Analysts who frame the unfolding scenario in Nigeria as a crisis of Buhari’s elephant in relation to electoral democracy might have a more than interesting story. The idea is that, by capturing power in 2015, President Buhari entered the club of prestige or star hunters in Nigeria. But with only one governor in a coalition in which some member-groups have as many as five governors, Buhari effectively became a lone hunter. His foray immediately became the story of the proverbial lone hunter who confronts a dilemma once he kills an elephant. All lone hunters lack the logistics of carrying an elephant home. Without calling on other hunters, loners can make nothing of an elephant or of the feat of killing an elephant. But going back to the village to invite other hunters to help means loss of control on the question of how the elephant might be best used.
According to this narrative, APC has turned out to be nothing more than a machine to seize federal power. How to manage that power in terms of serving the people or what to do with victory have eluded both the president as president and the party. Both have been overwhelmed by the victory of 2015. While they could come together in 2015 to fight or perish at the feet of a common enemy, 2019 has no such clear enemy. The enemy is now internal –combustion with deadly consequences for the party as well as Nigeria. The conclusion is that Buhari’s team has failed Buhari. Buhari has been confronted with the tragedy of a ‘Diverted Mandate’.
The tragedy is said to be complete when the president who, uncritically, accepts and obviously enjoys being addressed as the leader of the party asks another party top ranker to take on the responsibility of reconciling the party. With what leverage would Asiwaju Tinubu accomplish such a task where the party structures failed and where the president could not intervene? It remains to be seen.
To the crisis of the lone hunter has now been added the crisis of a trance. The president has been described as being in a trance, meaning he is without a functional reality check mechanism. And this is by his own friend, Wole Soyinka, the country’s only Nobelist so far. Coming at a time of strange social features, there are many who are not dismissing Soyinka’s claim. It is also an interesting claim since Obasanjo made reference to the need for the president to thank God for overcoming his ill-health and take a rest. That was in his January 23rd, 2018 open mail to the president.
In summary, Nigeria has presented President Buhari with a Moment of Truth, with members of his own social class – the power elite – asking him to abdicate. This ranges from the Obasanjos, the Babangidas, the Iyorchia Ayus, the Junaid Mohammmeds and so on. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN) may not be included on this list because it paid the president a visit recently. But it would appear it went on a mission of home truth if only one took its emotively powerful but reasoned paragraph from the speech of Archbishop Kaigama who led his colleagues up there: “Your Excellency, there is too much suffering in the country: poverty, hunger, joblessness, insecurity, violence, fear… the list is endless. Our beloved country appears to be under siege. Many negative forces seem to be keeping a stranglehold on the population, especially the weaker and defenceless ones. There is a feeling of hopelessness across the country. Our youths are restive and many of them have taken to hard drugs, cultism and other forms of violent crime, while many have become victims of human trafficking. The Nation is nervous”
The Bishops and other critics have many features to point at to buttress their claims. The first would be the protracted fuel queues in a situation in which the president is the Oil Minister and the Commander-in-Chief, meaning there is no one to blame for the queues other than himself. Fuel queues are nothing new in Nigeria but not after increasing fuel pump price from N86 to N145 in one fell swoop in 2016. It has never been done on that scale in Nigerian history. Insecurity remains on the rise beyond Boko Haram, extending in particular to herdsmen and ‘herdsmen’ violence, particularly around Benue, Taraba, Southern Kaduna, Nasarawa and, of course, the banditry around Zamfara State. This is not to talk about armed robbery, kidnapping and even domestic violence such as suicide. An anti-corruption war with counter-productive consequences in terms of the fighting back capacity of self-perceived victims has thrown an otherwise welcome move into disarray. The economy is in dire straits. As if these are not enough, the deeply divided country is facing an election year.
