The power elite in Nigeria has gotten used to wangling its way out of cross roads that it might not have anticipated the Buhari complexity before it now, whether he contests in 2019 or replaces himself with someone at last as seems likely. It is probably not strange for an elite that has successfully neutralised IBB’s reluctance to quit power; Abacha’s ultimate stay put calculus; Obasanjo’s Third Term gambit and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s indigestible governmentality. However, none of these political personalities has Buhari’s tough stance on retaining power, relying almost solely on use of incumbency. IBB openly confessed loss of constituency – his own base in the military – that he rejected any pressures to be brave. Abacha died and was not in a position to superintend a test of strength. Obasanjo wanted it but was too caught up in the contradiction of a man going round the world proclaiming democracy but also campaigning at home for tenure elongation. Jonathan did even use incumbency.
The only silver lining if it can be called so is the forced exit of Lawal Daura, erstwhile Director-General of the Directorate of State Security, (DSS) and chief enforcer of the Buhari canvass last week. But with a National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) who doesn’t mind language use that puts him in the category of the intemperate and the Machiavellian, use of incumbency is a strategy unfolding. Additional to Adams Oshiomhole, the APC National Chairman, are those surrounding the president. Having tasted power, they are not in the mood to let go for whatever reasons. That is not so outrageous but that is even as the mystique and public perception that made Buhari an unstoppable train in 2015 are not there anymore, leaving just the military instinct, the police state strategy and an abridged version of the Obasanjo/Ribadu template of power as the fall backs.
Although the first real attempt to apply this abridged template in Benue State – 8 legislators trying to impeach the governor – has collapsed before it even got underway, (because Ortom, the governor got wind of it; because his propaganda is still many steps ahead of and hurtful of Abuja and because everyone on both sides is fearful of a boomerang effect), that does not mean the resort to the Obasanjo/Ribadu template has been abandoned. In summary, a tougher and perhaps a better disposition to relying on incumbency to retain power is unfolding in a way that has been understood in a fragmentary rather than holistic manner so far. It presents Nigeria’s first signal to worry about.
The second must be the possibility of regime fragmentation and its consequences. The key hint for this has come from The Presidency’s denial of any rift there. But, if the untrue is always definitive of the true, then the denial serves rather as a confirmation of the rift being denied. It has been heard, asserted or claimed that if President Buhari were around, he would have used the same ‘live and let live’ narrative that he used in settling his oil minister and the Managing Director of the NNPC a year or so ago rather than sack Daura. Some others are prepared to go as far as assert an Osinbajo threat to go if Daura wouldn’t go as what played out, a threat which procured the concession that Daura be sacked. The argument is simple: No aide can be so powerful as to survive a day longer in office if he takes joy in antagonising the Commander –in-Chief. Daura’s staying power, as the argument goes, could not, therefore, but enjoy the president’s understanding and consent, indicating that Daura was actually doing what he wanted.
The problem, however, is that what he was enforcing was not regime consensus. A section of the regime which must include the Vice-President, the NSA and the anti-corruption czar – Ibrahim Magu – did not share that conception of power. This caucus, through its intellectual spokesperson, Prof Itse Sagay, was thus acting as a roadblock to gold mining of power, something Daura was not unaware of and did take a few steps, the most publicised being the testimonial he wrote to the Senate on Magu. Again, it was Itse Sagay who came out to say that the EFCC Chairman could remain in office in acting capacity. Conscious and/or fearful of the reaction of development partners to doing away with Magu, a precarious balance has kept the peace. Now, the dynamics have, however, worked out in such a way that the Osinbajo – NSA – Magu axis is on the ascendancy. That dynamics can work out in favour of their consolidation of power on the one hand and the morbid decline of the original cabal on the other just as the reverse could also be the case. In other words, there is a regime fragmentation signal here to worry about, depending on how this plays out as well as what consequences they have for the grasses whenever elephants fight or are in embrace.
Analysts are putting the third worrisome signal to the likely crash of the strategy of using incumbency to retain power, especially if the crash produces certain consequences. The attempt to apply it in Benue State has failed for now. That speaks to how the strategy may also crash in 2019. One, the mystique that brought Buhari in 2015 is not there again. Two, problem states have emerged in the president’s geopolitical and regional constituency: Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Kwara and Benue States. Three, if viciousness goes to the extreme, would they not be risking too much to contemplate loss of power? Wouldn’t the prospects of life after power be too much to contemplate? Normally, the elite do not carry viciousness beyond a certain limit.
