By Adagbo Onoja
If there has been any public occasion when Nigerians should have heard the kind of answer Lenin gave on what a Socialist revolution in USSR was all about, it must have been the APC flag off rally in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State last Friday. Just as Lenin reduced the essence of the revolution to electricity and the railway, so were Nigerians expecting the president to visualize Nigeria in more critical terms in an era dubbed to be that of a ‘war without fronts’. Rather than go into anything like that, the president did not even try to repackage his mantra of ‘Change’. He is not offering anything beyond the economy, security and an anti-corruption war even when Atiku Abubakar, his leading challenger, is splashing a huge mound of mud at his anti-corruption credentials. Let’s have the courage to support Atiku Abubakar or whoever is right on any specific issues rather than a clean/dirty binarism and its fundamentalist implications.
It is the president’s reductionist checklist at Uyo that defines deafening silences deployed here. That is, deafening silences at the Uyo rally as implying that rapid industrial transformation of Nigeria is, for now, off the radar in Nigerian politics as far as the ruling party is concerned. The agenda of politics as far as the APC is concerned now is nothing beyond the nebulous concepts of economy, security and anti-corruption war. This is even as charges of nepotism, condoning corruption, incompetence and engineering a ‘war without fronts’, among others, are liberally thrown at the president. How might it have been possible for the president to offer silences to all the criticisms of him while also sticking to a reductionist visualization of Nigeria? Could it have been contempt for those making the allegations or he just doesn’t have anything new to say or he is tired of responding to the allegations? Does former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, help us to unpack this, Obasanjo being the one who recently said that Buhari could not have come to power in 2015 without his support? It remains a surprising statement as when he first made it in Yola late 2015. And here is why.
As early as 2003, some people could say that the dynamics would work out and General Muhammadu Buhari would become president of Nigeria. For those who subscribe to the radical tradition in Northern Nigerian politics, that was an interesting claim to watch in terms of the survival of the three traditions permanently competing for power in the region. The aristocracy or the tendency the newspapers love to call the Northern Oligarchy is one. Alhaji Balarabe Musa and his intellectuals have offered the much contested conceptualization of the Oligarchy as the sub-class built on birth and connections to institutions of the colonial state such as the Native Authority. Then there is the Kaduna Mafia which is not a mafia in the generic sense but the modern elite in the North. The leading intellectual authority on this concept remains Professor A. D. Yahaya. General Buhari has been the only member of this group that has always managed to come to power, first in 1983 and in 2015. General Shehu Yar’Adua never made it as president. The third power block in the North historically is what the late Professor Ahmadu Jalingo has appropriately called ‘The Radical Tradition in the North’, symbolized in Aminu Kano’s struggle for power.
A fourth tendency in the North could be argued to be the signifiers of the historically tense relationship between the Middle Belt elite and their Hausa-Fulani counterpart. It is still difficult to categorise in tendency terms because of the diverse forms it manifests: from the resistance politics of Joseph Tarka/Patrick Dokotri in the First Republic to the progressivism of the Solomon Lar/Jerry Ganas in the Second Republic to the clerical populism of the Bishop Kukahs. It is a tendency waiting to be properly re-conceptualised in a way that can accommodate contemporary diffusion in the region.
As a result of these divisions, there was happiness in 2007 when Obasanjo favoured the late Umaru Yar’Adua to emerge as president because, at the broad tendency level, it resolved the power struggle in the North in favour of the radical tradition. Umaru Yar’Adua was a conscious Socialist. He was not a thoughtful president just because he had been governor. It was because he was a student activist, groomed in the socialist tradition of politics even as he came under other powerful influences in life. His selection by Obasanjo meant that even as he was prevented from being a partisan of the ‘PRP, that tendency had ascended power in him at a time that could not have been possible because of their material poverty relative to the other competing tendencies at a time a war chest is the most decisive variable in Nigerian politics.
This was why it was puzzling for Obasanjo to come out in support of General Buhari in 2015. Only one explanation was thought to be possible for Obasanjo’s action in support of General Buhari’s return to politics after Buhari had declared his delinking in 2011: the club of retired Generals must have sensed alarm in Goodluck Jonathan’s exercise of power and decided to reach for one of theirs to come and carry out a specific task – system cleansing, even in the mechanical manner Buhari understands it. It could not be thought of in any other way because there could not be anything Obasanjo would not have known about General Buhari’s tendency inclinations in Northern Nigerian politics or his professional orientation. That perception was confirmed by Obasanjo in his recent comments by him that he knew Buhari in and out.
The shocker was when Obasanjo said at the Akintola Williams anniversary in December 2016 that it was time Buhari defined the agenda of his regime, meaning that the man was supported into power without any commitments extracted from him in spite of his well known tendency predilections. Could it be that people read what is written about these tendencies as entertainment? How could you give power to a Kaduna Mafia ideologue and then expect him to define his agenda? He already has an agenda defined ever since, an agenda that has been studied, critiqued and combated, at least in the North by both the Oligarchy, (recall Shagari’s defeat of the Shehu Yar’Adua/Awo Alliance in the 1983 presidential contest); the radical tendency, (given the tome of scholarship on Kaduna Mafia) and the cultural resistance tendency.
It could, therefore, be argued from a tendency point of view, to be strategically wrong to have invited a scion of the Kaduna Mafia to take power in 2015. It is not a question of whether Buhari is a good or a bad person but the wrong headedness of reviving that tendency and investing it with power at a time its vision is most contradictory of the emerging pluralism in Nigeria. If power was given to a member of the Northern Oligarchy, not to talk of a ‘Northern radical’, the allegations of nepotism, selectivity and exclusionary practices of power would not have arisen. Again, it is not a question of good or bad but that, as a tendency, the Oligarchy does not operate that way. Its strategy is consensus building. Without understanding these differential tendency practices, so many people are jumping about today posing Fulani expansionism/Islamisation and a war of conquest without bothering to locate where these might be coming from or the tendency roots they implicate. The result is the framing of the Fulani entity even as it is impossible for the entire Fulanis to have met and accepted to Islamise everyone. Islam can be instrumentalised just like any other belief system but it is even more important to understand the context within which that could happen. Failure to have that contextual analysis carries the risk of wrong diagnosis.
It is to Obasanjo’s credit that he has, along with members of his caucus of retired Generals, substantially isolated the Buhari regime. But next time, he needs to tread more carefully in his king-making career. The more doctrinaire and less pragmatic, the better for the nation, democracy and his legacy! TY Danjuma’s support for Buhari in 2015 will remain more difficult to unpack when compared to Obasanjo’s. For him to do that for Buhari whom he described many years ago to be a perfect Chief of Army Staff but not a material for Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters is mind boggling. Under military rule, the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters was supposed to harmonise complexity and, therefore, required a soldier-politician, a flexible guy. By Danjuma’s testimony in a Newswatch interview, Buhari was not good fit for that job. Danjuma was simply saying that Buhari can only be a Commander-in Chief under military rule but not as a politician. So, what made him not to follow through his own analysis of Buhari many years after?
So, unfortunately, Obasanjo and his group helps us to understand the wherefrom of the silences at the Uyo rally. Too bad but stuffs happen!
Onoja, an Editorial Associate of Intervention, teaches Political Science @ Veritas University, Abuja