The ‘Everywhere War’ in APC and the State of the Nation
By Adagbo Onoja
Whether conservative, casual, careless or critical, no one can afford to be indifferent to a ruling party. In that sense, there is something to worry about in respect of the ‘Everywhere War’ that has broken out in Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. Originally, ‘Everywhere War’ was deployed to suggest the widespread or arbitrary nature of the ‘Global War on Terror’. It is adapted here to suggest that the APC as well as the government it formed is now engulfed in wars everywhere. The signals for the space of omnidirectional wars had informed a strenuous call for a government of national unity which was assumed to be capable of shielding the country from the consequences of a centre that should but is finding it difficult to hold. However, the country is still lost in the entertaining value of the crackling. Three of the theatres are most inviting.
The Presidency as a Space of Inter-Cabalistic Tackles
The Presidency is like the poser in the communal rhetoric about where else the eye might be turned to if not the sky. It is the most potent symbol of the nation. It is, in fact, sovereignty because it has all the instruments of sovereign power in its formal and even informal terms. In Africa where the informal sector counts more than the formal sector, the informal powers of a Nigerian president are more fearsome. It is doubtful if voters ponder the implications of investing one individual with the formal and informal powers a Nigerian president enjoys. Can any normal individual resist the temptations that such powers confer on him or her? It is not clear if this was the same thing Atiku Abubakar had in mind when he once called for stripping The Presidency of some of the powers. The world is watching if he would do that should he win the presidency.
The Presidency as a space of war at the moment is composed of two theatres. The first is the image war for and against the president himself. When the image is bad, everything else can go bad. And President Buhari’s image is bad. Only time will tell whether he got the bad image from his many traducers or his image is the coming to the fore of his essential self. For now, the image of someone using corruption as a cover to undo perceived enemies, the image of someone ready to cover up corruption; the image of a supporter of Fulani militia/Islamisation and the image of someone without much grip on knowledge itself are all very pervasively believed. Image is thus a crisis for both the person of the president and his leadership. Very few persons can survive bad image.
In the rough and tumble of Nigerian politics, many powerful people have been brought down or stopped in their track by image, mostly fabricated against them. Jubril Aminu is about the only one that comes to mind whom image did not stop in getting on. Somehow, he appeared to keep getting more all the time, including exceptional reception in the Washington establishment as the Nigerian ambassador to the United States under former president Obasanjo. Aminu would say that, in Nigeria, when they cannot call you ignorant, they say you are arrogant; when they cannot call you an imbecile, they say you are controversial; when they cannot call you incompetent, they say you are autocratic; when they cannot call you dishonest, they say you are eccentric; when they cannot call you a liar, they say you are undiplomatic and when they cannot call you corrupt, they say you are rich. It would take a huge debate to decide whether Aminu’s is testament of the independent minded scholar or a manifesto for arrogance but he leaves food for thought nevertheless.
The question is whether a Nigerian president or President Buhari can afford to borrow much from Aminu’s manifesto. Unfortunately, s/he cannot. The disempowering impact of such an image makes such an option untenable, contrary to what he himself or his handlers might think. Aminu was responding to a very limited audience of academic colleagues and few critics in the media, a theatre in which he had his own commanders at work. Should the president, therefore, try to counter his image and how? These are two important questions to be pondered upon, not by people with pecuniary considerations but from the point of the nexus between the president, Presidency and the ship of the state. In other words, the legitimacy of the state itself is very much tied to the image of presidents. This is not limited to Nigeria but at the heart of the state as a theatre of power.
The second dimension of The Presidency as a space of wars is well known and requires being merely mentioned. Early in the life of the administration, the idea of cabals has been key and the stories came from public statements by individuals who have advantage of ‘hierarchy of credibility’ in the language of news judgment. One is referring to individuals such as Bukola Saraki and the president’s wife. What Nigeria has come to discover now is that there are more cabals than could have ever been imagined. It might be impossible for anyone to come up with an exact number of such centres of influence in the power game in a country such as Nigeria as at now. Above all, the existence of cabals that can undermine or overwrite the presidential trajectory, suggesting slip of presidential grip on power. It makes a very ordinary and even normal feature of politics such as cabals into a frightening threat to democracy because it seems to have been taken too far.
The National Assembly Theatre
This theatre too has two major wars it is prosecuting. There are many minor wars going on there, including those against the Senate President himself. The first one is against Colonel Hammed Ali, the Comptroller-General for the Nigeria Customs Service, (NCS). The second is the non-confirmation of the presidential nominee for Chairmanship of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC).
Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President has been quoted as telling TVC the following: If you don’t want democracy, you can sit in your office and announce anything. Nobody is saying we have monopoly of what is right but there must be consultation. So, all we are saying is consult more”. To the extent that this has not been denied, it is taken as the basis of the war that has been launched from the National Assembly under the Senate President’s chairmanship. What it all means is that what the NASS is doing is informed and deliberate. And that if it were consulted, there would have been no problems. But, what might consultation mean here? Certainly, it cannot be that Ibrahim Magu must be the Chairperson of EFCC. If there are issues to be cleared about him, they must be cleared. The puzzle about the war against him is whether the Senate has suddenly become critical and serious rather than perfunctory or it is just fighting turf wars? For, the screening of presidential nominees in the Fourth Republic has not been such a big deal. It has rather been done in a very entertaining manner. Is Nigeria being put on notice that it is no longer business as usual? In the case of Hammed Ali, an enigma wraps the insistence on him wearing uniform. The question an Intervention interviewee is posing is whether Ali, a retiree and a pensioner can wear uniform when Customs Service is a Department under a ministry and, therefore, makes the CG a civil servant.
Finally, how could all these be happening under a government ran by a political party? Isn’t Nigeria in more trouble than it might have admitted? Does that party have a soul?
Nasir el-Rufai and the Staging of Power
The first ominous sign was Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State not being there to welcome the president from his prolonged medical vacation in the UK. It sent tongues wagging because it was not typical of somebody who is good at staging power. So, what happened he was not there? Obviously, the president was aware the governor was not in the country but he had no idea when he was due back or he wouldn’t have asked the Deputy-Governor the question. His absence might have to pursue his heart’s desires but shortly after, the leak came of his critique of this round of Buhari’s adventure in power. Having laid claims to persuading General Buhari not to call it quits yet in 2011, he has the right to be worried enough to write a critique. It is still a sign of conflict because it indicates a parting of agenda, whatever the agenda might have been between the two upon which he considered Buhari’s candidature in 2015 too crucial. Whether he himself is running Kaduna State in an exemplary manner is open to question. That introduces a second conflictual dimension to his letter. What if he were running a model that he could point to for the president in case the old man is simply having problem gathering himself up?
It remains unclear why two materials against Nasir el-Rufai came up almost around this time. One is former President Obasanjo’s testimonial on the governor in his book My Watch while the second is what came from the NASS about el-Rufai not being qualified to have even contested election as governor in the first case. Reading the Obasanjo testimonial, the best thing would have been if it were not published at all. It would remain incomprehensible why Obasanjo who is much, much el-Rufai’s senior ever came to write such a testimonial for someone he mentored. It might be argued that el-Rufai invited it but Obasanjo could have called him and walloped him verbally and let the matter die. Discourse analysts would say it is just Obasanjo’s opinion, completely subjective and should be taken with a pinch of the salt but the same discourse analysts would also say that discourse is constitutive of power. However anyone sees it, it is not just about relationship between the governor and the former president gone sour but about upper limits in the conduct of leaders. There is almost nothing anyone can do about it anymore but it is worth noting for the sake of the future and for the picture it paints of Nasir: a man in trouble seeking to save another man (President Buhari) from falling into trouble.
Added to how he complicated southern Kaduna violence by talking about compensation for invaders and given his war with Senator Shehu Sani as well as labour unions against his culture of demolition, there is the element of staging of power in his critique. Except the president asked for the critique as some are speculating, there is an element of putting his position in writing so that he could wash himself clean of whatever mess afterwards. Couldn’t he have adopted David Stockman’s approach many years back? Stockman was the Director of Budget who called President Reagan a voodoo economist for his Supply-Side Economic Strategy. He spoke as if he was exercising a public policy option. Of course, Reagan called him and chewed him out but he stayed on the job, leaving much, much later but not out on account of the criticism.
With what appears a hot pursuit by dragging MD of the Nigerian Ports Authority into the fray, the president couldn’t have been the one who asked him for a critique. So, Nasir el-Rufai joins those who have since found the president not their type. A proper case of trouble in Form Six!
Issues arising from these theatres should lead us to a question. If The Presidency is at war with itself in terms of cabals at work and the image of the president’s own personality and political leadership; the NASS is complaining of not being consulted and individuals who brought the president back from retirement are all moving in different directions, problematic as some of those individuals themselves, are we not then talking of Nigeria that is unknowable, and in a permanent state of flux? In the 21st century, a state of flux may not be such an alarming thing but is the Nigerian society a 21st century one?