FCC principle unifies the nation – Dr. Abba

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Executive Chairman, Federal Character Commission (FCC), Dr. Shettima Bukar Abba has said the mandates of FCC has succeeded in fostering lasting unity in the country. He discussed the mandates of the commission and other issues with some newsmen in Abuja. Excerpts;

Introduce yourself sir.

My name is Dr. Shettima Bukar Abba the Executive Chairman, Federal Character Commission (FCC).

What are the mandates of FCC?

Well the commission is one of the fourteen constitutional bodies established by the constitution of the Federal Republic in the 1999 constitution, as amended. And basically it has two basic functions; one is clearly stated in the constitution and the act establishing the commission by the act of the National Assembly. Our first mandate is to ensure that there is equity, fairness in the distribution of posts including corporate places where government has interest of at least 40%.

So we have to regulate the appointment, especially as regards to senior management positions, starting from assistant director, to director general. In terms of co-operate organization, managers, deputy managers and chief executives or executive directors. We regulate to ensure that all the states of the Federation are represented in the organization.

When it comes to recruitment we are also concerned with ensuring that there is fairness in consideration to the disadvantaged group, the woman, and the physically challenged.

We have to see that they are not being discriminated against as regards to employment. That is the mandate of the commission and we are to deal with each individual organization not a collective. We are concerned with individual organization.

So if you are appointing somebody for federal character, an institution say water co-operation or FCDA, anywhere you are trying to recruit, we have to make sure that the management is not dominated by one particular section of the country. The constitution dearly says that there is no predominance of a particular state, tribe or religion in a particular organization. We are not concerned with cross – carpeting, or cross fertilization of organizations.

If you are talking of NTA or Voice of Nigeria, we are only interested in the appointment being made by Voice of Nigeria, who is the chief executive? He can be from Imo, he can be from Borno, he can be from Yobe, he can be from Bayelsa, and he can be from anywhere. After the chief executive, who are next people following him in that organization. Are they from the same state? Then if they are from the same state, you are violating the federal character principle.  So that is the first mandate.

And if you are going for the entry point, we also need to ensure that no organization should have less than 2.5% of the total population of that organization or more than 3% percent.

We have to strive to archive this balance.  It is not quota system it is equity you are talking about now. In quota system, you may ask what the difference is. In quota system you may state that every state should have 5, 5, 5. This is not our intention. Our intention by the federal character process is to ensure that, yes some states will have 5, some will have 10, and some will have 3, so that Nigerians participate in the workings of government.

The second one is to ensure that there is fairness in the distribution at social- economic amenities, social services, economic amenities and infrastructural facilities. What do I mean by these things? If you are providing for a particular social service; human empowerment for example or poverty alleviation for example, or anything that pertains to social economic, you will ensure that it is distributed equitably to all the states of the federation.

Than you look at infrastructure, are you constructing roads? Are you providing power? Are you providing water supply? Are you providing transport services? Are you providing communication services? In all these things we make sure that there is equity in the distribution. We are not asking for equality in this sense, because all these things cut across all the state in the federation. If you are constructing rail, let’s say Lagos to Kano, it cuts across many states of the Federation. About six, seven, eight states of the federation, then what is the equivalent of this thing may be from the south? That is from region to another, or in the north from one region to another.

What did you state in your budget? Are they being taken care of? We are also mindful that not all states have equal need for certain things.  Some will say they require water supply, some will say the need road. So how are these balanced across all the state of the federation? Where there are any inadequacies we observe, we advise government and MDAs to ensure that such rejoin is being neglected, in one way or the other – please attend to it.

In this case we also look at the service provider who provides these things. Whoever that is doing it, we then approach them and tell them that this rejoin needs this thing. In the event, after two or three invitation they fail to do this thing, and then we can now take a legal action. But first of all we have to sensitize them, monitor them, and look at what they are providing. That is how these things are carried out.

So these are the two basic functions of the commission, which people look at it and say, you are not performing, we are not interested in the president is appointing somebody from Bayelse as the Chief executive of Voice of Nigeria, and from Bayelse Chief executive of NTA, from Borno Chief Executive of this. We don’t bother about it. When the appointment is made, we ask what happens to the others in the commission, who makes decision in the management aspect of the organization. The same thing we do in the provision of infrastructure.

In a situation whereby some states have more than the others, do sack people from such states and recruit for the neglected states?

How do you approach these things? We attend annual meetings, like national council meetings, national council of works, national council of powers, national council of transport, national council of education, these are areas we go in and get our information, we also go in to National Bureau of statistics (NBS), for information. We look at budget spending and get our information. These are to ensure that they meet required needs in the interest of the nation to ensure togetherness and inclusiveness.

