Nigeria is back to sorting out its indiscretions 25 years ago when the freest election up to that time was annulled few hours into declaration of the final results. It was a very interesting election in that a Muslim-Muslim ticket was acceptable and one individual was able to make himself acceptable across one of the most complicated but natural federation in the world-Nigeria. But junta politics annulled the election, provoking resistance of diverse ideological temperaments – class, ethno-regional, party and generational.
June 12 and the aftermath has been a loudly ‘silent’ factor in Nigerian politics since then, defining who comes to power at what time. On June 6th, 2018, however, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a revivalism by announcing June 12th as the new date for Democracy Day as opposed to the May 29th that the holiday has been observed since 1999 and that was in addition to honouring Chief Abiola, the June 12 martyr with the highest of Nigeria’s national honours – the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, (GCFR). Chief Abiola, it seems, is so far the only recipient of that honour without actually serving in that office.
Ordinarily, that should have been a great day in Nigeria, a healing gesture, to use Abiola’s daughter’s reckoning with it. The basis for such could be said to reside in three highlights of President Buhari’s address: the revivalism as assuaging of feelings, putting it on record that a wrong was done and that Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. Fortunately and unfortunately, the president’s statement is coming against the background of a deadly power game unfolding in the country and in which the battle line is drawn and combatants are being mobilised into taking positions on both sides. As it is now, only God would know when and how it will end. Being a game without referees, it can be difficult to predict the duration of each duel. It is worse when it involves a sitting president versus some well heeled attackers. In such circumstances, very few would accept to be referee because it is a terrible fate across Africa to be seen or be thought to be on the other side of power. So, duration depends on who establishes him or herself first and how quickly. Such contender is then the winner, depending though on the issues in question, the context of the fight and the power relationship between the combatants.
June 12 thus emerges as the issue over which the power game is being fought at the moment. Before June 12 surfaced, it was claims of mediocrity, nepotism, non-performance and condoning of corruption against the president. And to which the president replies by dismissing such charges as coming from the corrupt people, some of whom he said were those who staged a coup and overthrew him from power in 1985. His ideologues say it is because the corrupt know what is coming that they are against his re-election. It has been a tightly drawn battle line, with each side offering a powerful discourse of the Other. As is with such discursive practices, the real reasons are rarely clear to the masses. It is the grand claims that are put on show.
It is probably too much to expect an elected president to remain above politics in all instances. To that extent, many are in the mood to excuse President Muhammadu Buhari’s sudden and surprising entry into June 12 politics. Whether that applies to the virtually unqualified acceptance of the honouring of Chief Abiola, the unarguable martyr of the June 12, fiasco remains unclear. The mood on the ground before the sudden announcement on June 6th, 2018 would have suggested it was unlikely to be such a consensual response to any such move. On June 5th, 2018, the National Assembly (NASS) had passed a resolution asking the president to direct the security agencies “to curtail the sustained killings of Nigerians across the country and protect life and properties of Nigerians as this is the primary duty of any responsible Government”. As the National Assembly today is still the institutional expression of the popular will, its documented view to that effect serves to validify the narratives of presidential complicity in the security siege on the country. It was such a scary rating of the Executive arm by the Legislative arm of the government. The assumption was that the president had suffered such a normative knockout. But that was before the very positive reception of the president’s June 12 revivalist move, especially by the key families of those who lost their lives in the June 12 struggle. It suggests the move has been some master stroke in diluting the NASS resolution and the national mood the resolution spoke to. For almost a week, blaming the president over escalating violence in Benue, Plateau, Zamfara, Birnin Gwari and Doguwa in Kano State took the back seat. Reference has already been made to Hafsat-Costello, Chief Abiola’s daughter and a key victim of the June 12 crisis’s moving statement calling the presidential recognition for the father a healing gesture.
Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobelist, is, however, saying the revivalism is not the closure for June 12 but the beginning. Aside from calling for a ‘Hall of Shame’ in Nigeria, he is arguing that “There are far too many traumatised individuals walking around the streets as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictators that this nation has ever known”. This is a sentence pregnant with ideological and policy implications, depending on how an interpreter understands it. It could mean a welfare policy for the many victims of a brutal dictatorship or conscripting a particular dictator into the ‘Hall of Shame’, something which could be difficult for President Buhari to accomplish, having once joined others to absolve the particular dictator Soyinka is believed to have in mind. Additionally, whatsapp messages are already circulating whether the president is also going to apologise to ex-President Shehu Shagari he overthrew in 1983 or to General Shehu Yar’Adua who also suffered a different form of annulment and subsequently died while in jail under Abacha, the unnamed dictator? It just shows how complex the country is!
