President Muhammadu Buhari has defended his recent appointments criticised by many Nigerians as lopsided, saying he nominated people he could trust, and who had worked with him for years.
The president said the Constitution allows him full control over the choice of his closest officials, and made it clear the appointments also served as reward for those who remained loyal to him for years, who refused to be lured by power or material wealth.
Mr. Buhari made the comments in an interview with BBC Hausa on Tuesday. It was his first direct response to the controversy generated by his first round of appointments.
The president also spoke on Chibok girls, military gains against Boko Haram and his administration’s war against corruption.
Mr. Buhari faced public outcry two weeks ago after naming the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, his Chief of Staff, head of Immigration and Customs, among others.
Critics slammed the decision as “lopsided”, as it became clear Mr. Buhari’s 30 nominations so far lack regional and gender balance.
An overwhelming majority of the president’s senior appointees are from the northern region of the country, where he comes from, and at least two are from his native Katsina State.
The South East has no appointee yet.
The president’s aides had earlier assured that subsequent appointments would ensure balance.
Asked by the BBC about the controversy, the president said, “This is the nature of Nigerian politics”.
“If they will do justice to me, as an elected Nigerian president, let them look at the Constitution a Nigerian president works with, there are people who will closely work with me that don’t need to be taken to the Senate,” he said of his critics, according to a translation of the BBC interview, by Daily Trust.
“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? 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?”
The president said Chibok girls, who were abducted in April 2014 by Boko Haram, had been dispersed and were kept in units at different locations.
He said many of the girls had been forced to convert to Islam.
“They have scattered them, and are being guarded at dispersed locations. Most of the girls are Christians and were forced to embrace Islam. And the sect’s cruel leaders have married some of the girls, obviously against their wish. Others have been left to practice their religion but their condition could hardly be ascertained.
“Both ground and air security personnel in the Sambisa forest could spot where the girls are, but since the insurgents have also kidnapped housewives and other women, no one could say whether they mixed them or how they dispersed them,” the president said.