Dear President Buhari,

I hope this finds you well. Please regard me as a fellow countryman who cares an awful lot for the weal and good repute of the Republic and who, owing to that, applauded your election to the presidency last March. One hundred days on, I can tell you’re getting steadily, although a tad too slowly, into the swim of things as a born-again democrat. Congratulations all the same.

Speaking for myself in particular, my optimism about you wasn’t starry-eyed. Rather, it was founded on the notion that, even amidst a crowd of party members incurably plagued by corruption and a narrowness of vision, members who set great store by their own selfish interests, you would somehow still be able to orchestrate a change of party and national attitude to things and lead our nation to reclaim its greatness under the sun.

I arrived at that conclusion based on my understanding that you are indeed a good and decent man, a committed leader who had once demonstrated a sense of rectitude when fate first placed you at the apex of government three decades ago. Now a lot of folks could charge me with treason and then go a step further to crucify me for making such a declaration. After all, you’d presided over the most rigid military dictatorship in Nigerian political history. Arguably, they have a basis for that point. However, I would argue back to them that, although the means by which you sought results were rather unkind, the larger purpose of what you intended to achieve for your country in the ultimate analysis ought to be accorded pride of place. And no doubt some of your actions were unfair and uneven and questionable, they do not by any means alter the fact that you actually meant well for your country when duty called. In fact, if there was ever one cast-iron case I had against you then, it was that you left your flanks so open the fifth column elements within your ranks had no problem removing you from office like a vagrant snail effortlessly picked up by a passer-by. But that was then, this is now.

Mr. President, my support for you still holds rock solid, but I’m going to be holding your feet to the fire over your performance, and if there is any time to start doing that, I believe now is the time. I’d thought I could cut you some slack for six months before lending my voice to the welter of public opinion on what is going down, as they say. I realize there is too much at stake for our country for anyone to choose to sit out the first six months of your administration especially in the face of your most recent decision which has left me, as indeed many others, in stunned disbelief.

Once again, you have appointed personnel to key federal positions in a manner that makes a mockery of fairness. Of the nine appointments you have made, eight of them went to the north while the south got just one. If I’m right, it would be the third time in as many months that you would be making such decisions that are so nakedly skewed against the other half of the country.

Mr. President, no one needs to be an expert tea leaf reader to know that you have, by those clearly lopsided appointments, demonstrated a blatant disregard for the south, and although it is still too early to say they were right, your three decisions so far have played right into the hands of your critics who had suspected that you had the intention of enthroning an agenda bordering on northern hegemony on the rest of the country if you were elected. In a bid to engender a buyer’s remorse among those who supported you, many of your opponents are now pushing an I-told-you-so sentiment. Not that I’m impressed by such. I’m by no means a southern apologist. In fact, I care less where the leader of our country comes from. But such a leader must show a judgement profoundly founded on fairness and justice.

Worse than those appointments, in my personal judgement, are the explanations you have given for making them, first as conveyed on your behalf by spokesmen and apologists who interestingly are from the same part of the country generating the current hue and cry, and then as stated by you in a very recent interview with the BBC. Initially, you said your latest decision was based on merit, meaning that not many in the other half of the country, compared to the north, were qualified enough to be considered. I’d like to know what you were actually thinking personally when you were concocting that argument. Mr. President, I think it’s belittling not only of the people at the receiving end of that argument, but also of the office you hold.

More recently, you have said the appointments were based on the fact that you trusted the appointees because they had worked with you for a long time and shown a sense of loyalty and trust all along. Here’s what you said: “If I select people whom I know quite well in my political party, whom we came all the way right from the APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situation, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong?” Then you went on to add: “I have been with them throughout our trying times, what then is the reward of such dedication and suffering? They did not defect because of positions, they did not involve themselves in the pursuit of personal gains, and they accepted their fate throughout our trying moments. What is wrong if I make you the secretary (of the federal government) because I have confidence that things will go normal?” So, Mr. President, you’re saying many southerners didn’t fit the bill, right?

Nigerians are far from naïve or obtuse. If you must come up with reasons to justify an unpopular action next time, please think of something else. Explanations such as the second one only give your doubters more ammunition for their charge.

You and your apologists think that those taking exception to all your actions so far are hysterically overreacting. In doing so, you’re clearly ignoring (or forgetting) one basic fact of Nigerian history. Of all the problems plaguing our existence as a nation today, none is as virulently dangerous as ethnic tension. It is worse than corruption, and definitely worse than any of the hundreds of problems any number of experts studying Nigeria today may come up with. Although religiously rooted, Boko Haram is a latter-day variant of our primordial ethnic problem. As we have demonstrated for years and may continue to many years to come, any nation can survive all the other problems, but no nation may be able to survive ethnic tensions for too long. I have done quite a great deal of study on Sudan, a country to our north whose history and ethnic compositions mirror ours so closely. See what has happened to it today!

It is certainly to avoid that kind of problem that the framers of our current constitution, in their high-mindedness, made a provision for the principle of federal character in that document, which deems it imperative that such appointments as the ones you have made so far be reflective of both the spirit and substance of that requirement. Critics may pounce by saying it immolates merit. It does not. People of merit and substance and trust can be found in all parts of the country. The formulators of the principle did because they were apprised of Nigerian history: a history riven with religious strife and ethnic conflicts. And we have got the scars to show for them. In the last decade or so, every administration before now applied this principle as best it could: if not scrupulously, at least prudently. They understood that to deviate from it radically would be to court the kind of distracting uproar you have on your hands right now. And they succeeded somewhat in causing that problem to recede from the front burner of national discourse. I would hope you’re not about to foster an environment where it enjoys renewed resurgence.

I remind you, Mr. President, that you won a national mandate, not a party or sectional mandate. There were just as many passionate southerners who charged up the hill for you to be elected, and they did because they were fired by a vision of a uniter, not a divider. I hope you remember that as you make a determination about your cabinet ministers. In addition to being a good and decent man, I strongly believe that you can also be a great president. There is plenty of time to be that. But it is the kind of decisions you make in the space of that time that will determine how history remembers you.

As the situation dictates and the necessity arises, I may write to you again on other issues. Please stay in fine fettle. And good luck!

Mudiaga D. Ofuoku

This article was originally published in Thisday