Away from the June Twelvers, the entire revivalism politics is reconstituting Nigerians into different groups: the IBB group which annulled the election; the Abacha group in whose hands Chief Abiola died; the Obasanjo group who are seen as having failed to have honoured the late martyr; the Buhari group who are behind the revivalism; the Southern elders who have flatly rejected the revivalist move, preferring that the president goes for Restructuring instead. There could be other groups/voices that have yet to speak.
This is the basis for one or two plausible but yet unforeseen anti-theses of the move that scenario watchers are beginning to point at. One such unforeseen outcome is whether Nigeria might have seen all there is to it from a crisis such as June 12 that has a history of forcing someone somehow to step aside against his or her desire and wish. Have the dynamics worked out in such a way that there may not be a repeat of someone stepping aside for someone as the scripts unfolds? The president has granted Chief Abiola the (GCFR) award in addition to apologising to his family. The NASS has asked INEC to publish the results. What’s next after apology and publication of the results if not actualisation of June 12? And what is actualisation of June 12 if not an Ambassador Babagana Kingibe presidency, especially if the president is scared out of power. Kingibe was the Vice-Presidential candidate to the late Chief Abiola. The analysis is that military elements can do anything when scared out of power as when IBB gave the job to Chief Ernest Shonekan, a civilian, when he was scared out of office. In this case, Kingibe has the status of a natural heir apparent long before this time.
Those asserting this claim argue that the diffuse nature of this re-composition is such that no one knows what demands will follow the revivalism and from which quarters because it is like the revivalism has opened a floodgate. In an election year in which the second term ambition of the president is highly contested, what stops the politics of June 12 revivalism from assuming just any tactical move once such a move undercuts a particular enemy? And what if such a pragmatic move makes June 12 the only election on the ground for both those for and those against it, thus making Babagana Kingibe the ultimate beneficiary of June 12, like him or not?
The question of who to watch for this sort of reading of June 12 revivalist politics is still unclear. Some contacts swear that there is no room for Ambassador Kingibe in any script just as there are those insisting that “Kingibe is a heir apparent”. There is a third group that are categorical about no room for Kingibe because President Buhari is set on a second term “when he will move politics to a revolutionary plane”. If journalism is about “the hierarchy of credibility”, then it is almost impossible to dismiss any of these claims on the face value. Instructively, the ‘heir apparent’ status of Ambassador Kingibe predates this moment.
What seems reasonable to infer about the persistent mentioning of Kingibe is that, while President Buhari might only not seek second term if it were too evident he would suffer a humiliating electoral disgrace, a role might have been set aside for Kingibe that makes otherwise well located persons to list him. Otherwise, the president is in the race to, as his aides say, do a ‘revolution’. This is also what a top traditional ruler said recently that Buhari is being fought because those fighting him knew that on getting second term, he would take far reaching decisions that would miniaturise his predecessors. This power game might turn out a multi-script play!
Touched directly by what it would call excesses of the Executive arm, especially towards its Chairman, the National Assembly (NASS) has fired what is to, all intents and purposes, a warning shot to the president. The legislature which held a Joint Executive session earlier today left no one in doubt about invoking its Constitutional powers if nothing is done to address its resolutions at today’s session.
In the move seen in some quarters as overdue, the NASS is specifically demanding presidential directive to the security agencies “to curtail the sustained killings of Nigerians across the country and protect life and properties of Nigerians as this is the primary duty of any responsible Government”; an end to, in the words of the federal law makers, the systematic harassment and humiliation by the Executive of perceived political opponents, people with contrary opinions including legislators and Judiciary by the police; strict adherence to the Rule of Law and protection for all citizens by the President and his appointees; the president being held accountable for the actions of his appointees sincerity on the part of the Federal Government in the fight against corruption by not being selective and also prosecuting current appointees that have cases pending against them.
Other demands still in their own words include protection and preservation of the NASS by the Federal Government of Nigeria by not interfering in its business and prosecuting those who invaded the Senate to seize the mace recently; taking immediate steps to contain the growing level of unemployment and poverty in Nigeria especially now that we have advantage of the oil price having risen to $80 per barrel; allowing democratic elections to be competitive and inclusive by removing the present reign of fear and intimidation particularly as we approach the forthcoming 2019 elections.
