President Muhammadu Buhari and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, one of his many living predecessors, have each manoeuvred himself to become the lodestar of oppositional ships in Nigerian politics. While Buhari is routinely a fixture because he is the incumbent, Obasanjo, aka OBJ, has kept Nigeria substantially fixated on him like no other for reasons that are difficult to decipher very easily. This fixture status of his is to the anger as well as the joy of millions, depending on where each person stands. Those for whom his forwardness is annoying say he was Head of the Nigerian State twice, (1976 – 1979 and 1999 – 2007) but did not re-make Nigeria. They, therefore, argue that he ought to hide his head in shame rather than lecture the country on leadership or good governance. Those for whom he is the right guy say hiding in shame is what Obasanjo should have done if those who came after him had done or were showing signs of doing what he might have failed to do. There are those in-between whose standpoint is that the on-going clash between the interests of OBJ and those of the incumbent President Buhari could explode and that people should, therefore, not overplay it. There is a fourth standpoint which says, fine, but what if the eventual liberation of Nigeria lies in the dialectic of that clash?
Does the dialectic of the clash guarantee against its explosion into something ugly, asks those against overplaying the conflict? It doesn’t, meaning those against overplaying it do have a point even as protagonists of the dialectical utility thesis are persistent. But then, everyone notes that Buhari and Obasanjo will never be seen physically slapping or kicking each other should they meet at the airport or at a conference but there are those ready to die presumably in defence of either of them. That is the reason why most well organised societies do not normally allow elite fragmentation to fester. Not only do they not allow it to fester, they also have mechanisms, mostly normative and informal, by which such are managed. In other words, the Obasanjo versus Buhari clash brings a key deficit of nationhood to the fore: Nigeria’s lack of formal mechanisms for conflict management as much as normative and informal mechanisms. Today, it is Obasanjo versus Buhari but tomorrow, it could be another set.
One of such normative and informal mechanisms is the role of individuals with the moral authority to make binding pronouncements because he or she is someone who is not tainted and no one can, therefore, throw stones at. There is nothing too high minded about this because protagonists can readily point at Mandela in South Africa, Mahatma Ghandi in far away India, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia who offered himself for re-election at 92 and the people obliged him.
In Nigeria, there appears to be a crisis of this specie, compounded by another reality: the fact that everyone in Nigeria belongs to an interest group, leaving it a society without neutral actors. Everyone must be a partisan of one cause or another in Nigeria. This makes Nigeria a dangerous society, one without leaders with the normative summoning power to calm moments of madness or remind those who cross the red lines of the norm by telling them they are wrong.
There are quite a few of such persons quite alright but who are constrained by Nigeria, one way or the other. General Yakubu Gowon is the exception in terms of taking sides. Even in his strategy of intervention, he remains inclusive to the extent that Nigeria Pray over which he presides is neither out rightly exclusionary of any religion nor antagonistic of any groups. After nine years in power, he barely had a house and he goes everywhere in the country. He has found time to reconcile with even those he detained in the context of an emergency. The problem though is the unlikelihood of his direct participation to make peace between politicians as in this case. Alhaji Shehu Shagari is already quite aged. When Dr Alex Ekwueme who was the Vice-President to him died recently, he could not make it. The last is Chief Ernest Shonekan who is not too different from Shagari. So, all three are out.
Aside from his recent indignation, General T.Y would still not enter this list because, like Soyinka, it is unlikely that OBJ would be at ease with his intervention. Otherwise, TY would have been the ultimate voice of moderation in this instance in terms of stature and clout.
The body of the current set of traditional rulers could have been the country’s best bet because they are not only educated and exposed, most of them came to the job as leaders in one profession or the other: military, business, diplomacy, the police, academia and so on. Such a collective have the stability and balance within it to play a stabilising role. In this case, however, two of the leading traditional rulers are partisans of the regime in power.
Nobelist Wole Soyinka would be one such player in any other country. He is experienced in such practice, having done so during the Civil War and along with two other writers on the late General Mamman Vatsa’s case. As a Nobel Prize winner, he has the power of the voice and the reality his voice can perform into being. He’s got a global and respected but not a neutral voice. Even OBJ would most likely not accept his intervention were he and Buhari to still be reconcilable.
Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa has not occupied high office in Nigeria but he’s got a high moral authority. It is there for everyone to see. But he is in partisan politics.
Aliko Dangote has the name and the stature, being the continent’s best story in domesticating capitalism. But he carries the image of being the friend of those in power for so long. That might have helped him to become what he is but it is the anti-thesis of being someone who can call two self-willed retired Generals clawing at each other in a way that could imperil the democratic order.
