Unlike today, members of Mallam Adamu Ciroma’s generation did not think that if you published something on them, then you were looking for money or for some favours. They took what you published on its own merit or lack of it. If they agreed with you, they told you so. If they disagreed, they also called you and tell you why. One can say this in respect of Sunday Awoniyi, Adamu Fika and Adamu Ciroma.
The truth is that I didn’t know him more than he knew himself because much of what I wrote came from his own public lecture at a social function in Lagos and in an interview with a sister publication of Chief Chris Okolie’s now defunct Newbreed and what the late Prof Ahmadu Jalingo at Bayero University, Kano told me about him.
Here, I am doing exactly what editors at Intervention have asked me to do – restructure this piece originally published in this medium under the title “Adamu Ciroma’s Riot Act and the 2019 ‘Riot’ in Nigeria”. In doing so, I have taken as headline Mallam’s exact words in his reaction to this very piece each time it had been published: in 2007 as a back page column in Daily Trust and its updated form here on August 2nd, 2016. All these were on the phone until we finally met in 2016 when I went to interview his wife, Inna Ciroma. This can, therefore, be argued to be about the one tribute Mallam read and approved of before his departure to the great yonder. May Mallam Adamu Ciroma’s soul in peace – Adagbo ONOJA.
It is not clear how the impression germinated that if he ever made it to presidential power, Malam Adamu Ciroma would have broken the cycle of liliputianism by re-inventing leadership in Nigeria. Chief Steven Lawani, the immediate past Deputy-Governor of Benue State was the Deputy National Chairman of the National Republican Convention, (NRC) during the Babangida transition. When this reporter asked Lawani at a chance meeting how interacting with Ciroma was, though hesitant, he spoke emotionally about him. His views were taken as weighty insight from a deep organizational interaction with Ciroma who was not only a mandarin’s mandarin at the NRC but the most ready of the presidential aspirants. The best president Nigeria never heard would not be a bad representation of his testament on Ciroma. A politician from Edo State who was also in that party but who declined to be mentioned spoke almost the same way as Lawani and they, in a way, succeeded in setting the direction of the appraisal of Ciroma’s membership of a hall of icons. Because then the question is what tests the belief of Lawani and colleagues who shared the same sense of the Ciroma political personality?
The Ciroma context seems to feature in all cases. That’s a reference to his cross-cutting engagement with the system in a way that is not typical. First was the regional bureaucracy. This is followed by entry into journalism, serving as editor and as Managing Director of the New Nigerian Newspapers, (NNN), at a crucial moment in the history of both the paper and the country. From here, he moved into finance, first as a Director and then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Next was in party formation, he being the first National Secretary of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) in 1978. There was a switch from party formation and administration to direct exercise of political power as minister of Industries and later Agriculture in the Second Republic. He could have won the party’s presidential primaries, having been a top contender until he yielded grounds to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in what might have been a play out of the dynamics of Sokoto – Borno relationship. In 1992, he moved again, this time into winning the Presidential primaries of the National Republican Convention, (NRC). However, the primaries were to be annulled under Babangida’s unending transition. So, in one man, Nigeria produced a bureaucrat, a journalist, a financialist, a party staffman, a politician and a public officer. One conclusion is that he must be intelligent to move successfully across many domains without creases. He must also be competent to sustain each.
The clincher must, however, be his resistance to use public office to build himself security at the expense of the country even in the context of the temptations offered by a place as the CBN. Rather, it was at the CBN that he defeated the temptation to fleece the state. By his own testimony, he had built up vast contacts in the manufacturing and modern business life of the Nigeria preceding his appointment as governor of the CBN in 1975. He began to see this as dangerous, evident in his declaration at a public lecture in Lagos in 1991 that he was “in danger of making money”. He subsequently made moves to ‘rectify’ this instead of consolidating the ‘advantage’ as many other Nigerians would have done. His reward was that when the NPN crowd was hauled into detention in 1984 until they could prove their innocence, he had no fears of any secret deals, funds stashed away anywhere, a Bank Account or a house anywhere, which could be uncovered. Again, that is his own words.
Before the coup in December 1983, he presided over Shagari’s Presidential Transition Committee. A distinguishing claim in that text goes like this: The ‘new morality’ which has emerged from the military era is such that there is general acceptance among most members of the power elite that power is for profit rather than for responsible exercise of its privileges or for service …The ‘new morality’ encourages and protects chaos because members of the new elite have vested interest in chaos despite its long term danger to social stability and their real or permanent interests.” This is believed to mark the moral campaign of the Buhari regime which overthrew the Buhari regime.