Ordinarily, this particular election should be a very welcome one, elections being the process by which a democratic government is brought into being and there being no superior process than the government of a country as far as managing modern complexity such as Nigeria’s current stalemate. It is the government of the day which compacts a society, using discourse, the structure, institutions and, when the need arises, force. But would this election be such that would bring such a government into being? Can Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) win honourable and convincing victory in 2019 in the light of the current stalemate without throwing the society into utter chaos?
In 2015, this was also the same question on the ground. The answer was No. The government at the time stood in no position to win convincingly and honourably. Everyone held his or her breadth. In the end, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent at the time, resolved the issue in favour of Nigeria’s being. Whether it was his own initiative or that of some spooky do-gooders who frightened him with the prospects of life in The Hague is besides the point now. The point is that he saw greater wisdom in freedom from prosecution and the good life of being an African statesman. Today, he is living it.
In 2019, what would be the answer from the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari? Many do not think he can win convincingly. It has nothing to do with whether he has performed or failed to perform. It has more to do with his unfolding or enactment of himself and of his government in such a manner that both him and the government are seen to lack a framework capable of mediating progress and diversity. This reflects in the charge of nepotism that has become the perceived regime marker. In fact, it is to the extent that some are saying that his re-election would mean the disintegration of Nigeria. Again, whether this perception rhymes or whether the speaker has his or her own agenda for saying so is not the issue. What has become the issue is that the president is perceived as such. And that matters because it then means that the Eldorado the president might think he is taking Nigeria to no longer matters. It is that while some still think he is on a mission of leading Nigeria to an Eldorado, many no longer think or perceive that capacity in him any longer.
In such circumstances, the easiest way out would have been for the president to forgo a re-election gambit. In Zimbabwe and in South Africa, both Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma retained tremendous capacity to create instability. They all refused to take that option even as both argued their innocence. Theirs is a claim of innocence that cannot be dismissed because truth is hopelessly relative. It seems Nigeria is saying that if Zuma had to pay for the ‘crime’ of State Capture, (organised corruption) in South Africa, then someone must pay for Cabal Capture in Nigeria. But, what are the emerging scenarios?
- The President Dares All and Goes for Broke:
In this emerging scenario, the president goes ahead to contest for re-election in spite of whatever implications for himself, the APC and democracy. With a horde urging him to recontest, aided by Buhari’s own self-understanding or sense of power as a cleansing mission, he might dare his critics and risk a civil war between the dog and the baboon. His strategists appear to be calculating on incumbency and associated advantages but would Buhari be an exception to the rule? The rule in this case is that every incumbent stands to lose the moment members of his own class are set for a test of strength with him. This is a sociological home truth and it would be interesting to see how it works out in this case, recollecting that Obasanjo rendered it unworkable in 2003 but remembering that Obasanjo has better foot works than Buhari in Nigeria type of political environ.
The key questions on this option are whether the president and those urging him to recontest can afford to ignore some of what former presidents such as Obasanjo and IBB said; whether the APC can still win in some of the states they won in 2015; whether there are new states the APC can win in 2019 which it did not win in 2015, etc. It is also worth asking if the president stand any chance in a test of strength against the consensus of his predecessors when the same elements removed him from power in the 1980s without firing a shot and can do it more easily under electoral politics. Is there a joker such as rigging and would such a joker work in the current situation without the APC being stopped in its track? Won’t such be so much of a moral baggage that would simply undermine the idea of the Second term? Or, does Asiwaju Tinubu has a magic wand that would see the rebirth of the APC via reconciliation process involving conflicts in which the Third party is a conflict party? For, it was the same Tinubu who asked the APC National Chairperson to resign at some point in the recent past. That is beside his case with Bukola Saraki, the Senate President. Is it Tinubu also who would be reconciling Mister President with APC governors such as Benue? In a major spoils war as is taking place in the APC, how would one member, no matter how powerful, ensure reconciliation without convulsions?
