In what appears an electoral variant of what some International Relations scholars call ‘acute strategic overstretch’, incumbent president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari is stepping out on a preliminary test of strength tomorrow in Abuja. It will be the presentation of a book by a section of his constructivists but to be conducted in a way that sends a message to those who think he is a featherweight. The calculation is that, by tomorrow evening, he would have sent a message that he is not an electoral pushover.
The series of activities around the book presentation is the clearest signal that the president is going for broke. Initially, this daring do was instigated by the anger over what some players call the virtual quit notice served on the president by Olusegun Obasanjo, one of his predecessors. Obasanjo wrote an open letter January 23rd, 2018 asking the president to go, take care of himself because, among others, he was promoting nepotism.
Now, it is more than Obasanjo. Other retired Generals have followed the Obasanjo trajectory, the latest being that of General T. Y Danjuma who exploded last Saturday in his home state of Taraba, endorsing a strategy of self-defence against rampaging marauders whom the Nigerian State has given the impression are unstoppable. The Nigerian military must have felt sad having to respond to its former head, Danjuma being a former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence. It is hoped that the military will try to come to grips with whatever created the perception General Danjuma was reflecting about the military.
But more than the revolt of the Generals all of whom were, ironically, the president’s seniors in the military is the newest theories in town about the dynamics defining the struggle for power in 2019. One of it is that the All Progressives Congress, (APC), the ruling party in Nigeria, has simply realised that after former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar left the party last year, there is nobody else that has the ability to hold the party together if Buhari were to be allowed to go and rest. The president is the glue holding the party. Once the president is not contesting, the APC would scatter because no one else exists at the moment with the capacity to hold it together. No one is sure if Atiku would have gotten it if he stayed back, they are only sure that it makes the situation worse.
Ahmed Bola Tinubu is not considered a replacement for Muhammadu Buhari, it is argued. Not only have Tinubu’s former followers such as Dr Kayode Fayemi and Babatunde Fashola since transformed into ‘Buhari boys’, the National Leader would be fought to a standstill by elements such as Bukola Saraki and party Chairman, Chief Oyegun. Rotimi Amaechi who is the senior militant in charge of campaigning is in conflict with a leading senator from his state, contesting his potentials to play the godfather in that axis. Without Buhari, the Kwankwaso elements in Kano could make electoral mincemeat of the Governor Ganduje squad in the contest for power there. In Kaduna, analysts cannot see the possibility of anyone dying for the state governor, Nasir el-Rufai. The situation, insists the gist merchants, is not different in Katsina, Bauchi and many other APC states. All these have made contesting for the second term a matter of life and death for a number of players, particularly the few governors who formed a ring around the president a month or so ago, insisting and urging him to re-contest. They have a fall back should they fall into electoral pit but with Buhari intact. In such a circumstance, a ministerial pie or something like that could be the outcome. The other side of it is Buhari’s political and personality presence makes it possible for them to win back power. That is, Buhari winning the presidency being a matter of secondary importance.
But, can they win? Yes and no. Yes because the field of play in politics is a very fluid one and Nigeria’s diversity has its own criss-crossing dynamics that makes science a near impossibility. Moreover, the use of money is going to be a factor at a time poverty is as real as hell across Nigeria. No because those opposed to him have a more muscular capability in these matters. If they could undo him without firing a shot as a military Head of State, why can’t they repeat it at a time there are deep seated angst in the land on several issues. For the first time in the recent history of Nigeria, there are purely peasant states owing civil servants salaries for more than a year and there is an emperor in Abuja for whom this is not an emergency.
It is either a balance of terror results between the president and his opponents or Buhari prevails or he is ringed out too quickly by his opponents. But the struggle for power would be taking place at a time of very weak nationalist consciousness, a time the strong, centralised state is an imperative for all developing countries and at a time when the ineptitude of the power elite in Nigeria is most mind boggling. Particularly worrisome is the emergence in Nigeria of a thoroughly unhappy society observable in the drift of the masses to miracle centres, tree tops, forests, riversides and mountain tops in search of God. The same thing is happening to the Muslim masses who are also left high and dry by a very chaotic and uncaring social order. Can the warriors fight to finish without getting the people to kill themselves? Or, are Nigerians hoping that The Hague would be all eyes and ears watching any players who invite violence? But The Hague is always a medicine after death!
Perhaps, there is nothing to worry about after all. It is probably the case that Nigeria is too sophisticated to quake in managing an election. Where else in Africa do you see retired Generals in revolt against one of their own, substantially under-campaigning an incumbent? It can only happen in Nigeria where those living the best of life already still stick out their neck in interrogating power, whatever the motives. And they are doing it not on an ethno-religious or regional but on a national scale! So, there may be no crisis after all.
Finally, it is not impossible that Buhari, a General, is thinking like his French counterpart who said that “A battle lost is a battle one thinks one has lost”. In other words, victory or defeat is in the eye of the beholder. Some people think it is better to go down fighting! Perhaps, he has a joker up in his sleeves! Perhaps, he has a bombshell coming although no one has a monopoly of jokers and bombshells!