In June 1993, the long snake called the Babangida transition came to its terminus when the results of the presidential polls on the 12th of that month was producing a clear winner instead of the commotion anticipated by many, including the regime. From the northern part of the country, Adamu Ciroma was one voice that rang out clear to the effect that Abiola won fair and square. The statement produced a sobering effect beyond himself, for good and for bad. But the point was made: in moments of tension, elders or senior citizens should make their positions known rather than seek refuge in sophistry and dark diplomacy.
In 1995, he found himself on the other side of Abacha’s conception of the role of fertilizer in Nigeria’s agriculture. He was the Minister of Agriculture. For this, he tendered his resignation. But Abacha proved smarter in handling the matter by keeping the letter and sacking the entire cabinet at his own time instead. In doing so, the regime saved itself the embarrassment of the exit of one of the top politicians with which the regime stabilised itself against the raging June 12 opposition.
There was to be a repeat of the 1995 scenario in 1998. The military was quitting the stage for the politicians. The politicians or a substantial number of them had agreed to form a mega party transcending clan, ethnic and religious cubicles. That was the logic of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP). But the politicians had no consensus candidate. One group felt someone from the South West was the best option because that would compensate the region, the South West being Abiola’s geopolitical zone. In any case, argued some more, the alternative would be to give power to the South East. This was seen as improper because the South Easterners are republicans who might have problems governing Nigeria because Nigeria is an empire, it was argued.
In opposition to this view rose an Adamu Ciroma, insisting that giving the job to the South West would amount to rewarding insurgency, having regard to how the South West raised an ethnic army to prosecute June 12th. Secondly, this group argued that Dr Alex Ekwueme was the next person on the line of leadership, being the last democratically elected political office holder at the presidential level. And that power should go to him in 1999 except if Shagari were contesting. Since Shagari wasn’t contesting, Ekwueme was their own candidate. All that is history now!
The Ciroma group had their say but not their way. Instead of Ekwueme, Obasanjo was elected in 1999. The regime made Ciroma the Minister of Finance under President Obasanjo’s second coming.
In 2003 and in the aftermath of his health crisis following a road accident earlier, he decided to close his political career. That was though not going to be before the last duty. The last duty was for him to head the campaign for the re-election of Obasanjo in 2003.
His argument is that it was a national security imperative for a northerner to head that campaign. If a southerner did, it would be interpreted as the north’s ultimate red card for OBJ. So, he did but at a price: for quite some time, it was not safe for him to enter Kaduna.
Those who argue his exceptionalism use such instances to further argue at that time that he was the last of that generation of Nigerian politicians whose leadership would have gotten Nigeria out of cycles of revenge and recriminations. Because he has independence of mind that would have helped. On this, it used to be said that the northern establishment never considered him a pliant fellow, a claim they point to his having to withdraw in the third round of the voting in the 1978 race in the NPN as proof. The race had narrowed to him and Shagari then. Many people never forgave Ciroma for withdrawing. Could the PDP be anchoring staging its come back on someone the Ciroma cap fits? Any such move today must be traced to Ciroma.
His must, to date, be the sharpest shot, the most ringing attack on the ruling party – the All Progressive Congress, (APC). The delegitimizing impact must have been felt right to the marrows of those it was directed at, intended or not intended. It cannot but be so because of the philosophical import of the intervention and the person who made it – Mallam Adamu Ciroma. Of course, we are referring to the discursively pregnant declaration by Ciroma on July 25th, 2016 that neither did the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) lose nor did the APC win the 2015 presidential election in the country. The statement is a sign of how fast and far the PDP has travelled in gathering itself up from the wreckage of a humiliating defeat in 2015 to the point of contemplating staging a comeback. After all, what is there in staging a comeback beyond, first and foremost, successfully creating a certain image of the opponent? That is what has got off to a very stunning start, courtesy of the verbal facility of the icon’s icon in these matters. It is doubtful if the same statement would have got the same media attention in Nigeria if it had been made by someone else. After all, the story of the encounter between Adamu Ciroma and members of the Board of Trustees of the PDP on July 25th, 2016 came from only the News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN) which is why it read the same in both the social media and the print. In other words, the question of who said what matters very much here.