The Assembly is warming up to embrace the international community as expressed in the IPU, APU, ECOWAS, CPA, Pan African Parliament, EU, UN, US congress, UK Parliament and the domestic civil society to secure Nigeria’s democracy. Both chambers of the National Assembly passed a vote of confidence on the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as the entire leadership of the National Assembly. It went further to reaffirm an earlier resolution of Vote of No Confidence on the Inspector General of Police “who does nothing other than preside over the killing of innocent Nigerian and consistent framing up of perceived political opponents of the President and outright disregard for constitutional authority, both executive and legislative”.
It is difficult to guess how the Executive would react to this move. Most times, it underplays all such indictment by issuing a press statement that dodges a fight, only to bring back the fight at its own time. Speculating who of the two conflict parties will be smarter pugilist in this battlefront would remain the game in town in Nigerian politics for the rest of the week unless the NASS follows up with another upper cut too quickly. If that happens, then the gulf might widen.
The vicious struggle for the soul of Nigeria has, fitfully, finally and formally staggered onto the streets. Now, everyone, even the blind, can see it. If it is not in the volley of well aimed verbal missiles issuing from The Presidency on all cylinders, signifying a President Muhammadu Buhari on the move for 2019, rhetorically and otherwise, then it must be in the pot-shots on the Presidency, particularly the ones fired from Kano and Kaduna. Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai said the president has been successful only in noise making. As one of the very few living traditional politicians with Left background, it would not be surprising if quite a number of people did not sleep in the Villa that night. He was followed by Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi saying the president is held hostage by mad people. These are considered significant statements in terms of the pattern of ruling class constellations unfolding. But the president is soldiering on nevertheless as we shall see below.
Meanwhile, disagreement within the ruling party has spilled onto the streets. Clearly, the battlefront which has opened between the Senate President and the Executive Arm is crossing the red line of power struggle by presenting Nigeria to the world as a country whose Head of the Legislature had anything to do with armed robbery. That may be good for some people but it stretches the image of the country too thin. To undo that dent now would take years and lots of efforts because it constitutes a big flash on the screens of researchers compiling indicators of instability across the universities, think tanks and researchers, INGOs and other new such actors in global security.
There is no knowing what the outcomes would be when added to other sites of rupture such as the continued killings, (Ekiti, Benue, Edo, Plateau, Zamfara, Nasarawa and Kogi last week); rupture in the ruling party where the contest of power between the legacy components and the n-PDP has blown up to near irreconcilable dimension and, of course, the intensified search for a consensus candidate to fight out the election between the incumbent and such an entrant.
Notwithstanding the commotion, the president is soldiering on. How far it would go is not clear but, for now, the president who had nothing to say (or, was he bidding his time?) as very tragic events unfolded between January and March in particular now appears to have found his voice at last. Corruption is the organising concept of his move but he is weaving other claims in the process. Two of them are most interesting. The first one, now most forcefully and more regularly articulated, is his contention that it is those who stole public resources who are organising chaos. By that, he means that the herdsmen involved in the violence across the country are actually ‘herdsmen’ or organised players by the people he is pointing fingers at. Interestingly, this was not his initial theory. The sequence of his intervention has been silence, armed herdsmen, Gaddafi killers before the new theory. Perhaps, presidents also adjust theories.
The more pointed shots were fired earlier on May 15th, 2018 at the commissioning of the new office complex of the EFCC where he declared that corruption itself overthrew him in 1985. In other words, the masterminds of that coup were on a corruption-inspired mission. Whao! Not quite a few clapped for him even as they wondered why he never began to harp on this until the onset of the campaigns.
Agreeable or not agreeable, alleged corrupt politicians across the country are being hauled into the courts, most of them ending up in jail for at least a week or so. It is a powerful way of imposing a moral censure on the individuals involved because, being arraigned for corruption diminishes anyone, whether he or she is found guilty or not guilty. It must, therefore, have been carefully planned over time to coincide with the onset of campaigns. The initial arrows in the direction of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the angry godfathers, does not appear to be flying yet. It has only fetched the president a put down by General Obasanjo. But, who knows, there might be more of such disclosures. Some snippets have started circulating in relation to General Abdulsalami Abubakar although that one has not been such a vocal member of the cohort, (the club of four or five retired Generals wielding tremendous power in the country, formally and informally) against the president’s second term bid. It could be that a friend to an enemy is an enemy. Meanwhile, not a few are sure that before long, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar might get his own share of the anti-corruption firing. And so on and so forth!