Initially levels of qualification, levels of education are different across the country. Level of educated elites in the south –south may not be the same with the south- east or in the south- west or the north-west might not be the same with what is obtainable in the north- east, or what is obtainable in north- central. We have different footings prior to the coming of federal character. If you employ them, they are going to stay for a minimum of 35years. You are not going to sack them because of federal character, but there are processes of disengagement. Some people will reach 35yrs and retire, some will resign by themselves, death may come in or there is expansion of those areas.

So what we are trying to do is to encourage them so that when these people are gone either by resignation or death, we to encourage them and tell them, look, these states are marginalized. If you are taking people, consider these states, so that over to me you are going to get people coming in. In the last twenty years, there is no government organization where all Nigerians are not working now. Some may be more than 3% we are taking about. These are historical; you cannot sack them simply because of federal character.

Federal character in Nigeria is only nineteen years. Those who are employed for 35yrs cannot be sacked because of Federal character. This is one issue one has to understand. Second thing, we expect chief executives to also respect the rule of law and then start to be their brothers keepers. Look those areas which are not being represented, when there is a vacancy, either in terms of retirement, or death or whatever makes it happen, then you employ those people from disadvantaged areas.

The constitution provided for 36 commissioners plus FCT, so all of them should look at the interest of their area. Then we look at it holistically and say, look, this is the position of these things. And now we are looking at Voice of Nigeria. Okay Voice of Nigeria, what is the nominal roll of VON. Then this is it. Each state is having what? Well this one is 0%, this one 2%, this one 20%, this one 5%. So we now say okay, if you are recruiting 20 people now for VON, please out of this 20 look for those states that do not have anybody there. Then give them 2 or 3 and then the remaining one you can now give them one, one or above. So that you are not totally abandoning the others, but you are at the same time bridging the gap gradually. So that at a certain point, there is a level they have at least reached 2% or the 2.5% required. Those with 3% will remain with their own 3%. You cannot do anything beyond that.

To answer your question, we are not asking people to go and rest because of federal character. They are already being employed. We need people to be employed. That is the position.

You talked about basic amenities, how do you do that?

Well it is very simple. If you look at infrastructure, you go to the ministry what we do is, if the ministry budgeted that it is constructing road from Okigwe in Imo State to Enugu for example, for federal road. Or from Aba to Port-Harcourt or from Kano to Maiduguri in the budget you say these things. It is our responsibility in our second mandate to now ask our people to go and physically verify that these roads are provided.

We are not after the money you will spend; we are after provision of infrastructure. If you are saying you are working on Mambilla Power Plant, ours is to just go and ensure that, yes Mambilla is working and is providing power to where? That is, these areas being connected to the power they are supplying? For the purpose of equity, that is our own responsibility. We are not after what amount of money you have spent, but after, that you have provided those things you said you are going to be providing to all parts of Nigeria.

If you are a minister, let’s say from Zamfara State, we expect you to spread development across the country. The constitution is very clear about ministers. All state of the federation must have ministers. So these ministers are serving national interest, they should also serve their own interest. The same thing is here. So that is the way we will ensure that these things are being done.

We get statistics from them and then verify. Recently we went out for TETFUND. TETFUND is funding universities and tertiary institutions in provision of certain facilities, either in terms of library, in terms of hostels, in terms of building, in terms of vehicles. So when they give us statistics of these things, we go to these universities and verify. Did TETFUND do this thing? So we now look at it. Always we don’t expect what is given to Ibadan will be the same with either a tertiary institution in Gombe or University of Dutse. There are third, fourth generation universities. We don’t expect the fourth generation universities to be getting the same as first generation universities. We expect variations, but our interest is that all of them have been taken care of fairly and equitably.

When you find out that what they said is not true, what do you do?

It is an offense, either in terms of recruitment, in terms of provision of infrastructure. If you say that you are going to construct this or do this or you are going to provide water, you are going to construct dam in this place and don’t do that, we will come back and ask you questions. What happened?

That is the issue of whistle blowing and all these things come in and we report to the appropriate authority and say look, this is the issue. We can take legal action and ask, why do you discriminate against this community? So there must be checks and balances which we have to follow. In most cases I have not seen MDAs violating the principles we are talking about, simply because of the channels of communication in terms of reporting which are clear enough. Nowadays it is no longer business as usual. It is a law, and you want to go by the law, and if you refuse, the law has all provision for you to be sanctioned and adequately dealt with.

What happened that after you took over the MDAs started obeying the rule of engagement?

We have over 600 MDAs; very few of them that we have not interacted with, three, four, five, six times. All the MDAs or sections under NNPC for example, if you ask them for their nominal role, they say I don’t have NNPC employ and send to us. If you go to NNPC and ask for nominal roll of these sections, they will tell stories. These are some of the difficulties we go through. Otherwise most of the organizations – 90% of the organizations are being addressed adequately.