As media headlines embody almost everything about a story, attention to the headline might be a sufficient in terms of decoding Ciroma. Whichever of the two headlines one takes could be interesting. One of the headlines is ‘APC Hasn’t Justified 2015 Electoral Victory – Ciroma’ while the other says ‘PDP Did Not Lose 2015 Presidential Election – …Ciroma’. While the first one is more explicit, the second embodies a language game. What does it mean to say that PDP did not lose the election? Put in context, two meanings are possible. One could be that since then President Goodluck Jonathan decided to concede victory, the status of PDP in terms of winner or loser was lost to that imperative. That is, the only way we would have known the status of the PDP in that election today is if Jonathan had contested the result, either in court or by a sit tight fiat or whatever. The winner could have been PDP, APC or even anarchy. Every election result is contestable anyway.
A second meaning could be the more straightforward one: the APC that won the election has not used the victory in any impactful way. And unless the victory has been used meaningfully, then it is a useless victory. In other words, Mallam was asking: what is the use of victory if it has no impact on ordinary Nigerians? This interpretation will tend to click because the body of the story has sentences that convey the same claim although an APC member like Lai Mohammed might want to know what impactful usage means. Would he accept that the groaning in the country today automatically measures lack of impactful usage of the victory? Would he not say what a great anti-corruption war that they have fought? The lesson of this little exercise is that no statement one meaning.
There are two surprises in Adamu Ciroma as maker of the statement. Ciroma was the one who decided for many people that Buhari was the better option in 2015 when he made that intervention quoted at length as follows: “To be honest, you cannot help but promote Buhari. I mean he cried a few years ago for Nigeria. Now Reverend Fathers are crying…… Sincerely speaking, for a retired soldier in the Nigerian Army who has just one wife, even though his religion allows him to marry more; for an ex President who declares his assets publicly with no foreign account; for an attractive man who can boost of having no girlfriend or mistress in a world where having extra marital affairs is the order of the day. And during all these time, the devil has not possessed any of his worshippers to blackmail him. There must be something interesting about this person, and Nigerians want to learn such discipline from this personality. This is not a campaign, this is an intriguing mystery we want to be part of”.
The second surprise is hearing that from him after his umbrage against the party since 2011. Initially, it was umbrage against the combined team of President Jonathan and former President Obasanjo, particularly for the act of bribing PDP delegates with foreign currency in 2011. He had a long interview with Saturday Sun that weekend. Before that, he had chaired the northern consensus candidate process but only for Atiku Abubakar who emerged as such to be ringed out in the PDP primaries preceding the 2011 presidential polls.
His July 25th, 2016 statement could thus only mean that he is back or his anger has evaporated. Knowing him for stubbornness, the anger could not have evaporated without entreaty. Entreaty must suggest that there is a wing within the PDP that have regrouped and are striving to restore something of the old PDP.
This is the sense in which Ciroma’s statement can be read as riot act because the discourse of the APC in that statement hides in it a claim on power. A critique of use of power in a manner that is not impactful implies its own solution which is impactful use of power. Impactful use of power in this context requires an agency which cannot be the same APC. Ciroma’s discourse is, by implication, positioning the PDP for power, the PDP being, according to him, the more talked about party than even the APC, the party in power.
There is an even wider dimension which will be explored below under the sub-theme, “Adamu Ciroma: Bound to Power”. In the meantime, the more urgent question would be whether the PDP can ever be put together again. Can all the king’s men and all the king’s horses put Humpty Dumpty together again?
When putting together again is the question about PDP, it is simply whether it can return to the organizational thoroughness about it such as its idea of guardian angels called the Board of Trustees; a party school to worry about political education; a zoning principle that reifies the symbolic import of the umbrella in a complex country called Nigeria and then the ability to find the kind of candidate in whom every part of the country was pleased, (as with Obasanjo in 1999). All these gains were squandered immediately after February 1999.
Imposition replaced internal democracy. Rule of raw replaced rule of law, to the extent that seven out of a 24 member House of Assembly could impeach a governor. Besides the inaugural Chairman, the PDP itself never knew how to elect a national Chairperson democratically since the year 2000.