Wouldn’t the pair of the Sultan of Sokoto and the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja be such a normative and informal influencer? The Sultan of Sokoto certainly has influence stretching into Christianity just as Cardinal Onaiyekan does have into the Muslim community. The Sultan is not seen in the same activist mould as the Emir of Kano, for instance, and he, along with the Cardinal, could prevail on leaders to come down from Olympian heights and consider national interest. But that is if the times were normal. Now, the times are not normal as to allow their eminences do much without people reading meaning into whatever initiatives they take. With the herdsmen violence now routinely called ethnic cleansing or genocide, the atmosphere is generally prohibitive of experimentation and, to that extent, paralysing. It is difficult times such as this that should bring out the best of leaders but Nigeria has progressively been run in a manner that almost no one can tell the truth now without suffering for it. Unfortunately, the country is too big to be like that.
Lastly, the National Peace Committee headed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Bishop Mathew Kukah. This committee was able to make an impact in 2015 but are the issues and the situation that enabled it to register success in 2015 the same as today? Can that committee be a factor for peace today?
The implication is that there is a void in peacemaking in Nigerian politics. It is thus not surprising that the country is still lost in Buhari good/Obasanjo bad on the one hand and Obasanjo good/Buhari bad on the other hand instead of focusing on the context in which good or bad might make sense. This is worrisome because there is not one Muhammadu Buhari or one Obasanjo for all time to warrant a good versus bad judgment. The Obasanjo, for example, who handed over power as a military Head of State at a time it was not common in Africa is also the same Obasanjo tightly linked to a Third Term bid as a civilian president. The Obasanjo who was needed to recover Nigeria in 1999 and who provided that service is also the Obasanjo generally rated as a bad practitioner of the very idea of democracy. Obasanjo who excited millions by calling for ‘SAP with human face’ is also the same Obasanjo who implemented SAP very carelessly, creating the current pension crisis, for instance. And Obasanjo under whom so many violent conflicts erupted in Nigeria is the same Obasanjo whose government skilfully handled the Sharia conflict without bloodshed arising directly from his own moves or pronouncements. So, we can only talk of Obasanjo in one sense or the other at any one time. This may probably sound academic but it doesn’t make sense to talk of Obasanjo or any body for that matter as bad or good all through. There is no such one, coherent, sovereign Obasanjo but many Obasanjos, all in the same Obasanjo.
That is the same for President Buhari. Buhari who quickly and brilliantly secured Nigeria from some invaders as a GOC many years back is the same Buhari who is now seen as presiding over a genocide at a time he has greater latitude as Commander-in-Chief to beat back unknown killers. The Buhari who as military governor, an oil minister, a military Head of State, Chairman of a multi-billion naira trust fund was not linked to corruption deals is the same Buhari whose government, as civilian president, is being rated (by local CSOs, TI and the USG) to be highly corrupt. The Buhari who followed the judicial process in fighting his election battles each of the three times he contested and lost is the same Buhari under whom people feel so unsafe from intolerant and aggressive supporters against whoever does not accept their own representation of Buhari as the ultimate anti-thesis of corruption. So, again, there isn’t one, coherent, sovereign Buhari but many Buharis, all in the same Buhari.
The proof of this analysis lies in the fact that none of Buhari’s mother, classmate, professional colleagues or siblings would see him the same way as the other. Each one will emphasise a different aspect of him, reflecting the angle from which he or she encountered him. The same with Obasanjo, showing that people do not have one single personality or identity! It would follow from this that President Buhari or Obasanjo’s followers, friends and faithfuls who pose any of them in terms of any single rather than multiple narratives are on fatuous grounds. At any one moment, an aspect of an individual is all that matters and this is why one individual may matter so much at one moment but not in the next. Without this sort of framework, reading Obasanjo’s leadership of the opposition to Buhari’s re-election has become a problem for many Nigerians.
For any country, this is a tragedy because, in the age of norms and values, there must be referees with summoning power on those who cross the red lines. In the absence of such, Nigeria is witnessing political crisis being added to the movement away from the national idea by even some of its best practitioners until recently; a worrisome level of poverty and the insecurity crisis. This has created room for all manner of intervention efforts, not all of which are informed by anything patriotic but by journeys of self-discovery; foe-friend lenses; shallow narratives of the Nigerian crisis, creating conditions for the sort of confusion from which someone who doesn’t even believe in Nigeria and cannot appreciate Nigeria could emerge as president or a strategic actor.