Fourth, even if the use of incumbency works, how about controlling Nigeria? Retaining Buhari is one thing, keeping the country together could be another. This could be aggravated if the elections were to turn out violent as is being feared by the international conflict management community, (USIP, NDI/IRI, Chatham House, ICG, among others).
The fifth is the virtual collapse of the fight against corruption, having been submerged in the contradictions enveloping the regime. A video of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole railing against Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has been circulating massively. Nothing the APC National Chairman said in the video may be contradicted but, until one or two weeks ago, Ortom was an APC governor. No party or government official said anything against him until he his defection. In fact, the thesis in the anti-corruption circles outside government is that the centre has been quiet about what the governors might have done with the bail outs they collected because majority of them are of the APC. By that is meant that it would be too obvious to ask PDP governors to account without asking their APC counterparts to do so. Meanwhile, it is not pragmatic to ask APC governors to account when that might be the source of their finance for the 2019 power contest. There are other contradictions. Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, two former governors of the PDP are in jail even after crossing over to the APC. At least Joshua Dariye did. Now, what happens to people of similar status who are crossing over to the APC and are being received with great celebration? Similarly, Nuhu Ribadu, the former head of the EFCC who pursued someone such as Orji Uzor Kalu is also in APC as Orji. How can the war survive multiples of contradictions and diffuseness? Nobody can deny the regime the credit for securitising corruption in Nigeria but what if the war is overwhelmed by its own contradictions?
Can Nigeria survive as a country where there is no shame? A minister is reported to have dodged a national ethic. The president fighting corruption has nothing to say about that. The Vice-President and a high official of a leading tendency in the Church is quiet about it. Above all, Itse Sagay, the leading ideologue of the anti-corruption war and himself a Professor of Law, says the minister is too brilliant for the transgression to matter. It is not about the minister as a person, critics say. As a woman who accumulated her experience, it is heart warming to see her on that job. But something else has happened. In a properly functioning capitalism, she would be eased out and since the elite rehabilitate their own, re-integrated somehow later. How come that these vociferous anti-corruption warriors cannot do this is the question on the lips. Instead, they are establishing or re-enforcing precedence. But, where does this sort of thing lead Nigeria to?
The warning signals list extends to the continuing story of a nation always let down by the subjective factor for national leap into greatness: the presidential agency, the leader, the inspirer or the Lee Kuan Yew, Mandela or Mahathir Mohammed; the man or woman with sufficient idealism to fire the national imagination to the peak. It was thought that Obasanjo could do it. Current assessment is that he failed the test because he failed to re-direct the economy away from second slavery ideologies and the associated voodoo paradigms. Alarmed about how Obasanjo was going about it, the patriotic economist, the late Prof Sam Aluko shouted: Obasanjo Will Ruin the Economy, (See The News, 23/02/2004, pages 32 – 37). Obasanjo had sought to shut Aluko down earlier by declaring him senile. Then it was thought that Buhari could do it. Well, three full years into his presidency, Nigeria is still the playground of fortune seekers and fortune tellers dignified as foreign investors. The Nigerian government is estimated to have by now sunk about N700b into sustaining electricity which it claims to have privatised since 2014 or so and yet, the country is basically in darkness.
In Obasanjo’s case, you could write about it, provided you make sure you do not encounter him at the airport or somewhere like that because he might want to engage you physically. He even threatened to engage a musician for exercising his creativity. In Buhari’s case, it is a risky enterprise, one way or the other. As Biodun Jeyifo wrote a while ago, this is the most unproductive capitalism in the world. It is marked by soullessness and depravity, presided over by leaders who either do not care or are too overwhelmed to even shout plenty. Obasanjo is not ignorant about the political economy of Nigeria. It is that he is too located in the West to say no even though he can shout invective at them without any consequences, the kind of thing that most African leaders cannot dare. Buhari was the image breaker in this area and which was part of the attraction to him. Now, it is all too clear he too has taken overdose of Buffalo bulls.
