Injury time is staring the effort of five main caucuses, individually and collectively, headhunting for a candidate with the political personality, track record and acceptability across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones so as to rekindle the Nigerian idea believed to have been badly shaken, douse tension and eventually win the 2019 presidential contest. All the caucuses involved in the informal exercise have only May and June to find such a candidate, with July as the only month left for his or her marketing before the party primaries starting in August 2019.
Nigeria itself is in the grip of fierce grand narratives reflecting a major breakdown in ruling class politics. The coalition of caucuses in opposition has framed the incumbent president to be capable of breaking-up the country on account of nepotism. The president has replied by saying that his opponents are scared of his anti-corruption war to which they might fall within its sweep. That is what Governor Ganduje of Kano State, a Buhari loyalist, told Punch recently. But, these are all grand narratives propelled by instrumental reasoning circumscribing power and the struggle for it in Nigeria. The assumption is that there are certain individuals whose political personality transcends these narratives in favour of reconciliatory and transformative leadership. But what are the chances that a team of opposition caucuses can find that alternative? What is the guarantee that such a person will not use all of 2019 – 2023 blaming the Buhari administration in the same way the Buhari administration is blaming the Jonathan administration before it instead of enacting the magic s/he would have been called to perform on Nigeria? Who are the high fliers still popping up on the list and why?
As at May 1st, 2018, not only have these diverse opposition groups not found and settled on a winning alternative, they are also nowhere finding one with a binding narrative of Nigeria capable of firing the imagination of the average Nigerian. That is the sort of narrative of Nigeria a core of dedicated nationalists, mainly the Super Perm Secs under General Gowon, made binding and put into effect in the Second National Development Plan, 1970 – 1975. In other words, the Second National Development Plan was not just an assembly of facts and figures but a discourse, a narrative that rested on a number of interconnected premises. Top of these was the necessity “to control the essential and growth-sensitive sectors of the country in the fields of commerce, industry, fuel and energy, construction, transport, finance and education”. This provoked another necessity: the promotion and the maintenance at all times of the indissoluble unity of and interdependence of the national economy. And hence the third necessity: the promotion “of even development and fair distribution of industries in all parts of the country”.
Although there was no consensus in the government at the time, its veterans such as Philips Asiodu, Abdul Azeez Attah, Edwin Ogbu, Ibrahim Damcida as well as ministers such as Adebayo Adedeji who died a few days ago, Ali Monguno, among many others, asserted themselves and prevailed. Tragically, all the cash cows in Nigeria today are products of their nationalism and foresight.
Today, nobody can swear that any such core exists in any government or political party in Nigeria. Evidence: the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) had its Transformation Agenda, it turned it upside down in its practice of power. Secondly, the Federal Government today has a blueprint called Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, (ERGP) in which diversification is itself the ideology rather than a practice informed by an ideology. It leaves the Buhari regime with selling fragmentary narratives of the state of the nation instead of an integrated one. Thirdly, almost everyone, even in the least unexpected quarters, is talking of Restructuring or True Federalism as if federalism is a magic shot that does not have its own contradictions.
It is not as if President Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) have a core with any narrative of Nigeria either except that the opposition has greater need for a simplified representation of its sense and essence of power vis-a-vis stability in Nigeria. One reason for this is that it is facing an entrenched incumbent president who still has a folk rating in some parts of the country. In electoral terms, that can take him far even as the charismatic veil that wrapped Buhari from 2003 – 2015 have been substantially shattered.
Neither the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) nor the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) and certainly not the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, (CNM), the cohort of a few retired former Heads of State, (Obasanjo, IBB, Gen Danjuma, etc) or the Northern Political Leaders and Stakeholders’ Assembly, (NPLSA) have any such core or progressive narrative yet. Although the NPLSA is made up of informed and ideologically grounded veterans of the defunct Northern Elements Progressive Union, (NEPU) such as Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, their leader and the other activists of progressive politics in the Second Republic, that is not the same thing as a core of dedicated nationalists armed with a narrative of Nigeria that can fire a national consensus in the current struggle for power. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice-President who is also campaigning is now mentioning Lee Kuan Yew in terms of the politics of social transformation. That is considered interesting but he is seen in several quarters to be subtracting from his potentials by his unproblematic representation of True Federalism, suggesting that he has not contemplated the drawbacks of federalism itself, not to talk of True Federalism in a Nigeria type setting.
The injury time and the lack of cores with overarching narratives of Nigeria around which the struggle for power may oscillate makes three the worries of those actors who have equally concluded that acute shortage of leaders is part of the crisis in Nigeria. There are leadership materials here and there, it is argued, but most of them are not known and certainly do not have the national name and stature to easily confront an incumbent. Yet, Nigeria’s situation now is substantially the question of who, as president, can give meaning to democracy in Nigeria, considering the normative and actual powers embodied by the Presidency.
Finding answer to this question is believed to be further compounded by the fact that campaign for the highest political office in the land has actually commenced, even without candidates on any sides. President Buhari who has not won the party primaries yet has been campaigning within and outside Nigeria; from Bauchi State in the Northeast to the United Kingdom and the United States where he met President Trump Monday. Given the forces opposed to him at home, there is no way the issue of his desire for second term would not have come up in these engagements just as there is no knowing if the Western leaders he has been meeting such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prime Minister Theresa May of UK as well as Donald Trump of the US would support him. Theoretically, the presidential ticket in the president’s party is open to all who want to contest, it is unlikely anyone would be able to beat him in the contest for the flag bearer of the APC. Atiku Abubakar hit the runway to Chatham House last week where he articulated what could be taken as a blueprint in terms of nation building and industrial transformation. Back home, the Coalition for Nigeria Movement is holding rallies at which players such as Obasanjo are emphasising its earlier claims about the unsuitability of President Buhari for a second term.
Analysis available to Intervention at the moment is that it is not totally unusual, just part of the manoeuvres towards 2019. The Coalition for Nigeria Movement is eventually going to utilise a political party, a point confirmed by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola at its last rally where he said CNM is talking with some political parties towards 201. Meanwhile, the reformed Social Democratic Party, (SDP) has been shuttling between the houses of the key retired Generals now massed in opposition. Chief Olu Falae, its anchor person first went to see Chief Obasanjo before going to visit General Babangida whom he served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF). The NPLSA too, with Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, its interim leader visiting a number of former leaders, General Babangida in particular, two weeks ago. The PDP which is the most dominant opposition platform is desperately still searching for its flag bearer.
Within the above context, the question of the individual with the intellectual capacity, national name, political stature, track record and transformative zeal has popped into centrality. As far as the ruling APC is concerned, that question has been resolved in the incumbent. That effectively restricts any talk about a winning alternative in 2019 to the coalition of caucuses working on it. But whom are they targeting or who is targeting that position? And how impeccable and towering is the individual in question as to beat an incumbent and become a resolution of the current state of siege in Nigeria? Who are still the main names making the rounds and why?