If politics is about influence and the influential in every society, then there is something Nigeria of today cannot afford in the unfolding interaction between incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari and one of his predecessors, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Each of the two is influential and their influence, especially in the constituencies where this is most felt, has nothing to do with whether we like any of them or not.
There is no hiding it that Buhari – Obasanjo relationship has moved swiftly over the years from one of admiration for each other to one of dogfight. Obasanjo’s view of Buhari as a perfect fit for the office of Chief of Army Staff but as an unsuitable occupant of the office of the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters in the mid 1970s has shifted to that of Buhari he says he can no longer claim to know. Although the above view of Buhari in 1976 is actually the words of General T. Y Danjuma, it could have equally been that of Obasanjo who had also said that Buhari might not have been an economic wizard but a disciplined officer. Both TY Danjuma and Obasanjo were, therefore, saying basically the same thing about this officer then as opposed to today.
President Buhari’s view of Obasanjo has equally shifted over time from Obasanjo as a great guy to that of Obasanjo as the nation’s divider-in-chief. Buhari uttered no such words himself. His aides did. A presidential aide may use words differently from his or her boss but, in almost all cases, political appointees use expressions that their bosses would almost always approve of or would have actually approved of, meaning that the view of Obasanjo as the nation’s divider-in-chief would never have come from a presidential spokesperson if the president did not, formally and/or informally, approve of it. At worst, it would have been withdrawn. Instead of anything like that, it stands today as The Presidency’s unspoken response to Obasanjo’s framing of the present generalised insecurity as ‘Fulanisation’. Obviously, The Presidency views that discourse of the insecurity crisis as an act of manipulation and Obasanjo as, therefore, the chief manipulator. Some analysts have argued that the lag in reaction time to horrendous acts of intrusion by terrorists, bandits and kidnappers suggest a “let the Obasanjos do their worst” response or attitude. Now, it is warning the former president to mind his language. Again, Buhari did not verbalise this but NO aide could issue the statement without the statement being a lip reading exercise. If this trend continues, it will not be long before one of the parties makes a cataclysmic move the nation cannot afford.
This is more so that the deterioration in relationship between the two is coming at a time Obasanjo is the arrow head of a process of re-assembling the elite towards a new consensus. It is a bit puzzling as to why the president might issue such a warning thereby suggesting its lack of interest in that process. As a discourse is a contextual and subjective position, we cannot say that President Buhari is telling lies when he vows to preserve Nigeria but how is he going to preserve Nigeria outside of consensus? No individual brilliance or politics of the good man can resolve the present crisis outside of consensus. Not when the president has made both himself and The Presidency absolutely vulnerable to manipulation and manipulators by his practice and record of appointment into the commanding offices in the national security architecture based on the wrong headed and static meaning of injustice to those he thinks he is compensating now for perceived past exclusion.
Any meeting of the echelon of the power elite as is in the recent one spearheaded by Obasanjo is what Intervention, for instance, has always canvassed, (See What About Compelling Buhari, Obasanjo and TY Danjuma to Unlearn Fragmentation and Obasanjo @ 84 and the Case for Taking Them Seriously). It is a cheaper and faster response to the crisis than asking people to protect themselves, (as both General Danjuma and President Buhari have done). How does anyone expect people challenged by extreme poverty and diseases to protect themselves against mercenaries with superior training and equipment unleashed by powerful networks, local and foreign? It can only degenerate into nastier, shorter and hopelessly brutish life as is happening now.
The path of consensus thus recommends itself over and above all other options. Any consensus builder should, therefore, be welcome. Why this is not the case in the current Buhari-Obasanjo relations presents every reflective observer something to think about because further degeneration and a fight between the two will not just be a fight between Obasanjo and Buhari but a conflict which will stricture the polity into lining up behind the two figures.
Those who think they will be happier and better off should Buhari and Obasanjo be slugging it out might find themselves the first casualties of such a titanic combat. Each of the two sent a message to this country in his first coming and, hence, the possibility of their second coming subsequently. Whether Obasanjo added value or subtracted from the message of his first coming during his second coming will continue to be an issue in debate and only History might resolve it but even History can never resolve that conclusively, given the changing nature of narratives and narrativity. So also is the puzzle about Buhari’s mission in his second coming. The image of Buhari as a patriotic guy overthrown by Fifth columnists for standing up to IMF/World Bank orchestrated nation humiliating neoliberal packages has shifted to that of a Fulani bigot supervising a ‘Fulanisation’ agenda. Again, only History will resolve which of the two is the ‘real’ Buhari. Unfortunately, we now live in the age of virtual civilisation which has eliminated the difference between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’, a point President Buhari does not understand because he keeps harping on how, one day, Nigerians will understand the ‘real’ Buhari without coming to terms with the notion that reality is what we make of it.
The long and short of the foregone is that Nigeria must learn to come to terms with her share of the Obasanjos and Buharis, a process which includes ensuring that the twosome conduct themselves within the bounds of order. They do not have the license to allow their differences to plunge this nation into additional chaos. But more than that is the responsibility of all to ensure they combat every manifestation of elite fragmentation because elite fragmentation is always the eve of imponderable anomie. We do not need to give examples to demonstrate this.
It may not be part of the terms of reference for a presidential aide to censor his boss but it is part of the duty to moderate the boss in certain circumstances such as the uniquely impossible Nigerian environment. Within that environment, most political office holders are overwhelmed by the pressures and demands on the offices they hold as well as by the anxiety about leaving a legacy that can withstand powerful currents. In such a circumstance, aides who are genuinely hooked to their boss must become the ideological, intellectual, political and media think tanker for such a boss, which is what bonds such aides to such bosses well after the office. An aide could become a village idiot if he or she doesn’t do that. So, while a media adviser to a sitting president must issue verbal missiles that make life uncomfortable for critics of his beloved boss, he or she must also take the job beyond today.
In a deeply divided society, irrespective of whether the division is on the basis of real or unreal reasons, the challenge for formal aides and intellectuals of statecraft generally is how to develop and deploy context sensitive narratives that overwhelm opposing narratives rather than seek to punish or reprimand and end up creating openings for more bitterness. It is that power of narratives that has made the media adviser the indispensable officer for political parties, their leading candidates, incumbent presidents and prime ministers, big time CEOs, international organisations, foreign ministries, the military institution and even secretive intelligence agencies. That is not for nothing.