It is not the sort of gist any journalist would seek its confirmation nor a story anyone would confirm to any journalist on record. So, the question of whether it is true or not does not arise. Yet, it has been heard over and over again although there are different versions. As the dominant version goes, Senator Ahmed Tinubu went to a member of Nigeria’s Super 5: Olusegun Obasanjo; TY Danjuma; Ibrahim Babangida; Abdulsalami Abubakar and Aliyu Gusau. This particular member of this exclusive club reportedly told Tinubu to get to work on easing General Buhari to power. When Tinubu asked if he was hearing right, he was told by the speaker that ‘they’ knew Buhari better than he, (Tinubu) might have known him. And the conversation was over. That was late 2014.
This narrative is the basis of the inference that there is either something about the Buhari personality members of the Super 5 club do not know or they set out to set him up for failure right from the start. That is, set him up in the sense that they knew that Buhari as civilian president was bound to annoy liberal Nigeria by the holier than thou self-understanding of the world many critics have pinned on him.
General Babangida’s summation of the political manifestation of this in 1985 is that Buhari is rigid and uncompromising in matters of national importance and that any attempt to make him understand that Nigeria’s diversity required a contrary disposition would be interpreted as challenge to authority. The General might have been trying to naturalise that profile of Buhari among Nigerians and his choice of words couldn’t have been innocent. But, 30 years after, Buhari has come under fire for the same allegations as a civilian president.
When challenged why he has concentrated appointment into the Security Council on one identity, Buhari fired back by indirectly calling his critics, to quote from an old story, a band of looters. Just as he has always said, looting was the agenda of the pack that overthrew him in August 1985. His problem, he also said, was that he wasn’t going to allow any set of people share public funds as it pleased them. In other words, he was only rigid and uncompromising when it came to disallowing looting, or corruption if you like.
Now, Adams Oshiomhole, National Chairperson of Buhari’s party is saying that these same Generals had gathered to say “that Buhari should not do eight years”. But, the future of Nigeria, he says, is not in the hands of retired Generals. “Yesterday belonged to them, today belongs to Nigerians”, asserted Oshiomhole who has also accused the retired Generals of “truncating the anti corruption war in the country”, comparing that to the overthrow of the same Buhari in the 1985 coup. In other words, February 16th, 2019 presidential poll is all about concluding a sad conversation that started in 1985 and some people are saying only God can save Nigeria from the consequences of the ‘mistake of 2015’. In 2015, the Super 5 granted Buhari passage into power in what they might now see as a flash of strategic misreading of history.
Practically then, Nigerians are now being lined up for an electoral equivalent of a war that predated democracy and majority do not know this or do not care. Neither are the elite much concerned, going by the fanfare rather than substance about the two leading candidates. And questions are not being raised either. For instance, the Generals could have blocked Buhari in 2015 for bad as well as for good. Why didn’t they? There are two contending positions on this. One is that Buhari had metamorphosed into an unstoppable force by 2015 for any group to contemplate such an option. The second is those who say that the Generals had not trained any successors and when they needed one in 2015, there was none. They were already in conflict with Dr Goodluck Jonathan who strayed into that club in 2011 and, for good reasons, was being harassed out of power in 2015 but only for the same harassers to assemble at the launching of his book recently to say that he was a great leader. Why was he not hurriedly dispatched to Oxford or Harvard or somewhere like that to be groomed for leadership when he was Vice-President? Instead of doing so, ‘loyalty’ is privileged over systemic induction of future leaders to remove elements of vengeance from their mental make-up in favour of a constructive outlook. Any of the above claims could be right or wrong. What might neither be right or wrong is that, as things stand at the moment, February 16th, 2019 can go either way, depending on which side makes the most mistakes in the next two weeks. What might be those mistakes and practices that any observer can see, hear or observe?
