One tragic element in Nigeria is how the political education of most agitators in Nigerian politics does not appear to immunize them against what Wole Soyinka has called ‘disco criticism’ or the reality that disco criticism can construct. It is absolutely possible for a Third Term plan to exist somewhere, somehow. It doesn’t matter whether some cabal or oligarchy or mafia has been entertaining such an idea. Still, it is one thing for such a reality to exist, it is a completely different thing how the reality is represented. The argument here is that it is the misleading, anticipatory politics of ‘Third Term is coming oh’ crowd that will galvanise and this could happen in spite and despite the Buhari person. Buhari can be convinced and dragged in. Should that happen, we would have no one to thank but masterminds of promotional discourses.
Of course, language can create reality, not in the sense that reality and language are distinct but in the sense that speaking is doing and the two are inseparable, contrary to the confusion sustained by some critics. No better illustration of this might exist in how George W. Bush did it in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11. Sandra Silberstein, one of America’s most keen students of how language use works puts it this way: Through public rhetoric, an act of terror became a war; the Bush presidency was ratified; New York became America’s city, with Rudy Giuliani as “mayor of the world.” She adds in the same book how “Patriotism became consumerism, dissent was discouraged, and Americans became students, newly schooled in strategic geography and Islam”.
American presidents or Presidency might be more adept in mobilizing cultural resources – public rhetoric, cinematic innovations and the mediascape to map the world in its own image but the use of discourses and the power that comes from that is not the monopoly of American actors in the international order.
When the attention of agitators in many Nigerian centres of power is drawn to the dangers of la pattern of language use, oh, it is radical apologia, subservience or fear of some forces and all such rubbish. It is shocking that elements who create more problems for the politics of progress are so bold to throw allegations at those who remind them of the drawbacks of their discursive antics. Only God knows when the Emancipatory project in Nigerian politics will free itself from this strategic myopia.
President Muhammadu Buhari is saying he has no stomach for self-succession or Third Term politics but some diviners who claim to see the future in Nigerian politics are saying he may not be speaking the truth. Of course, the president is not speaking the truth in any childish, Mathematical sense of the word. Like any other president, he would wish to continue if the combination of factors is favourable. He will only go if the factors are not combining favourably for him by then. This is not peculiar to Buhari but more than 98% of political office holders across the world would never leave office if they can afford it.
So, those asking whether the president is speaking the truth or not are posing the question wrongly. Even the president cannot tell whether he is going or not. Going or not going is a contextual matter. Any other president would say exactly what Buhari has said so far: I have no such intention; the Constitution does not allow it and all such politically correct, defensive assertions.
But all such pronouncements do not have one, all time meaning. The statement by the president dismissing Third Term is merely responding to the current mood of the nation and the balance of forces that mood reflects. To infer that does not mean suggesting that the president is being dishonest in saying so. It only points at how ambiguous language use can be and the need to look at silences, tension, contradictions and context in any attempt to establish what the president might mean.
Currently, the (social) media is feasting on the contradiction in that pronouncement in terms of a previous pronouncement on which the president reneged. A newspaper report in which he was giving reason why he would do just one term is being re-circulated massively. From that perspective, it is easy to conclude he would most likely renege on this pronouncement against Third Term. At the current rate, it may not take long before other pronouncements in which he has reneged are brought up. He once said there is nothing like subsidy. He has reneged there. He has said his fight against corruption would take effect from 2015, he has reneged on that too, with a cabinet and party full of people with allegations of corruption against them.
The question, however, is whether the circumstances that forced reneging in each of these cases would be the same in the case of Third Term as to talk of the possibility of reneging. Now, even the president cannot know this irrespective of whether he is entertaining Third Term intentions now or not. He cannot and he does not because his current denunciation of Third Term is only a response to what he knows now. Among such must include the mood of the nation, his own reading of that mood, his plans for the next two and half years in power which we do not know but which are there, the forces and interests he fears vis-à-vis sustainability of power and even his sense of his health. All these are very fluid variables as for even him to be saying anything that can be taken as iron-cast in relation to what he does or doesn’t do about power in 2023.
The only certain thing is how he can easily get Third Term if the Nigerian society continues the current insistence on him going for Third Term. There is that insistence in the way those who assume they are fighting Buhari by framing a Third Term agenda around his neck and forcing him to issue a disclaimer. It is a counter – productive strategy that could end up creating that reality, depending on the balance of forces by 2022/23. By suggesting that Third Term is coming oh, those people are in danger of creating that reality. That possibility exists in the subject positioning of an imaginary force imbued with capability for creating the reality against its binary opposites. Our language use could perform the reality they invoke.
In this case, the language of ‘Third Term is coming oh’ can send Buharites into a strategy mood. The language has an empowering force in terms of making ‘them’ call on power resources that can be mobilised to such a cause.