All things being equal, the 5th Memorial Lecture on the legacy of the late Dr Abubakar Sola Saraki holds tomorrow in Abuja. For many, it would be no more than one more manifestation of Nigeria’s culture of noisy celebration of every and anything under the sun. For many more, especially those who put their ears to the ground for explosive gists of the battlespace called the All Progressives Congress, (APC), there is a message in that outing. It is not that Dr Bukola Saraki wants to contest for the Presidency in 2019. No. Much as that might still be faintly on, it is not the object of the current arming via a memorial lecture yet.
Rather, it is obvious that Dr Bukola Saraki perceives a strategy of politically constraining him along with all those suspected to be capable of causing trouble in the kitchen where the APC is preparing the next presidential candidature for Nigeria. Yes, there might have been four previous memorial lectures, none has the same essence as the other and this would have its own essence.
What critical observers are saying is this. Dr Bukola Saraki is the president of the Senate and, by implication, the head of the legislature in Nigeria and thus a very senior member of the ‘caucus’ of those who make things happen. In fact, some would grant him the status of a party mandarin. But he is in court on an appeal filed by the Executive arm of the government, the outcome of which could go in any direction.
If everything goes as planned at the lecture, says gist merchants, he would have launched a massive counter-offensive against being encircled, perhaps even more unsettling for the APC than last week’s departure of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the mandarin’s mandarin. Why are the gist merchants saying so? One analysis is that the Northern Union which is, theoretically, organising or hosting Dr Bukola’s father’s memorial is a player in northern Nigerian politics. In a test of strength, they would back Bukola against Buhari whom they believe to have been hijacked. A second argument is the reference to the threat that Ababakar Baraje has been reported as issuing sometimes last year to the effect that should anything happen to Bukola, that would be the end of APC. The said Baraje is not known to be the commander of any force in the region of a battalion, not to talk of a Brigade as for his threat to make anyone lose sleep. But, in politics, no such threat can be dismissed. It is an arena where words of mouth could create more havocs than a Brigade might create. Finally, Bukola appears to have mastered the art of swimming to safety in political battles as far as the onslaught from the party. What is the guarantee that he won’t manage to survive the remaining years?
In a party in which everywhere is war, this is not unlikely. Former Vice-President has just left the party in a whirlwind. Who can be sure that a combination of factors might not turn Atiku into a momentum to the chagrin of over confident but reclusive operators managing a rather stiff president? After all, Charles Gankay Taylor won presidential contest in Liberia, a reality beyond comprehension. Atiku has no blemish of that proportion although everyone talks somehow about him but without being forthcoming. Not even when he challenges those who ought to come forward with the evidence of the things he is said to have done against the interests of the country. It is a very curious thing.
Meanwhile, groups and interests are waving him on such as Lawal Kaita who issued a statement a week ago asking him to move over to quit quickly. Lawal Kaita has always been the leader of the veterans of the Shehu Yar’Adua political umbrella and the group stretches to Yahya Kwande; Abu King Shuluwa; Faruk Abdulaziz; Musa Gwadebe and so on. It is not clear what electoral influence these individuals command and how far their support for a contender counts. But the argument in town is how vulnerable a government can be when it is not generously granted a history of brilliance.
Brilliance is not granted to the Buhari Presidency, even by some people that have hitherto held General Buhari as the epitome of leadership Nigeria should have. The economy has been demonetised to the point of curing the disease but killing the patient; insecurity has overdrawn its cheque on Nigeria, what with her borders so porous and the anti-corruption team is largely at war with itself. So much money have, to the regime’s credit, been recovered from looters but locked up in the vaults and touted as an achievement in itself rather than what it is used for. Even those who insist on granting the government credit for recovering that much money from members of the past regime are still not happy that the government doesn’t have any popular programmes to which such monies have been directed in a single minded manner.
Meanwhile, it is a tragedy to fall sick in Nigeria because the health infrastructure is considered to be 18th century stuff. That is not the current government’s making but nobody can see a drastic dimension brought into that arena in the past two years. The situation in education is not different. University education has basically evaporated, what with universities that lack everything that make universities to be universities. It is not out of sync for the president to ask someone why the World Bank said Nigerian graduates are unemployable. A president can actually put the contention into a national debate. It is that important because we have no example of any country that became anything without tough universities. To make matters worse, the NUC just came out with a so-called ranking of Nigerian universities. It simply shows how low Nigeria has descended that instead of thinking hard on how to bring the universities back to the heights Nigerian universities had attained before the mid eighties, someone somewhere was thinking about ranking. What criteria could they have used if the country is not making itself a global laughing stock? Instructively and very courageously too, ABU, Zaria Vice-Chancellor has just said all that needs to be said about the joke called universities in Nigeria today.
The case of herdsmen violence keeps re-occurring against the person of the president. In many instances, critics wonder how the president who has railed against IPOB, Avengers, Boko Haram and all other manifestations of criminality has not been heard speaking to the security challenge of herdsmen violence. Of course, the truth could be that the president is actually under stress by the numerous issues demanding attention. But so stressed that such an issue would not attract his attention? That is always the query. Closely related to that is the fear of the president’s style of governance. Things that the typical Buhari was never believed would tolerate are happening now. The truth could be that he might have tried his best in responding to each and every of what critics are seeing as areas of failure. But what is the country supposed to say if the president’s efforts are not seen as good enough?
