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The new Executive Chairman of the Federal Character Commission, Professor Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem may require little introduction, especially to those in the academic community. His life revolves around education: as a student, teacher, administrator and policy maker. He started lecturing at Bayero University Kano as Assistant Lecturer in 1972 where he rose to become the Head of Department of English and later the Dean of the Post Graduate School at the University. Until his appointment into the FCC in April 2008, Abdulraheem was a professor of the University of Ilorin where he had served as the Vice Chancellor between 1997 and 2002. He had also held political appointments in the educational sector. He was Chairman of the Governing Council of the Kwara State Polytechnic, Sole Administrator of the State College of Education, Ore, Chairman Governing Council of the State College of Education, Ilorin and more recently was Chairman of the Implementation Committee on the Establishment of Kwara State University.
In this Exclusive Interview with the Editorial Team of the Economic Confidential, the sixty years old traditional title holder of Talba of Ilorin Emirate, states the mission and goals of the newly inaugurated board of the Federal Character Commission. Excerpts:
EC: Coming from an academic background where you have spent the greatest part of your career, does your present responsibility post any difficulty for you?
ANS: The truth is that management focuses essentially on the human factor. Whether it is administrative, academic or non academic, the basic area of operation has to do with the human aspect. There is no dichotomy as far as I am concerned between the human and financial resources in the academic or non academic sector including the Federal Character Commission.
EC: What has been the major challenge of your new responsibility as the Executive Chairman of FCC?
ANS: There are challenges on a number of fronts. One, I just said about the management of the human resources or the human capital. The human resources you find in the academic community is different from the one you find in the civil service structure. Like the one you find in the FCC. The orientation is different. Therefore it’s a question of trying to find an appropriate platform where one’s orientation from the academic environment can key into the civil service norm with the hope of securing a synergy that would ultimately be to the progress of the Commission.
EC: Taking cognizance of happenings amongst agencies of government, where appointments have been lopsided in favour of some particular sections of the country, how do you intend to ensure equitable distributions of positions in the public service?
Ans: One of our concerns is the recent recruitments in the Central Bank of Nigeria. I’ve had the occasion to make a comment about what we observed as the lopsidedness in the recruitment system of the CBN. But for the benefit of clarity, this offers an opportunity to explain once more. It is really, really reprehensible if the figures we have are true. That’s what we have tried to observe in the lopsidedness of the appointment in the CBN in favour of a section of the Nigerian nation. There’s practically no justice in that kind of arrangement. But even within the region favoured too, there is a sufficient evidence of lopsidedness that is lacking in compliance to the guidelines. We have been in dialogue with the authority of the agency. We would find a way of addressing the situation because an act has already been committed. Some Nigerians have been given positions which they are innocently occupying. It would be difficult to remove them but there are mechanisms for future correction of the kind of lopsidedness. But more recently, I think the crime of the CBN like the FCC had mentioned is in the most recent recruitment of 400 staff without recourse for advertisement at all. That at least involves gross violation of the FCC guidelines which requires Chief Executive Officers must be transparent and open in their recruitment efforts: Beginning from the stages of declaring vacancies, and advertising those vacancies, in at least two national newspapers, for the benefit of all Nigerians. That, from the information reaching me from the committee on Finance and Economy is that the CBN did not place any advertisement to give the opportunities to Nigerians to have equal access to the information which led to the recruitment of persons. There may have been recruitments done from other parts of the country but once you get that kind of clandestine type of recruitment it leads to lopsidedness, which is contrary to the collective interest of the Nigerian people in the pursuit of our goal for equity, fairness and justice. That’s the instrument or the part to achieve National unity.
EC: Recently you mentioned that some agencies are major culprits in distorting FCC principles. Apart from the CBN, the Bureau for Public Enterprise and the National Broadcasting commission that are revenue generating; are there other organizations?
ANS: We receive details on nominal roles from all organizations about 450 of them who are subjected to periodic analysis to see the extent to which they have complied with the guidelines on the observance of the FCC principle. It is only those that we find out have been inconsistently and persistently in deviation or breach of those guidelines that we bring to the attention of the public, as a way of cautioning them. So we have a few that we have interacted with and have had dialogues. Some we found out their violations predates the coming of the present FCC having been done 4-5 years ago. We still have gone into dialogue with them. Apart from the ones you have mentioned, there’s the Federal Inland Revenue Service. The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Customs Service are the potential clients in that regard because they are big time employers within the public service and they are the ones we want to focus upon. We are trying to update our data bank and to promptly do the analyses of such data to be able to come out with appropriate estimation of the extend to which the executive officers have complied or not complied with the guidelines that we have set out on the demand circulars.
EC: Apart from the aforementioned ones, the FIRS, SEC, Customs and the immigration agencies, it appears that the major culprits are revenue generating agencies?