The first tragedy in the event that the sociological truth holds true would be its transformation of Goodluck Jonathan into a Buhari’s teacher in statesmanship. That would be such a paradox for a neophyte in every sense of the word to teach a retired General (Generals do not retire, we are told) of the Nigerian Army when to and when not to go to war.
- A Successor with Game Changing Capability
Intervention has done elaborate reports on this possibility of an option, (see “Kingibe: President Buhari Flies a Successor Kite”, January 31st, 2018/www.intervention.ng). At the moment, there is nothing to subtract or add to that report.
- Alternative Internal Force within APC
This is where the ‘other’ cabal in the APC which though not opposed to Buhari as a person is opposed to the Villa cabal and would take advantage of any opportunity to seize the high ground. They haven’t got fantastic images but they have got the self and group confidence, they have resource muscle and they have locational advantage or the advantage of insertion in power. Add these to the advantage of age on their side. Above all, if care is not taken, they can get the president to give them the spiritual blessing in one flash of a moment, leaving other contenders stranded or bewildered. In this permutation, Nigeria can look towards a Nasir el-Rufai/Rotimi Amaechi pair, come 2019.
- Departing ‘Subversives’ from the APC
Does anyone imagine a Kwankwaso versus Buhari contest in 2019? It could happen. It could happen should the dynamics work out that Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso eventually leaves the APC and magically gets a party ticket elsewhere, probably in the PDP. Right now, he is bidding his time and re-calculating. He has suffered severe setbacks so far. He was unable to make a political popularity testing of Kano recently when his trip back home was securitised as a threat and the trick worked. Secondly, he has basically been expelled from the party, what with Governor Ganduje pronouncing reconciliation with him a closed issue even without Asiwaju Tinubu visiting Kano.
Obviously knowing the dangers of quitting APC angrily, he appears to be taking things lying low. But it won’t take time before he erupts. What does a healthy politician with ample resources do if not erupt as and when due? Here is a perfect example of the relationship between the snake and the killer of the snake. Both are scared stiff of each other.
- The PDP Possibilities
There is a joke going on in some quarters now that it seems the president is the chief campaigner for the return of the PDP to power in 2019. It is a sarcastic entry point but what it communicates is the great chance of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) to return to power in 2019. For that to happen, however, PDP’s presidential candidate must be a game changer in him or herself. Who fulfils such qualification among the list circulating now?
The current power game in the party might make Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and Aminu Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto State beneficiaries. If that happens, the list in circulation would grow beyond Atiku Abubakar, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo, Sule Lamido and Ahmed Makarfi.
All the permutations or all said and done, Atiku Abubakar still seems the foremost contender here. But Atiku has a problem: he is a self-made man and such people tend to be independent minded. Meanwhile, independent minded people are unlikely to make it to power in Nigeria type social formations where the endorsement of godfathers is a requirement for success. None of the existing godfathers have claimed him. Yet, he is able, for instance, to raise restructuring as an issue to a level forcing the APC to join the bandwagon. Such people would be feared and those who fear them can stop them. For instance, Atiku has been branded as the godfather of corruption. The question is where anybody is going to manufacture a clean guy in this contest. In matters of corruption, it is the truth that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory, no matter the holier than thou posturing of some of the past players.
Imagine Kingibe as APC presidential candidate and Atiku Abubakar as PDP’s in 2019, it should raise the quality of campaign in Nigeria beyond its current mediocre level even as none of the two is going to raise any radical issues of nation statism in a globalising world.
After Atiku Abubakar is the possibility of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as analysed above. Next is Aminu Tambuwal. The speculated advances to Tambuwal through Governor Nyeson Wike’s Good Offices could make this scenario likely. That is Tambuwal as presidential candidate and Wike as his vice. This is more so if Asiwaju Tinubu beginning his reconciliation efforts from Sokoto has more than meets the eye. After all, as the taken for granted wisdom goes, there is no smoke without fire. Aminu Tambuwal is the sort of player the Obasanjos, the incumbent Sultan and other retired military elite of power may find more acceptable.