By 2007, the PDP had become a carcass as far as its own principles and values were concerned. It was least in a position to handle the challenge of the death of a sitting president. In the end, Goodluck Jonathan, the Vice-President, emerged as the presidential candidate of the party in the 2011 presidential poll. That meant that zoning stood abrogated because the north hadn’t had its own eight years. It sent signals far and wide about what sort of elite could be so casual in managing a pact. Some people argued that once a sitting president died in office, everything else changes. Including core principles? Others said the constitution does not know zoning. But the constitution was there before the idea of zoning became a pact. A third argument was that the north had held power for too many years and it should just take it. But zoning was not about the north but about ensuring that the elite did not destroy the country in their mindless struggle for power. It was said that the Niger Delta insurgency would blow up if Jonathan, a son of the soil, would come so close to power but only to be disallowed from taking it. Nobody remembered to say that zoning guaranteed Niger Delta calculability in access to federal power than such gate crashing as it were. What of the presidential preparedness of candidate Jonathan whose limited knowledge of the Nigerian formation was there for all to see. Would it not be a better deal for the party to groom him for the job? The answer was that power would empower him.
Beyond Obasanjo and other senior members of the PDP who came from the military background, the ‘Caliphate’ endorsed Jonathan in a powerful statement about the North and the South-South that Shagari made when candidate Jonathan visited him in the course of the campaigns. At that point, it was signed, sealed and basically delivered.
After five years of Jonathan, it has been such a spectacle watching the key actors reaping what they sowed. Dr. Haliru Bello who moved the motion for endorsement of Jonathan in 2014 was picked from his hospital bed and hauled into the court for alleged corrupt practices. Almost all the facilitators of the Jonathan presidency are in one such mess or the other. In the end, everyone concluded that the PDP denied itself power, had devalued democracy, been very unfair to former President Jonathan whom it brought to power without any induction in running Nigeria, unfair to the South- South, to the north and to everyone in short.
This is the era the party seems to be putting behind with the observable indicators. PDP leaders have been singing loudly and apologetically since July 2015, admitting how they shot themselves in the foot by flouting the party’s zoning arrangement after the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010. Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, a National Vice-Chairman said so. He was followed by Haliru Bello Mohammed, a former Board of Trustee Chairperson. He was most blunt by saying “When in 2011 the party abandoned its zoning formula, the party dealt on itself a major blow because that action served the first notice that it had disconnected with the masses”. At some point, Raymond Dokpeshi who chaired some kind of reconciliation process in the PDP tendered an apology for the infraction on zoning. 15 days before the members of the Board of Trustees visited Ciroma, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor whom the PDP disgraced from the office of the Chairperson in the process of installing President Jonathan in 2011 contrary to the zoning orthodoxy delivered the coup de grace. Vanguard of July 11th, 2016 quoted him in an interview as saying, among other things, that “the person who caused the failure of the PDP is Jonathan. PDP had internal democracy, a zoning pattern which had worked for them for 16 years, and we agreed at a meeting that power would stay in the north for eight years before it returns to the south for another eight years”. Ogbulafor must be one of the happiest persons alive in Nigeria today, no matter how much of an organizational person he might be. He is alive to witness his own vindication before the eyes of those who humiliated him for standing by a core principle. He paid a price. Put together, what do these homilies, admissions and apologies which Ciroma’s intervention capped tell us, regarding the future of the PDP and future electoral contests, the 2019 presidential contest in particular?
Secondly, there is obviously the resurgence of a rethinking wing of the ancien regime determined to rebuild the party. They must be the origin of the strategy of talking to selected founding fathers, mothers and guardians, in obvious preparation for another shot at power.
A third signal is the process by which the dramatic emergence of Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi as a stop gap national chairperson might be understood. Whatever that recruitment process is, it has significance. The significance lies in his identity. Nobody sees him as one of the rather excitable elements around PDP but one capable of balanced judgment. His management of identity conflict as former governor of Kaduna State tends to recommend him beyond his state. Above all, he is not loquacious. However, before anyone could say Makarfi and re-engineering of the PDP, Modu Sherrif, a former governor of Borno State emerged to lay claims on power. He has all but eclipsed whatever a Makarfi could have done, enacting a tussle characterised by return of PDP to the tactics of power that led it to humiliation. Today, one court would make one pronouncement. The following day, a different court would make the exact opposite of the pronouncement. As at the time of compiling this report, the convention of the party scheduled for mid August hangs in the balance. There are more than three judgments on it alone.
Can this sort of PDP overcome internal crises and mount a serious challenge to an incumbent in 2019? Would anything have happened between now and 2019 as to make the APC led Federal Government so vulnerable to a PDP still caught between the temptations of its past and the attractions of a cleaner image?
The argument here is that Adamu Ciroma offers us an idea of the answer to this question in the sense that his statement can only be understood as a language game. Being the person he was or what he alone embodies, there is something to think about in such a categorical pronouncement by him when it concerns political power in Nigeria even as even as he, by age and everything else, was not eyeing anything in the 2019 ‘riot’.