ANS: Yes. Not only because they are revenue are generating but they equally large employers of labour. They have very large staff population. Therefore, they are big time employers of labour which is mainly the reason, not because they are revenue generating. For instance, the police, the army are large employers of labour but they are not revenue generating institutions. The reason why we are looking at this is because they are large scale employers of labour.
EC: In reference to those you said were illegally recruited, are their appointments likely to be terminated?
ANS: We are still in dialogue with the CBN. Their management may soon meet with FCC officials to correct the lopsidedness in the appointments they have made so far.
EC: Is your agency working in sync with the 7 point agenda of President Umaru Musa Yar”Adua’s administration?
ANS: Certainly, yes. Probably, apart from the National Assembly which has its mandate to appropriate funds for the execution of the 7 point agenda, the next important agency would be the FCC. Because, just as the NASS appropriates funds, and performs oversight functions, on behalf of the electorate, the people of Nigeria, the FCC performs oversight functions on behalf of the executive. So if and when funds have been appropriated for efficient allocation and utilization of such funds, guidelines have to be provided on equitable distribution of such socio-economic amenities and infrastructure according to the provision of the law of the FCC. It is in that particular aspect of our mandate that we stand very strongly to promote and service the platform for actualizing the 7 point agenda. Of course the second mandate has not become crystallized yet but our first mandate, the one that is preoccupied with the equitable distribution of public offices and appointments. I think that it is also relevant to the actualization of the 7 point agenda. It is one thing for the government to design policy and want to pursue it no matter how vigorous the manifesto is published without an establishment like the FCC to ensure that national consciousness, a deliberate, voluntary participation in a unity of a united nation to achieve a giving goal; it would be very difficult to realize the objective. For instance, the truth is that for anybody not to adhere or to obey the prescribed guidelines for ensuring equity and fairness of the FCC, would amount to undermining the national security, which is one aspect the 7 point agenda. If people persist in iniquity of unfair and unjust distribution of the resources in the country, it leads to sectional conflict, disaffection and even violence as we have in the Niger Delta region. So complying with the guidelines and principle of Federal Character is a security issue. And once we are able to get people to comply, we limit the dangers that may result from conflict similar to the one aforementioned.
EC: Some of the key public institutions have been privatized. Does the FCC have inputs in their recruitment process? For example that of NICON, NITEL and so forth.
ANS: The Mandate of the Commission, according to the law which is circumscribed by, to the extent that it works and provides guidelines for government institutions. Those that are fully or partly owned by the Federal government, in fact any organ or any institution in the socio-economy that the government has up to 30 % stake falls within the purview of the exercise of the authority of the FCC. You would look at such organizations if they have been so privatized as to make the FG unable to attain up to 30% equity that would fall within the organized private sector which is yet to come under the jurisdiction of the FCC Act. But we have a way through sensitization, advocacy and calling their attention that whatever they do has potential impact on the entire framework and structure that government is trying to build: that of a consensus national consciousness and national unity. If there’s any arm or sector of Nigerian economy, especially the private sector, if it is not sufficiently participating in the attainment of the ideas of the FCC, such an organization would be seen to be undermining the national security of Nigeria.
EC: Are you working towards having a constitutional amendment where it would mandatory for some of privatized organisations to be under the ambit of FCC? There’s already disgruntlement and outcry from some agitated parts of the country who feel shortchanged in the appointments going on in such organizations?
ANS: This is a very interesting question. Only recently, I had the opportunity of involving in a discourse over the recent spate of privatization. The original intention of the constitution is becoming distorted. Therefore, it would be appropriate now for the constitution, when it comes to be reviewed to take cognizance of this spate of privatization which is moving away from the original concept of the Constitution. Recently, there was a summit on infrastructure which was being promoted by the Ministry of Finance in conjecture with our pursuit. One of the summit’s main themes was the issue of outsourcing of infrastructure. When you do that, it would be incandescent that you are moving away from the focus of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Which makes provision for the existence of the FCC that Federal infrastructure must be distributed according to specific guidelines which is designed by the FCC and approved by the President. Now, such an exercise which is already deciding on outsourcing is a direct affront to the constitutional provision on infrastructure. Because when you outsource capital projects, roads for instance, and it gets into private hands, how does the FG want to implement the original intent expressed in the Constitution of the Federal structure to be kept together?
EC: What are those strategies you have put in place to correct those past mistakes, especially in federal appointments?
Recently we have issued some circulars to chief executive officers of federal agencies. We are currently compiling the current list of Chief Executives of Federal parastatals, companies, agencies and institutions to ascertain their states of origin, dates of present appointment and place of assignment to update our records.
