Is it possible that the much talked about fall back strategy of ‘maximum damage’ before May 29th, 2019 might have started unfolding? ‘Maximum damage’ in this context means shifting forward into the last segment of the first term the strategy of inflicting exposure and punishment on politicians found to be corrupt within the framework of an anti-corruption in the event that victory in the 2019 polls and a second term for President Buhari is assessed to be elusive. President Buhari articulates an anti-corruption war as a cardinal commitment although Nigeria remains ‘a fantastically corrupt country’, with potential employees paying as high as N.7m for a Grade Level 8 job in Federal establishments while Deputy-Directors in the Federal Civil Service are paying as much bribe of N10m to pass the promotion examination to the position of Director.
The Federal Government has just ordered a travel ban on some 50 individuals on EO6 watch list and nobody knows what might follow. The EO6 instrument enjoys judicial affirmation in addition to preceding the emergence of an opposition candidate such as Atiku Abubakar who can, even on his own, fight it out with an incumbent, it still evokes representation as being part of a contingent use of power. It is thus not escaping the interpretation that it might have been drawn up right from the beginning within a grand strategy of making the war against corruption a self-expanding instrument. If it does not suffer perception of selectivity which has dodged the larger anti-corruption war and it produces results, then Buhari as a Nigerian leader set to make history might still be realisable. The fear, however, is how such a strategy can work without creating political hitches at this point.
Although the full list still lies in speculation, it is certain to contain more cadres of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), the same cadres who are bound to fire-up Atiku Abubakar’s campaign as he slugs it out with President Buhari next February. Unless the list contains a good number of members of other parties, particularly the ruling party, it is certain to be interpreted as the unfolding of the much talked about fall back strategy in question. The question now is whether this strategy of maximum damage can still be implemented using the Executive Order 6 and similar instruments without it being seen as hitting back at targeted persons. This is more so if such persons have already won party primaries. As popular as naming and shaming those found to be corrupt, can the strategy work without forcing a stalemate?
Events of the last one week are pointing to the elusiveness of victory in the presidential polls in 2019 and, therefore, of the second term. Not only did former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the last person the APC/Buhari caucuses thought could do so, emerged victorious in the PDP, Atiku’s bitterest attacker and former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, has since made a 360 degree turn into reconciling with that reality. Above all, the civil society staged a very successful coup against President Buhari in effecting that reconciliation. How else might a reconciliation process be interpreted if driven by a firebrand Bishop of the Catholic Church, (Mathew Hassan Kukah); Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, another firebrand religious leader, making two from the northern part of the country and another two from the southern part viz Bishop Oyedepo, the General Overseer of one of the Pentecostal churches which is also incumbent Vice-President of Nigeria, Prof Yemi Osinbajo’s tendency in Christianity and, finally, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, about the only active Awoist at the moment.
As a presidential election in Nigeria is not a strictly local event but one with global dimensions, would the externally based players read and accept this phase of the anti-grft war in the same essentialist sense the government of the day might be pushing it? Beyond the likely international reaction to any plausible glitch from the war, there are emerging local readings of Atiku from different standpoints beyond the man himself. While some academics are interested in Atiku’s emergence from the point of view of transition of power from the generation of military officers who fought the civil war and have since positioned themselves as Nigeria’s guardian angels, others are reading it in terms of power shift from the Northwest to the Northeast, meaning that next time power is in the North, it is going to the Northcentral. Meanwhile, the members of the ‘IRA wing’ who masterminded the PDP in 1998 and settled on Obasanjo as its flag bearer have obviously decided that Atiku is the lesser evil in comparison with Buhari as far as the right to respect and security they crave in the very last segment of their evening is concerned. This is so evident in Obasanjo entering what can be called a ‘nolle prosequi’ on his case against Atiku in which the word forgiveness was mentioned or implied over and over again. It is the equivalent of the state withdrawing a murder charge against a suspected offender.
Those circulating and, by implication, suggesting a stable, timeless meaning of pages 31-32 of Volume 2 of Obasanjo’s My Watch where he took on Atiku are thus missing the point. Every such text has any meaning to the extent of its context. The context has changed and the speaker or writer of those words is moving in a different direction. In subsequent editions of the book, the section on Atiku would most likely have been edited out or qualified. Atiku is bound to be so happy he never released his own book on Obasanjo and no one can quote him in terms of any such book or books.
It would appear that, like 1985, those fighting Buhari are too many that he does not appear to be strong enough to, knowingly or unknowingly, force a stalemate and sustain it as those who annulled June 12 did. Analysts are wondering how Bishop Mathew Kukah, Sheikh Gumi, Bishop Oyedepo, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, etc came about as joint drivers of the reconciliation process between Obasanjo and Atiku. If these people say they have no confidence in any government, it has more impact than NADECO saying so. Yet, that was exactly the message they were sending by indirectly endorsing Buhari’s direct opponent in that process. The opposition is thus much wider than PDP. In spite of his courage in admitting and indicating very prominently that corruption is a problem, President Buhari has not been able to persuade Nigerians that he has sinned less than sinned against. It is, therefore, Buhari that has, almost consciously and deliberately invited Atiku to succeed him. At the current mood in Nigeria, Atiku will defeat Buhari hands down in any free and fair election. People are, therefore, bound to be sensitive to any moves that can be interpreted to mean an attempt to stalemate the process.
That sensitivity is already manifesting in the attention being given to an institution such as the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) today in the unfolding drama. Observers are particularly keen to see which direction Prof Mahmoud Yakubu is moving. Typical Nigerian framing of such issues, the question now is whether he would be in a position to undermine a North easterner in favour of North westerner. Yakubu is from the Northeast as well as Atiku while Buhari who appointed Yakubu is from the Northwest and all are Muslims. In Nigeria, these are key issues in popular psychology in current level of politics. The belief is that it would have been less volatile if Buhari restored the old order in which the INEC Chairperson is usually from Southern Nigeria and the Secretary from the North. Former president, Goodluck Jonathan broke this convention in 2010 by appointing Prof Attahiru Jega, a Northerner as Chairman of INEC. If Buhari had appointed a Southerner, the suspicion that INEC might be in the process of returning a president rated to be non-performing might not have been as pervasive as it currently is. INEC might actually be contemplating no such thing but in the social world, it is the perception that matters in things like this. After all, it was on the basis of similar perception that, but for Goodluck Jonathan’s disinclination, Jega would have been sacked, arrested and detained as recommended at the highest quarters at least three times simply because he was perceived to be pro-APC by key elements in the PDP.
All these bickering that attend every presidential election year in Nigerian politics speaks to a challenge: instability. In many other places, elections do not threaten the foundations of a modern polity as it does every four years in Nigeria. It is surprising that such is still the case even after the principle of North – South rotation of power has absorbed the worst of the menace of election-induced spasms of instability.