There are few ones prior to my coming that are not forthcoming. My predecessor bosses attempted taking them to court and we were requested to settle out of court. After that they are now adhering to the federal character principles. You can ask me, how we are going to deal with all these things. What we do is that, we classify all the MDAs from the ministry to organization into 24 different groups, assign six commissioners from each geopolitical zone to certain MDAs – 20, 25, 30, to all 24 MDAs.

And then we empower them to write to them and call them for interaction, discuss every six month or one year or three months, depending on how they decide on their position – issues like what do they provide in terms of infrastructure, how they do that.

The constitution requested us to provide them a guideline, provide them a process to follow. So we are providing them with this process to follow. We send every one of them these types of guideline and handbook (he brought out one from his drawer). Then we have the handbook, we have the mandate. Each one of them is given these things, so that when they are performing functions of government either they are recruiting or providing infrastructure, they follow the process we tell them. Then we know they are doing the process.

Once you miss the process, we will know you are deviating. Let me give you an example of the process.  If you want to recruit as an MDA chief executive, the law says, when the chips are down, when there is a problem nobody will be held responsible, except the chief executive. Not the board chairman, not the directors, the chief executive will be liable. So he is the person who is going to answer questions in the court. If you want to implicate any of his subordinates, that is his own position.

In recruiting itself, first of all the MDA must know and harvest the existing vacancies and then get permission from the government authorities. After getting permission that you are going to recruit this number of people; then you come to us.  When you come to us, we look at your vacancies, we look at your existing nominal roll, we look at where people are not there, where people are there and we say okay and give you what we call the character balancing index.

You will now go and advertise in two newspapers; one that is read in the north and one that is read in the south, and allow them to remain for six weeks. Then you bring to us the list of all the people that applied, irrespective of whether they are qualified or not qualified. If they are 900, bring all the list of those that applied. So if you shortlisted 200, you now give us 200 and tell us the reason you have rejected the other 700, why are they not being shortlisted? We are not going to interfere, just send it to us.

Then you organize the interview. Your interview is your own interview. Federal character doesn’t employ, federal character will not recruit for you unless you fail to abide by the rules. If you fail to abide by the rules, we will take over and recruit for you. The law is provided for that but we don’t want to do that. So you give us the people you want to interview. Then we go and monitor. We sit down and look at it. First of all, give us your score, how do you want to do it. Are you doing an interview, are you doing a questionnaire?

If you say anybody who scores 60% is employable. That is prior to the interview. Anybody who scores 60% in my interview is employable. That is your benchmark. You can say not 60%, anybody who scores 70% is my benchmark, it depends on you, not from federal character.

Now we go there and monitor it. After the interview, we collate all the result and discover that Mr. X from X state has scored 90% but the state has more than 3% required number already working there, but Mr. Y from Y state has scored 60% and has nobody or only 2% there. Then as federal character we will ask you to take that person who scored 60% or 70% because you have already said anybody who scores 60% or 70% is employable and that person has scored 60 or 70. But if he scored 59%, then you are not going to employ him simply because of federal character, because he has not met your criteria.

People will say we are compromising merit, we are not compromising merit. It is you own decision that any Nigerian who scores 60 or 70 is employable and the person who scored high has more 3% in you organization. Here is somebody from FCT who scored 60 but has nobody in that organization. You will now say that FCT man who scored 60 is taken instead of the person who scored 80. Reason is that fairness and equity allowed him to work because you said he is employable.  But if he scores less we will not ask you to employ him because of federal character.

If you do it, you are on your own, it is not federal character. You are the person who is compromising merit, not us. That is the position. For us to do this thing, we need the cooperation of the chief executive to understand and other Nigerians to understand also.

That is in the best interest of all of us. It is even better for you to be working with different groups of people than with all the people from your own state. If you come in today, you only talk in Igbo, or Hausa, or Yoruba, even when discussing government business. All these type of things will be curtailed if you go by federal character. There will be universality. We are also talking to universities, that universities should be universal. You take people from all parts of the country, please don’t concentrate university intake in your own area alone. Different people will come with different experience. An Igbo man working in Maiduguri will have different experience about the place. Me who started working in Imo State have respect about Nigeria. This is the whole criteria of the federal character to ensure that there is equity and fairness.

How do you promote merit?

We are not the people who promote merit. You are the person who is promoting merit, because you tell us how you are going to promote your merit. For example if you want to do interview. Where do you do the interview? because you want to get the best. That is why you have called that interview, to ensure that the person you are employing is the best, but you have to tell us what your best is. We are not telling you to let us decide for you. Except that if you go wrong, we will tell you that you are not following your own criteria. That is how we want to maintain merit.

