The week is ending with Nigerians still deeply engaged with ripples of a military exercise that has turned out to be basically a crackdown on the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB), the front organisation articulating a secessionist agenda for the Igbos in Nigeria. Predictably, reactions have greeted this development, of which the representative ones so far must be those of Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president, who is cautioning against another civil war and calling for more dialogue instead; the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN) which said in its communiqué after its Second Plenary in Jalingo that deployment of military personnel could ignite “a fire that could turn into an uncontrollable conflagration”; Femi Falana, an outspoken Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN) warning against involving the army in arrest, investigation and prosecution of Nnamdi Kanu or any other civilian in the country. That, in his opinion, resides with the police constitutionally empowered to maintain law and order.
In what might be the most thorough legal opinion so far, Falana who grants presidential powers to deploy the military to quell insurrection, however, insists there has to be such an insurrection before that can be tenable and Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, a notable columnist who endorsed Falana’s legalism by calling for withdrawal of the military and its replacement with the police. Although Ibrahim situated Operation Python Dance 11 in the larger context of recent tradition of groups challenging state authority, he ended up handing over responsibility for solution to political and community leaders to douse tension and resist provocation in order to keep the peace. That is the same political and community leaders whose fragmentation underpins a broader campaign for restructuring, a concept capable of different interpretations and outcomes, from the most progressive to the most awful and unintended consequences.
In this context, those who insist on transcending a problem solving position and its crisis of trying to do so without asking where the problem might be coming from would say that Nigeria is experiencing its worst degree of elite fragmentation, producing the spate of contestation of the Nigerian State, from Boko Haram to IPOB. And that the only way to prevent the emergence of more MENDS, more Boko Harams, more IPOBs and so on requires situating current crisis in elite fragmentation. Neither Nnamdi Kanu nor the leaders of any of the insurgent groups has agency that explains the role players they are now if the degree of fragmentation today were not the case. Operation Python Dance or whatever code name such operations bear must, therefore, be put in its larger context.
The argument is that no nation can rise beyond the consensus of its elite. But the elite in Nigeria has fragmented into havens of vengeance and revenge, producing violent counter-statism by those who feel ousted in the hegemonic brawl on the one hand and, on the other hand, the spectacles of hot pursuits and violent crackdown. The situation can lead to an all consuming crisis if not properly diagnosed. The grand alliance built on the frustrations against the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), in 2015 has cracked very badly. A ruling class that was seeking escape from collapse of its power in 2015 found a rallying point in a Muhammadu Buhari and made him president but only to plunge into a deeper cesspool two years after. Whereas up to 2015, it could still contemplate and actually hold a dialogue, that is almost impossible now because only angry rhetoric is on offer at the moment. It is instructive that more perceptive members of this class such as former President Obasanjo have flatly rejected another national political conference. For President Buhari, anyone with any claims on the nation should find his or her ways to the National Assembly.
This is the position of two of the most important players in ruling class politics today. They are important in the sense that Obasanjo has aspirational claims to giving leadership to ruling class politics while presidential powers makes Buhari important, given the leverage the position allows him to exercise. Again, the Catholic Bishops Conference made a very direct reference to this leverage when it put the problem in the communiqué already referenced to “the inability of the government to address the inequitable situation in the country” that it says provides “breeding ground for violent reactions, protests and agitations, which exploit the grievances of different segments of the country”. This is a reference to the leverage of power to “remove everything that smacks of injustice, give everybody and every part of our country a sense of belonging”, a remarkable intervention given that the Bishops based their position on “the reality on ground and the verdict of most of our people across the nation – irrespective of religious affiliation, ethnic group or social status”.
Either in his lack of interest or lack of know-how or both in organising ruling class politics, the president has been very much unlike Obasanjo who used both force and guile to rein in politicians ‘under his watch’, sometimes to the point of kangaroo impeachment of elected governors. Ordinarily, the president of Nigeria could take along class leadership with that office. Age, exposure and presidential powers enabled Obasanjo to seek to do that. How successful he was remains in speculation. Buhari’s articulation of an anti-corruption war makes him the exact opposite of Obasanjo or Shagari who was interacting closely with his opponents. Ensuring loot recovery has, paradoxically, weakened Buhari’s grip on his class. It remains to be seen how he can assert and sustain control over them beyond 2019 in the absence of a Buhari who will commit class suicide by turning to a mass movement in order to crush ‘corruption fighting back’. All these are happening at a time the ruling class is broken into camps fearful of their own shadows.
It is so much that not only is there a secessionist agitation in the Southeast which is the one in the news now, the Southwest is no less ‘quiet’. At the last time, it stood on restructuring Nigeria along six regions with each developing at its own pace. It is a problematic resolution in so far as it entails reconstituting existing states into six regions. While that might be achievable in the culturally homogenous Southwest and Southeast, nobody can predict how it would go in the Northeast, Northcentral, Southsouth and even the Northwest. Or what happens to the civil service of each of the existing states when the civil service of the new regions are being formed. The other question is how the process of creation of states which has taken 33 years between 1963 when the Mid-West Region was created and 1996 when the last set of states were created could be undone in just within one year. Restructuring is thus a dimension of the current breakdown of consensus.
The difficulty is compounded by the how question: since the APC alliance has broken down or is rapidly breaking down, what is the next anchorage? Is it one of the new political parties or a return to the PDP or an entirely new grand alliance? How does the ruling class create popular confidence in whichever option it turns to but which would be filled with same names and actors complicit in 16 years of PDP, two years of APC, none of which has settled the consensus crisis of the power elite in Nigeria or offered the people any New Deal?
Instructively, even the former president has been shifting from one potential presidential material for 2019 to another. What looked like endorsement of Aminu Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto State initially has since included Senator David Mark and recently Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Yobe State. Meanwhile, the cracks in the grand alliance are solidifying. The Atiku Abubakar current has since blown up, with a serving minister in the Buhari regime declaring to everyone else’s chagrin that she is for Atiku in 2019, not Buhari. There is a Tambuwal current to the extent that the governor has been reported as expressing regret in crossing over to the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC). Although this has been denied, denial could also be confirmation. This is not to forget the Kwankwaso bulge in the same APC.
The search for leadership of ruling class politics would then have favoured Atiku Abubakar on account of resource power, political structure, contacts and commanders, experience, among others. Generally regarded as having built his own empire in politics, he would have been the ruling class pilot but the fear that he would not be controllable makes that option unlikely. The Obasanjo faction in particular would resist an Atiku ascendancy unless and until he can conquer Obasanjo. Obasanjo may, however, not be easily conquered by an Atiku, given Obasanjo’s manoeuvrability. Within few months, Obasanjo has moved across several presidential materials, reportedly landing on Ibrahim Dankwambo at the moment. It shows difficulty in finding a functional manager of power whose competence would help the class to re-assert grip on power. Yet, as long as there isn’t that, so long would it determine the significance and insignificance of the Nnamdi Kanus or so-called youths and their escalatory politics of difference in Nigerian politics today. Not only would they remain key players as long as the elite cannot find consensus and, therefore, no red lines in unacceptable political behaviours in the national community, newer and perhaps worse variants of Nnamdi Kanus could emerge. It is a frightening scenario.