The eighth deadly warning signal being talked about is the strong political personality with which the opposition might even put up a fight. The reigning analysis is that the PDP is in need of a Buhari. That is the Buhari of 2015 with mystique and a winning narrative in himself. Where is that in the PDP or in the entire opposition? There is no doubt about it that Atiku Abubakar is rated to have the capacity to unite the fragmented power elite and provide them with leadership. The question is if he has not willfully injured himself politically by canvassing for restructuring. What is the anger against restructuring in the north? The anger is this: the Yorubas and the Igbos are culturally and linguistically homogeneous and can function as regions. In the north, however, almost no region comes close to being able to do that. What happens to the ethnic and religious minorities in the northwest in the event of restructuring? Transfer them from ancestral lands to the middle belt? How does southern Kaduna fare in the northwest region when managing the historical sentiments on the ground is already a problem? If the northwest and the northeast will have very similar problems in the event of restructuring, the northcentral will be the worst in its unbelievable pluralism. This is what leads to the thesis that in the absence of a Socialist party dictating the pace in the region, regionalism would be so chaotic there it could collapse the country. The question is asked if the Igalas would forfeit the privileges they enjoy now in Kogi and subsume themselves to some regional authority in Jos in the name of a Middle Belt region or whatever. Or if the Tiv would accept to forgo their hegemony in Benue State and march back to Jos in the name of Middle Beltism.
It is not only the establishment that is waiting for Atiku at the polls. The radicals are also waiting for him but their own grudges are different. They have two quick questions they would pose to Atiku when the time comes. The first is why his notion of restructuring is only about the geopolitical? Why is restructuring the country in class or material terms not an issue? In other words, how come is the fact of numerous groups or pluralism a problem when it is actually the very logic of multiplicity that is sustaining the people, especially in the context of a highly informal economy that swivels on reciprocity and trade? And the trading is neither local nor culturally restricted as we see palm oil, yam and garri sellers from the south up north and vice-versa unless and until the variables are manipulated into violent conflict situations. The second is why does he think that restructuring will counterbalance the ideological radius of a non-investing power elite, lacking in the discipline of investment culture? Is Atiku hoping to reflect quickly and reposition himself, beside the Obasanjo opposition to him?
Atiku is used as the example. Besides him, Governor Aminu Tambuwal is being mentioned too. Yes, national spread, no baggage of enemies, no controversial exclusionary statements, mixer across the divides, educated, a cross between the legislature and the executive and the Caliphate myth. But can he beat Buhari in the current context? Above all, what is his standpoint in terms of firm and decisive leadership in relation to dealing with the rot in Nigeria?
And so on and so forth in a race that is still a mixture of contenders, pretenders and kite flyers. Great guys all: Ibrahim Shekaraus, the Kabiru Turakis, the Datti Baba-Ahmeds, the Sule Lamidos, the Rabiu Musa Kwankwasos, the Ibrahim Dankwambos except that none, for instance, has published a manifesto from which anybody can quote anything up till today just as none has said anything which is something that can be situated in any discourse of society. There are those such as Sule Lamido who can argue they have a booklet but is a booklet for running Jigawa State adequate for running Nigeria? In that case, they are all asking the nation to trust their goodness but what is the guarantee that their goodness can confront the degree of rot in Nigeria today? Perhaps, it is their media aides who are not telling us the stuff they are made of. Perhaps, it is the vacuity that is manifesting but how might the country know which is which? Could it also be that the opposition is still hiding the mystery aspirant, the ultimate dark horse?
Intervention has reported the prospects of a Kingibe back-up for the Buhari presidency (see “Kingibe Divides IBB, Buhari, OBJ and Atiku, Widens 2019 Power Struggle”,
That leads to the last warning sign: is it not dangerous for a huge country such as Nigeria to just hope that goodness will prevail somehow without a moral force exercising oversight? Is this not worrisome in a country where the middle class which has forced aside dominant parties or autocracies in other countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico is rather politically fragmented too. After three decades of neoliberalism, the middle class in Nigeria can be said to be exactly what Marx wrote about one of them: “… He is a living contradiction. He will soon learn to play with his contradictions and develop them according to circumstances into striking, ostentatious, now brilliant, now scandalous paradoxes. … There remains only one governing motive, the vanity of the subject and the only question for him, as for all vain people, is the success of the moment, the éclat of the day”.