Is Buhari Presidency End of ‘Sai Kai’ Era in Nigerian Politics?
President Muhammadu Buhari’s battle with ill-health less than half way in his first term is triggering a nationalist revivalist movement against the culture of hailing aspirants to power in Nigerian politics without detailed scrutiny, particularly in relation to learning, character, emotional intelligence, pedigree, track record, health status and overall public service experience. Should the coming insistence on detailed scrutiny catch on, President Buhari might be the last to have been hailed to power in a ‘sai kai’ manner. ‘Sai kai’ is a Hausa language expression which captures the tendency or culture of submission to just one person, or faith and trust in one individual adjudged to have messianic qualities, thereby inherently ruling out comprehensive scrutiny of the individual. It could be taken to mean ‘you must reign’ or ‘it must be you’ or ‘you are the one’. It is a linguistic indicator that Nigeria has barely passed the stage of communalism in terms of development. At that stage, people are more or less the property of local notables, mostly religious leaders, warlords and tycoons. Scholarship adjudged to be ethnocentric claim that, at that level of development, power is ascribed rather than earned. It is a highly contested claim though.
However, emergent thinking groups who have no fears that it would be the most popular and transparent way of saving Nigeria from opaque and shadowy culture of politics say that all Nigerian leaders elected since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999 have been elected as black boxes, without scrutiny. This, they argue, goes against the wisdom that nobody is so good as to lead the other without the other’s appraisal and consent.
Former President Obasanjo was assessed on a grand narrative whose elements included voluntary handing over of power to the civilians in the late 1970s, anticipating and globalising his personality and politics, not being a paid up activist of perceived Yoruba sub-nationalism, being on record as saying SAP ought to have a human face and the feeling that, whatever it was, he should not have been sent to jail by General Abacha. For these reasons, he was assessed the most suitable individual to stabilise Nigeria in the aftermath of the rupture occasioned by June 12. Or, in compensating the south west for the annulment of June 12 which late M K O Abiola was poised to win. Subsequently, nobody had time or was allowed to scrutinise his candidature rigorously. His was straight from prison to presidency.
This was basically the same situation with the making of late Umaru Yar’Adua’s Presidency although almost everyone had heard he barely escaped impeachment for spending nearly three months at a stretch attending to his health outside the country within the first term of his governorship of Katsina State. Half way into the presidential campaign in 2007, he had to be airlifted under emergency conditions for medical attention and President Obasanjo who was railroading him had to make a publicised telephone call asking him if he was dead. Some analysts still argue that those who knew the true situation and had the clout to have burst the experiment kept quiet because Umaru Yar’Adua was a compensation for Shehu Yar’Adua, their commander colleague who fell to General Abacha’s iron rule. Umaru Yar’Adua spent approximately three years before he died in office in 2010.
Dr Goodluck Jonathan was sang into power as the boy who had no shoes and was idealised as the man who would run government without forgetting the many boys and girls who have no shoes in Nigeria of today. Again, nobody considered it or was allowed to find out his actual capacity to problematise Nigeria itself or his grasp of the complexities and managing same. He was only pushed out in 2015 after losing the election to the opposition. For conceding defeat and averting a much feared post election violence, his handlers have been constructing that into an act of exceptional leadership. He has also been here and there, marketing the narrative of the Nigeria he met and the Nigeria he handed over. Very unfortunately, at the end of each of his sessions, something ridiculous that happened under his administration is exposed, completely repudiating his claims.
The ‘sai kai’ instrumentalism turned phenomenal in President Buhari’s case in that the whole Nigeria was in the mood to sing him to power. A number of questions were asked but perhaps those who pursued that option were so overwhelmed or lost in the drumbeat of ‘mai gaskia’, ‘tested and trusted’ slogans that accompanied his campaign. There were others who felt that as long as former President Jonathan was the opponent, nothing and nobody should disrupt Buhari’s coming. In other words, the circumstances were always such that the grand narrative prevailed, disallowing the scrutiny for the specific details that constitutes the soul of personality of people who seek presidential powers. Might this era have come to an end with President Buhari’s ailment less than half way into his first term in office?