In this sort of circumstance, only the most inward-looking person would say that the departure or the resistance of leading party members are no causes for alarm. In any case, these were the leading elements in the ‘New PDP’ that gave Buhari victory in 2015, not any ANPP in Borno and Yobe, AC in the Southwest and the Southeast where there was nothing on the ground. As someone said, how wouldn’t there be cause for concern if they regroup and follow their C-in-C, (Atiku, of course)? After all, it is not as if the rest of the APC is a happy family. Rather, everywhere, there is war in the party. In Kogi, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kwara and even Katsina, there is war, irreconcilable differences. It is either the leader of the party is not very good in settling disputes or the disputes are too complicated. Either way, an implosion could be the outcome.
Of course, the party and the president do have their own reasons for being confident of victory. The 12 million voters who have persistently voted for Buhari ever since 2003 is still there, it is said. To that has been added all the new millionaires from the Kebbi rice-growing revolution that regime experts talk about; the weapon of publishing the list of looters who have refunded lots of money and the fighting capacity of a sitting government generally in Africa. All these are in its favour. There are a few projects that could bring it succour before voting time. A new Secretary to the Government of the Federation who understands the political nature of that office is in town and is expected to blunt and block some of the party’s attackers from the Northeast axis. There are still party stalwarts who can be relied upon to deliver their own parts of the country too. In the Middlebelt, Senator George Akume and his circle, for instance, is in control although Benue, his home state is slowly but steadily turning a battleground, with potential political consequences. There are impending compensatory arrangements by which some of the hurt mandarins might have been taken care of before 2019. Still, there is a sociological basis for wondering if President Buhari is not about to make the same mistake Thabo Mbeki made that he ended up enthroning Jacob Zuma as his successor when he thought he was about to bury Zuma with charges of corruption. The system snapped and Zuma buried Mbeki instead, politically speaking.
Fear of vendetta, betrayal and disappointment stalks both the party and the country, at class, ethnic and religious levels. Imperialism is having a field day in the fortunes and misfortunes of the country. In fact, critics point at this regime having more blue eyed imperialist stooges than anything known before. For all his transgressions, real and fabricated, Abacha had an independent minded economic adviser of stellar standing in the late Professor Sam Aluko, someone who served Chief Obafemi Awolowo and toadied before no one in matters of national interest. Shockingly, Buhari has ministers who, without any fear of contradictions, put private-public partnership, concessioning, privatisation, etc before the nation as if these were innocent concepts without very heavy ideological baggage they each embody. That is the worst form of corruption when leading political appointees articulate positions that they know or should know to be an attack on national security. In what seems unique to Nigeria, most members of the elite have no ideological leaning. Like birds, they perch on every ideological tree and can eat from every ideological homestead. It is part of the tragedy. The assumption was that a Buhari would not tolerate it. So far, the president seems to be looking the other way or is not hearing them say what they are saying.
It must be against this background that voices can be heard asking if other Obasanjos in Nigerian politics would not do what Obasanjo did in 2007. In 2007, Obasanjo handpicked the late Umaru Yar’Adua as presidential material to succeed him. He did so because in him, he found someone who had his own war to fight with Atiku Abubakar. But it was a great choice for Nigeria because Umaru Yar’Adua was politically educated. As a member of the dominant radical campus platform and a participant in the ABU, Zaria seminar series, he knew Nigeria very well. If Umaru Yar’Adua chose to be pro-imperialist or to side wrong doing, it was bound to be informed choice compared to some other members of the Nigerian elite who quickly convert political appointment to serving IMF/World Bank interests.
Obasanjo could handpick and impose someone for his own reason but who was good for Nigeria, relatively speaking because Obasanjo was skilful in doing such things. Obasanjo might still be influential and even more adept in those things but he can no longer singularly accomplish that now. The suggestion on the ground is that there are other Obasanjos around who can get together, not to stop Buhari or Atiku but to widen the choice. No one can be sure that Nigerians would want to give the PDP another chance too quickly. No one can guarantee that PDP would not run into internal turbulence arising from an observable crisis of quality leadership materials. No one can be sure of anything. President Buhari could actually and easily benefit from the logic of the devil you know being better than the angel you haven’t met yet. Some people might still be more comfortable with him in charge than any new comer.
But the 2019 contest itself needs to and must offer the electorate more rooms for choice. As good things do not just happen, other Obasanjos (meaning the original Obasanjo, the Buharis, the Atikus, the Minna peace activist and his fellow travellers) getting together to achieve that expansion of the space. In other words, it does not eliminate Buhari or Atiku or any aspirant in an automatic fashion but it widens the choice. Whoever emerges from such a space would have been such a formidable leadership material, be it Buhari, Atiku or a Dark Horse. So that no one would have to be swimming to safety in the next dispensation because Nigeria has to outgrow this politics of score settling which is consuming all the time, resources and energy, leaving nothing for confronting underdevelopment which is what is actually tearing the country apart but manifesting as regionalism, ethno-religious, secessionist or criminal threats.
Meanwhile, it is interesting watching the Bukola Sarakis in their political swimming because a ruling party in conflict with itself is a threat to every citizen!