terms of infrastructure provision could take their grievances before the commission and/or to the law courts and be listened to. And this is the most interesting aspect of the commissionâ€™s second mandate. An interesting question will be where the FCC is going to derive the enforcement muscle to actualize its second mandate. From facts on ground, the commission lacks statutory muscle to enforce the mandate of fair and even distribution of socio-economic amenities and infrastructure across the 36 federating units (states) since it has no direct control over the selection and funding of development projects in the three tiers of government.
The current issue of national unity will be seriously addressed if the Commission can be strongly empowered to do its job. This will include adequate funding and making it truly independent of the federal government along the lines of INEC. The constant cries of marginalisation by the federating units will be attenuated if the FCC is seen as a strong and impartial arbiter in the distribution of scarce socio-economic and infrastructural resources across the country. In this respect the FCC has a critical role to play in the nation-building process.
The law which established the FCC says that such mechanism for the execution of this mandate cannot come into operation until the guidelines which are being developed by commission have been approved by the President. On the modalities for the realization of the second mandate, Chairman of the Commission, Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem reportedly said: â€śWe have now got to a stage where we have gotten the framework of the guidelines. We have developed the parameter, the criteria for distribution of the socio-economic infrastructure. We are also currently developing the templates for capturing data on such deployment from MDAâ€™s from time to time. But we are on the verge of commencing the major job from the budgeting stage.â€ť This sounds very promising. The challenge however will at the level of implementation and the level of independence which the Commission will be given to do its work.
In developing the criteria and guidelines for the distribution of socio-economic amenities and infrastructure as stated in the second mandate, the commission should work with the directly- impacted stakeholders- community leaders, youth groups and representatives of the various sections of the country at the National Assembly and even the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). In Nigeria, we do not lack ideas but the often familiar gulf between concepts and their implementation is so wide that it always swallows whatever good intention any concept pushes to achieve. For FCC to succeed therefore, its chairman, Professor Abdulraheem, a former Vice Chancellor, must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to bridge the gulf between a good concept and its implementation.
And this is why the present situation where different officers of the Commission are at war with each other is an unnecessary distraction. It is unprecedented in any government agency that officers should go to rent funny protesters with all kinds of names and even civil society groups to march in support of their self-serving interests. This is not very good for an organization that should actually be enforcing tolerance, equity and fairness across the country.
It is obvious that the lapses in the operation of the Federal Character Commission especially its previous inability to ensure balanced employment in government are not the fault of one man as being insinuated by some vested interests in the Commission. While I am not defending Professor Raheem, I believe the key challenge in the Commission is the deliberate weakening of the enabling mandate that brought it into being. The poisonous office politics feeds into, and exacerbates this weakness.
You cannot mandate an organisation to ensure even spread of employment in all ministries, departments and agencies without the necessary structure, framework and guidelines. The agency had carried on without a statutorily defined framework and guidelines to develop parameters and criteria to achieve even spread of appointments and employments into public services. We must therefore applaud the current leadership of the FCC for correcting that anomaly by developing templates for capturing data on deployments from MDAs from time to time. The agency should equally collaborate with the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) to develop a data base on fresh graduates from the tertiary institutions with a view to selecting those that could be used from some states to balance the spread of employment in the public service. If this is done well, at least it will also go a long way to addressing the huge problem of youth unemployment in the country.
IFEANYI IZEZE, ABUJA (iizeze at yahoo dot com; 08033043009)
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