The contradictions appear to have worked out in a manner that corruption is the issue framing the current intra-class warfare in Nigeria. Pessimists say that could be the eve of anarchy because the conflict parties appear so balanced and victory or defeat could be too costly. Optimists say the warfare is what would trigger or catapult Nigeria into a more qualitative era. Whichever line one follows, it would appear to be that, after four epochal wars against corruption in recent memory, (Murtala/Obasanjo purge in the mid 1970s; the 1983/4 arrest, detention and trial of several politicians of the Second Republic by the 1983-1985 Buhari military regime; the setting up of the EFCC in 2003 and the current phase), thesis and anti-thesis are about to build up into a synthesis although why this heightened dimension is coinciding with the eve of election is something many people are unable to explain or understand.
If it is true that on presidential agency does the future of Nigeria substantially lie, then the bigger problem remains. There is a strong belief here and there that an overwhelming opponent can defeat the incumbent hands down if the election is all a matter of first-past-the-post. But who might be that overwhelming candidate, with capacity for qualitative and nation building governance in an extraordinarily plural Nigeria?
After Ibrahim Dankwambo, the PDP governor of Gombe State, there are hardly any new names emerging yet although one of the angry godfathers might come up with a dark, dark horse. That is a strong possibility. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is right in the race. He has even started appointing the henchmen of his campaign. Until the dark horse is unveiled, each of the two is gathering moss. With the frequency of movements between the Northeast and the South-south nowadays, something would appear to be clicking. Governor Dankwambo might be lucky, not being vulnerable in any way to the anti-corruption shelling because he has immunity till the end of the Buhari regime in May 29, 2019. Should he declared elected, there is no chance of anybody arresting him before midnight of May 2019 and by which time he would have become Mister President and come under a stronger immunity. That is if he has any allegations of corruption against him. Right now, none is known to the public yet. But with what more progressive doctrine of power is he ever associated with? Some people are crediting him with being the designer of the TSA mechanism when he was Accountant-General of the Federation about a decade ago? So, would his be the arrival of a technocrat in power? Is that the presidential agency Nigeria needs today? Only time will tell.
What about the dark horse? Not much is known about him yet beyond that it is a he, not a she. The assumption is that any dark horse coming into the fray must be more formidable than anyone already in the race. Again, only time will tell. Lastly, Atiku Abubakar! He is rated to have the cash and the capacity, although the substance of the capacity has not been interrogated. He has started quoting Lee Kuan Yew, the late Prime Minister of Singapore routinely cited as the ultimate example in compacting an extra-ordinarily diverse city-state as Singapore and transforming it from a ‘Third’ to a First World. But does Atiku subscribe to Yew’s categorical discourse of social transformation in the idea of a fair as opposed to a welfare society? If he says he does, has he got how such a doctrine can be operationalised in Nigeria?
It is not impossible for a swing in choice to occur because of the multiple calculations of the powerful local, regional class and global interests and their agents in the negotiations going on here and there on 2019. Surprises could still occur just as some stars could fade, some to the dynamics at work and others as damaged brands in the anti-corruption warfare. But the strategy of damaging brands could equally be counter-productive because in an angry and acrimonious country like Nigeria of today, one person’s damaged brand could be another person’s model. And some people could be decisive in electoral outcome, even from jailhouse.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is a dictator. That is the sort of thing one hears more frequently about him but he is a dictator who has delivered development to a society that went through genocide. A 43 year old young man has just taken over power in Ethiopia, an ancient African State and, so far, everyone is saying that if he continues the way he is going, Ethiopia would soon be alright. What is he doing right? Educated or informed governance, manifesting in how he dashed to flashpoints of discontent and mellowed hardened hearts! By education, we do not mean PhD but political education. In Nigeria, no one ever comes to power with a self-understanding that proclaims a categorical contention about what the country should be like. All of them come to power talking about development in terms of mega and mini projects without EVER talking about an overarching framework. None! The latest is President Buhari who gave the impression that he was a statist. After three years, it is not clear if the regime has anyone there who has ever heard about the word statism. Might this country have been cursed?
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