One of the circulars we issued which would take effect from September 1, 2008 mandates ministries, parastatals and security agencies to henceforth ensure that the spread of all vacancies to be filled shall be predetermined in relation to the current levels of the (Federal Character) representation, by states or zones, at a joint meeting of the MDA and the Federal Character Commission. The agencies should also provide comprehensive job description required for each vacant position including academic qualifications and cognate experience.
The Circular further stipulates that all vacancies shall be advertised in at least two newspapers circulating nationally, giving prospective candidates, a minimum of six weeks within which to apply with adequate consideration to gender representation and the physically challenged. We further added that where candidates are required to apply online, hard copies of such applications shall nevertheless be accepted.
EC: What about the use of consultants to undertake recruitment exercise?
On consultants who usually hide the names of recruiting agencies, our circular states that henceforth the consultant shall disclose, in the advertisement, the ministry, department or agency on which behalf they are acting. And where candidates are required to apply online, hard copies of such applications shall nevertheless be accepted. In the event of candidates being required to buy Scratch Cards, the cost shall not be more than N500 (five Hundred Naira) only.
EC: What happens after the advertisement?
At the close of advertisement, a shortlist of qualified candidates shall be compiled for interview or any mode of selection on State by State Basis and the compilation of results shall be on State by State basis in order to enable the best candidates from each state and the FCT to be employed. One of the innovations in the guideline is that a Certificate of Compliance, with the FCC Principles, shall be issued as final authorization for the release of Letters of Appointment to candidates by the recruiting ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) of government. The list of successful candidates shall be published in at least two newspapers, circulating nationally by the MDA. As you may be aware there are also punishments and sanctions against defaulting agencies and individuals who refuse to observe the new guideline as from September 1, 2008 when it takes full effect.
EC: What are the major reforms and programmes that you intend to undertake in your tenure?
ANS: Well, the reforms would be a continued exercise. At the inception of this commission we went straight into a retreat in Bauchi to reassess our mandate and the extent to which we have been able to deliver so far. We arrive at the conclusion that a lot has to be done in terms of financial outlay and human resource commitment in the area of sensitization, advocacy and public enlightenment. Because when people are sufficiently enlightened, they are likely to modify their behaviour in response to the demands which is being made by the FCC. When we get to that level, we would be envisaging a situation in the nearest future where we would reduce conflict and spend less money on enforcement of our mandate. Because when people are sufficiently sensitized and sufficiently educated about what ought to be done, and the reason why it ought to be done, it makes the job easier. But to achieve that ease in our job, we need to take tremendous pain especially at this period of time, where the activity of the commission is not clearly understood by people; or being willingly subscribed to by others. You would discover that reactions to the present profile of the FCC in the advertisement of its mandate, has been varied depending on who is looking at it. We have had like the media’s enthusiastic support for what we are trying to do. While amongst the employers of labours we have those that view the FCC with suspicion, others with outright disdain which we are hoping it will one day go away. We would have to take that into consideration when we plan our strategies for the achievement of our mandate.
EC: Is the FCC considering the equitable distribution of economic amenities like for instance, recently the Group Managing Director of the NNPC advocated for the building of two more refineries. Is the even distribution of such infrastructure within the geo-political zones including the network of roads, factories, hospitals and schools also part of your statutory functions?
ANS: That’s the second leg of our mandate as I earlier mentioned. But that aspect of the FCC functions is still being in the incubating stage. Developing the criteria and guideline for the distribution of socio-economic amenities and infrastructure such as the one you have just mentioned. We are already working the commission on this premise. But the law which established the FCC says that such mechanism for the execution of this mandate can not come into operation until the guidelines which is been developed by the commission have been approved by the President. We 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 MDA’s from time to time. But we are on the verge of commencing the major job from the budgeting stage. We have a committee set up just recently to look at the aspect of our mandate. As soon as we are able to perfect our instrument, we go straight ahead to Mr. President to obtain his approval for the deployment and enforcement of these responsibilities. We believe that the second part of our mandate is the critical factor in the consideration of the issue of national unity.
EC: We have come to the end of our interview. But you may wish to elaborate further on areas that are virile in the commission which we may have overlooked.
ANS: In the effort of the commission under my stewardship to reposition its focus and enhanced the delivery of its mandate; we are embarking on reorganization and restructuring. We have discussed this on several occasions, even the retreat in Bauchi and our return to base to consider the details of the proposals for reform and restructure. That is still going on and once it is in place, am sure there would be a more vibrant, more visible profile of the commission that you have had in the past. I must say that we have a crop of dedicated Nigerians, people who have achieved a lot in their various works of lives before their appointments here as commissioners. Each and every one is working like a clock trying to patriotically find ways in which we can support this government in the actualization of the 7 point agenda. We want to lift up the 7 point agenda from the level of mere preposition on television and general media propaganda to actual, veritable and achievable development.
Thank you very much Sir.