How do the MDAs employ more people under President Buhari?

They have employed– we have about 500 – 600 MDAs. There are some who employ 200, there some who employ 1000, there some who employ 1, 2, and 3. Chief executive will go, another will come, vice chancellors will go, and vice chancellors will come. That is employment. Registrars will go, registrars will come. Directors will go, directors will come. New organizations are created, and they will be employed. Police is looking for 10,000 to employ. Then customs is employing. If you look at this, the rate of employment in the MDAs is okay, but we require more openings and more employment facilities to allow them to employ more. I will assure that there are more people employed this time around. Over 300,000 or something like that have been employed, collectively, if you look at in the 600 or so MDAs.

When you talk about monitoring the extent of distribution of basic amenities, what is your relationship with national assembly?

National Assembly runs with committees and has a committee on federal character. We deal with them. They oversee our functions. In the event, where people complain, people petition them of lopsidedness, or one thing or the other to the committee – they have the right to complain. They call us and we sit together and look at how these things are being done. Our relationship is very cordial. Nigerians have every right to petition. And if they complain to them and say look this organization is recruiting and I applied and they refused to take me because of this thing. You write petition, they refer to us. Then we go and meet them to together with the MDAs and say, look at what happened. Is it true? If we discover that it is true, we are the people who will now provide solution to what request that is being made. In short we have been dealing with them for quite a while.

You opened about new six offices in the states; do you have the intention of opening more?

Federal character has 37 state offices including the FCT to take care of federal character matters. One thing is that federal character does not concentrate only on the federal establishments or the states. We also have the right to look at the situation in the states, even in the local governments. That is the reason why we say, our main constituency in the federal and the states. And in the states, are local governments, and in the local governments are the wards.  So that if you are employing in the local government area, for example, if you want to employ in Isiukwuato in Abia because it is a local government, you are supposed to go to the wards to make sure that the councilors come across the various wards. So if you come to the states, if you are employing from the states, we expect you to employ from all the local government areas in the state. Not to concentrate in your own local government. And if you are employing in the federal government, you look at the states as your own reference point in employment matter.

Has it been very smooth doing that?

You are talking about the six states. What happened was that, we said, since we are operating in 36 states and there are six geo-political zones; let’s also operate zonal offices to take charge of these six geo-political zones. And we requested government to give us positions of directors that can man the zonal offices which the federal government has approved and we are waiting for the 2018 budget to enable us to implement it.

To your question, we met the governors in order to sensitize them. We now organize zonal workshops so that the governors will come and make some input. Recently we have done one in Port-Harcourt where the Deputy Governor came and we put across all these things to them. They are very positive about it. We recently organized one in Kaduna where the Northern States stakeholders came. Then our state offices are getting the cooperation of the governors to get them nominal rolls and then get what they do. When they are recruiting, they invite them to come and look at it and advice as demanded by law. They are the people who recommend the appointment and therefore the commissioners here are trying to report what is happening in their own states.

Challenges so far?

Well, challenges are enormous. The basic ones that are worrying us are to get adequate office accommodation for 19yrs. We have been in rented property, every year the amount of money has been escalating. So government is so kind to give this place and the other one. They gave the entire place but Road Safety now are so fast and they have money, they came and quickly occupy the other one, but we are now occupying two buildings which contain all the 36 commissioners plus FCT.

Our workforce of about 1500 is being accommodated.  We had problem of getting adequate accommodation because some people from FCDA went and occupied two of our blocks over there. Block C, but we thank the minister of FCTT for allowing us. He now gives us the offices and asked the people to vacate for which they graciously did. We now have a very adequate accommodation. The other issue is proper monitoring. We have been looking for vehicles so that our commissioners will go out and monitor those things without resorting to their own vehicles. And we have difficulties settling their allowances if they use their own vehicles and other things. So government has approved some vehicles for us in 2018 budget. If we can get these one it will help.

The third one is that the work is too enormous. We have a lot of responsibilities. We requested an increase in the position of manpower which the law allows me as the chief executive to approach the head of service and agree on the number of people, which I did and they have agreed to allow us to employ some hands. So if we get this one, it will now assist us in making sure that we surmount this problem.

The final one is everywhere. They don’t like to talk about it because I am also a decision maker in the government. It is the issue of funding. Generally funding everywhere is low because of the economic situation and other competing demands. But there is a slight improvement from the previous period, when people are saying the funding is not adequate. Since the coming of this administration, we have succeeded in providing two state offices where we were formally on rented apartments, but now we have permanent state offices. There are only about six states that do not have permanent offices. So it has made us to be more comfortable and not working in rented properties now.

Thanks for your time.

You are welcome.

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