This is exactly what some people are thinking in a project that they would soon kick start. There is nothing secret about the impending campaign. It is only not on yet because the brains behind it are still fine tuning the entire undertaking which they believe would shake Nigeria to its foundation. When operationalised, it would mean a reversal of the current practice whereby powerful candidates offer themselves. Instead, winning candidates would be those head hunted by a mosaic of players and interests such as the media, the NGOs, labour, faith community, business, the traditional authority, the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), security agencies and the political parties.
The assumption is that a clearly set out presidential leadership recruitment criteria, each of which can be ticked yes or no is desirable and possible. The activists behind the plan think that it would make financial muscle and godfathers less decisive factors in the struggle for presidential power. Above all, the intending campaigners are convinced that only leaders who have been scrutinised on such criteria as listed in the opening paragraph of this story would be capable of being embodiments or inspiring sources of the Nigerian binder. At the moment, there is no Nigerian binder along which Nigerians can be collectively jerked. The closest to any such collective jerk was the MAMSER experience under the Ibrahim Babangida regime but it is perhaps the only social mobilisation in history which was not constituted around any ideological framework, radical or conservative.
Nigeria, therefore, remains the contrast to many countries where every child is spoken to at birth in terms of core values by which s/he grows up vis-a-vis the Republic. Yet, nations are imagined rather than natural communities. In most cases, the nation preceded the citizen and the citizens were conscientised into nationalism. But there is nothing the Nigerian child internalises at birth or in growing up. Without such conscientisation, Nigerians grow up with only ethnic, regional and religious ideologies, the same issues around which constitutional improvisation have revolved. The inadequacy of the ethnic, regional and religious paradigms in the age of complexity and diffusion have created a crisis of nation building for Nigeria and Nigerians. This crisis manifests most in the ease with which the Nigerians talk about break-up of the country at the slightest chance to do so. It is in this sense that it is being canvassed that presidential leadership recruitment in terms of those whose scrutiny shows a vision or an inspiring source of Nigerian nationalism is the next item on the agenda of Nigerian politics.
The idea is, however, coming at a time leadership is most needed but leadership materials are most scarce. For one, Nigeria has no leadership training school whose products could be expected never to behave below certain moral, technical or professional and political standards. Secondly, with the exception of the University of Ibadan where Vice-Chancellors do not just happen without tutelage, there is nowhere else where a succession plan is in place or works. The PDP tried it, failed to stand by it and has been sunk by the calamity of that failure. The military which has dominated presidential leadership and which operates largely by a ranking order has not been able to develop the society in a transformative sense after so many decades in power.
As still fuzzy as the impending campaign, its promoters say they are clear about what it is about and what it isn’t. They disagree that it could amount to abusing the democratic rights of potential contestants, arguing that democracy is not madness or a game into which everyone must be admitted irrespective of his or her background. Who says that democracy is possible without guidance, they queried, claiming that Nigeria has witnessed a scale of selfishness, greed and sadism in power that only detailed scrutiny could have cured. They are also dismissive of what they see as cheap justification of lack of depth and crudity in power by quoting Machiavelli, insisting that Machiavelli never justified crudity or deceit as all time categories in politics but in the particular circumstance during which he was advising the men of power in the middle ages.
There is still a lot of wait and see attitude in the ranks of the promoters but if the claims are to be believed, this is an idea that operators in strategic sectors of the national community have already bought into. Hence, the earlier reference to it as something of a nationalist revivalism in the offing, transcending tribe, religion and region in Nigeria and seemingly led by people with the capacity to mobilise and push through a political project to, in their own words, rescue Nigeria. Still, there are grey areas.
For instance, do Nigerians exist who would meet criteria as objective as learning, character, emotional intelligence, pedigree, track record, health status, overall public service experience and other ones still being developed in a highly subjective realm as politics? What happens to zoning/rotation of power consensus? What if there is a tie between two aspirants, especially if the tie corresponds to the north-south fault lines? While this may not be a problem within the prime movers, would they have so successfully conscientised all the strata and segments in the larger society to come to grips with that reality? Would the political parties willingly buy into it or would the idea be so popular that they would have no choice than to submit to the theory and practice of tougher scrutiny?
As the promoters say, this is still a work in progress. Should the campaign acquire its own momentum, some of these fears may not even arise. It had better be so overwhelmingly popular because Nigeria runs all sorts of risks today when it should have been the source of inspiration not only for Africa but the entire black world. Very unfortunate!