Federal Character Commission: Questions for Muheeba Dankaka

Shortly after the Nigerian civil war, various governments have embarked on different reforms and processes to address the sensitive issues of inequality and marginalisation. Key reforms included the adoption of the federal character principle to ensure the equitable representation of different groups in all tiers of government, and the formation of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) to monitor and enforce its implementation.

While the FCC then had raised hopes on redressing historical imbalances in Nigeria’s civil service, there are growing concerns over reports of ethnicity and favouritism in federal government employment presently.

The mandate of the FCC, among others, is to ensure that the principle of federal character is upheld in public institutions. The federal character principle was first included in the constitution of the Second Republic, but is now enshrined in provisions 14.3 and 14.4 of the 1999 Constitution. It requires that there is ‘no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups’ in the federal government and its agencies.

Similarly, state governments and local government councils and their agencies must reflect the diversity within their areas of authority. The 1999 constitution included the FCC as one of the 14 independent federal executive bodies (153.1, Third Schedule Part 1). Its first mandate is to work out an equitable formula, subject to the approval of the president, for the distribution of posts in public service as well as political appointments.

The commission is composed of a chairman, 37 commissioners representing the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and the Secretary of the Commission (FCC, 2016). The Chairman, commissioners and secretary are appointed by the President upon nomination by the state government and confirmation by the National Assembly. The FCC is supported by civil servants responsible for data gathering, monitoring and the day-to-day administration. The FCC has established 24 committees to monitor recruitment into about 600 ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) of the Federal Government. The state branches of the FCC monitor the States and Local Government Areas (LGAs).

However, the workings of the FCC that is supposed to engender peaceful coexistence among Nigerians remain plagued by administrative constraints and political dependence. In recent times, there has been outcry on how federal government appointments favour a certain geographical hemisphere in the country while others were left out. These issues have continued to expose FCC’s inefficiency thereby making several Nigerians questioning the functions of the Commission.

For instance, there were reports of petitions against the commission, especially the executive chairman of the Commission, Dr Muheeba Dankaka on cases of secret recruitment that led to the employment 22 people out of which 11 people were reported to be from the Senatorial constituency of the Chairman in Kwara state. This act was in a breach of the FCC Act and, therefore, requested probity.

The issue of alleged cancellation of employment carried out by her predecessor without following due process is equally quizzical. Does the act of FCC actually empower her to do that? President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive was clear when he appointed Muheeba Dankaka, and that’s to uphold the tenets of fairness, justice and equity.

There is also the failure of the Commission under Muheeba Dankaka to advertise federal government job openings as well as the refusal to periodically address the media and all stakeholders on current activities of FCC. By statutory obligation, FCC is supposed to advertise all federal government job openings in both southern and northern newspapers, but unfortunately, what filters out periodically in recent times is secret recruitments by the board .

The National Assembly conducts oversight functions on FCC but the lawmakers appear mostly concerned with the budget rather than with the substantive workings of the commission. The FCC can also be faulted, in this area partly due to the inaccessibility of her reports.

A particular short-coming is that it rarely undertakes public outreach activities. The reports of the FCC are rarely presented to media and stakeholders. If this is regularly done, it would create a stronger push for policymakers to pay more attention to their activities as lots of things would be drawn to the public domain.

The FCC is expected to annually compile the employment statistics of Nigeria’s MDAs. However, record-keeping in this area has been quite epileptic. The annual reports are not available online, although the commission claims it has plan to make them publicly available via the FCC website in the “near” future. Another issue is that the reports are also not regularly kept at the FCC library.

An area that raises concern is the fact that the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) used by the Federal Government offers an opportunity for the FCC to acquire the full staffing lists of MDAs, yet the FCC has not made efforts to get direct access to the system.

Even though an executive circular of 2017 stated that no salaries should be paid to people not mentioned on an FCC certificate of compliance, doubts have been expressed as to whether this rule is actually followed, as no one is enforcing it. Cooperation and data access is also a pertinent issue at the state level as the constitution (160:2) states that permission of the state governor is needed to enforce federal character at that level, which is rebuffed sometimes.

Though the MDAs are not always cooperative, the FCC appears to have limited powers to enforce compliance to federal character. Legally speaking, the FCC has far-ranging powers and can take the chief executives to court for prosecution. This rarely happens, however, and if it does, it has never resulted in any conviction.

While some commissioners argue that the FCC works better when it resorts to the informal, mediating approach, observers see the lack of a single conviction as a major weakness. This has also led some commissioners to argue for a separate federal character tribunal, as judges usually allow chief executives to settle cases outside of court. The FCC has also been sued before for failing to ensure federal character.

The power balance between the FCC and MDAs is also affected by the resources put at the disposal of the FCC. A lack of adequate funds is consistently regarded as the most serious impediment to the workings of the FCC. According to a source close to FCC, the situation at the state offices is even worse.

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Asides the fact that FCC receives numerous complaints, the commission often lacks the resources to work on them effectively, and in particular, to start court cases. Furthermore, most of the time, MDAs fund part of the FCC monitoring costs, which raises some doubts in the area of integrity.

A recent proposal would make it obligatory for all MDAs to fund a certain percentage of the FCCs work, but the proposal has not yet been approved. Lack of resources can really foster corruption. It is also noticed that state commissioners of FCC are given the privileges to occasionally nominate people for employment in MDAs. Such favours appear to encourage unethical patronage and slot-selling which are forms of corruption.

Charles Danson

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