Let us start from President Buhari’s plausible crisis points. Buhari’s constitution in physical and mental terms can no longer be dressed up. His grasp of intricacies is no less weak. There are certain things the government has done right but those things have not been packaged and represented in a manner that speaks to any noble or ideal discourse of Nigeria. The charge of nepotism hangs very powerfully on the president. The disarray in the ruling party is evident as much as the narrowness of its social base. The president has a capacity to keep alienating himself. Speaking at TheCandidates January 16th, the president had no other conception of solution to the herders-farmers’ conflict in Nigeria than First Republic grazing routes. To make matters worse, he was comfortable with isolating one state as where the problem is, a pronouncement with implications for refreshing memories. Who knows how many more such pronouncements he is capable of before the D-Day? No listing of major drawbacks would be complete with his deployment of anti-corruption war as a cover for an ensemble of practices, some of which are inherently antithetical to what someone has called the carefully crafted image of Buhari hitherto. Certain things ought not to happen when a Buhari is president. But they are happening.
On the other hand, Buhari still has much of his old crowd here and there. As scattered as the government’s social investment programmes are, they have created impacts which no one can deny. Buhari’s saving grace might be his leading challenger – Atiku Abubakar’s image. Abubakar’s traducers might have overdone their bashing of him to an irredeemable point. When it reaches a point where some otherwise completely apolitical elements responds by asking, “but what of what we are hearing that he is very corrupt”, then there is a problem. Atiku does not appear to help matters in this case with his lack of a message addressed to the middle class of Nigeria, assuring them of a future. The Constitution frowns at running the economy in a way that concentrates wealth in the hands of a few. Yet, a challenger has no qualms sending careless signals in favour of concentrating wealth in few hands by always talking of foreign investors or of privatisation as if capitalism has a separate logic exclusively sympathetic to an Atiku. It is either he is keener in addressing his foreign audiences instead of addressing his own middle class or he is ignorant about the place of the middle class in structuring electoral outcomes throughout history. Is it right to assume that the club of the Super 5 is coherent? If General Danjuma is there, why did he endorse Prof Jerry Gana recently? Although no less angry, would pushing Buhari aside when he is an incumbent be any less than uphill task if that house is divided? Besides Danjuma, Abdulsalami Abubakar is in peacemaking rather than king-making. Both camps can profit immensely from a defining characteristic of the voting population in Nigeria. They constitute what an observer calls a captive electorate with little room for independent minded elements in the process. Both Buhari and Atiku Abubakar stand to profit from this although the proportion might be substantially different. Lastly, Buhari is exploiting incumbency. This does not need elaboration.
At the end of the day, Buhari can easily lose this election to a point he cannot but handover just as Atiku could be so beaten he and the PDP would have no mouth to protest. Any of these is possible. It is most unlikely that the opposition can force Buhari to a draw game that makes a re-run the only way out. Should that happen, Buhari’s defeat could arise from a coalition that will emerge and be able to knock off the president. It is unlikely that sort of coalition will firm up before the election. The worst scenario is for the president to be seen to have won dishonorably and unconvincingly.
At the moment, each camp is jittery. It shows in the desperation manifested in Information Minister’s rapid allegation of Atiku Abubakar’s involvement in the collapse of Bank PHB. Since when did the Information Minister know this? Before or after Atiku’s US trip? Haba! On the other hand, Buhari’s crowds in some of the states have been unsettling some people. Surprisingly, Buhari’s crowds aren’t localized to the Northwest. Moreover, decamping continues from and for both sides. And Chief Obasanjo is writing again on his doubts about the election being free and fair as well as Buhari’s candidature. Aren’t these interests so balanced they could sting themselves dangerously?
The problem is how an electoral contest involving retired Generals with historical enmity could be an invitation to crisis and stalemate because Generals do not mature to a point that you could expect them to go behind the scene and sort things out the way career politicians do it. Generals carry enemy images and are inclined to victory or defeat even when what these might mean at the end of the day could be imponderable in consequences. The question is whether this tension is what Nigerians deserve from the upper crust of its elite? To the point that a major electioneering campaign has absolutely no one talking about Nigeria’s place in the world in any informed sense! What an elite!