- Northern Consensus Strategy
Intervention had caught wind of this possibility at a time it was almost non-existent, (Power lying on the Ground in 2019: Before, After and Beyond Obasanjo’s Letter (2), January 24th, 2018/www.intervention.ng). Within two weeks of that report, the Northern Political Leaders Forum became a reality. It held its inaugural meeting on February 10th, 2018. To the extent that there are certain symbolic figures there, it cannot be dismissed. It suggests a push for the possibility of a Northern re-assertion because the North now is regional footnote, being so deeply divided. There is nothing concrete yet. It is still widening its net and calling on more players but the logic is straightforward: the possibility of making the selection of the next presidential candidate a product of a deliberate political decision in favour of a consensus material who can serve the developmental need of the North and Nigeria simultaneously. Whether such a material would be found and if he or she would work according to plan is a different matter at this point. It is still meeting again on March 15th, 2018 to plan for the anniversary of Northern Independence in 1959. The North was the last to gain independence unlike the East and the Western Regions.
Pairing Politics and the Regions
From these probable scenarios comes the following plausible pairings: Buhari/Osinbajo, Babagana Kingibe, El-Rufai/Amaechi, Kwankwaso (APC as well as PDP), Atiku Abubakar, Tambuwal/Wike. What it means is two vice-presidential materials are available, suggesting how that region might have moved up so quickly from insurgency to centrality in Nigerian politics. The Northwest still holds its ground in that there are plausible scenarios of Kwankwaso against Buhari, Aminu Tambuwal against whoever, Nasir el-Rufai. The Northeast is not missing in action. It might be providing two of the most colourful of the presidential contestants, depending on how things work out. While the absence of the Southeast is understandable, (waiting for 2023 or so) and while the Southwest has had its share, the absence of the Middle Belt is incomprehensible, not after all the protestations and pronouncements. Is there a joker waiting to unfold? That leads us to the sub-theme of casualties in this discussion
Politics must be the domain to which the saying that nothing is over until it is over is most applicable. However, from what is known at the moment, a number of casualties or certain players can be listed under casualties in the current form which the power game has assumed. How they try to undo that status is not within the scope of this story. The biggest might be Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President. He is a casualty to the extent that the war of attrition between him and other key centres of power in the APC has dragged up to election year. It makes him a casualty in elective political calculus because he is not in contention as long as the tribunal trial is on.
His reality is also the reality of Sule Lamido, the immediate former governor of Jigawa State in that no matter how hard he protests innocence, his aspirations will not fly as long as his case in court lasts.
Senator David Mark does not fall within this class but he knows he is on the radar. EFCC has already invited him and they might be calling him again.
All these three have become fall guys of a strategy of power that could be said to have anticipated them, one way or the other, although Lamido’s case preceded the Buhari anti-corruption war.
There are the more curious cases of casualties. One of it would be Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo’s locational casualty. That is his origin in the Northeast makes him a casualty in the event of Atiku and Kingibe predominating. The only way he could get out of it is if he were to emerge the consensus candidate being experimented upon.
Second is Ahmed Makarfi who becomes a casualty the moment Aminu Tambuwal lumbers his way back into the PDP. If Tambuwal does, it is going to be a zero-sum game: his gains will be Makarfi’s loss as far as the presidential ticket is concerned. Although rated as very sensitive to system stability and given to independent mindedness, these qualities might not help Makarfi in the event of a Tambuwal for the reason already referred to: the key power brokers would most likely have convinced themselves of Tambuwal’s suitability in the present context. The last fall guy would be Ibrahim Shekarau. A good speaker but very unlikely to be preferred over and above the contending others by the key factors that would define the winners and losers in the power game ahead of 2019: godfathers, resource capability, game changing political personality and service to the system and its priorities. The game is still just beginning though and, as they say, it could be very difficult to know before night fall who would lie in front!