By Adagbo Onoja
The wisdom that if the eye is not fixed on the sky, it has nowhere else to makes any sitting president vulnerable to probing engagement. There is though the late Prof Eskor Toyo’s weighty statement to be cleared before this particular engagement can proceed. In his 2010 interview with The Guardian, Prof Toyo took on critics for, among others, attributing crisis to personalities or heads of state which he thinks is wrong because people who do so “forget that the heads of state belong to a group which can be classified scientifically”, (see ‘Nigeria is Not Being Underdeveloped By the West But by the Slaves Ruling It’, The Guardian, p8, Nov. 20, 2010).
What could the late Toyo have meant? He couldn’t possibly have been dismissing agency, given that even the most orthodox Marxists had by then arrived at the position that structure and agency are co-constitutive of reality, marking, as it were, the end of a protracted debate thereto. In that context, it is possible to infer that he wasn’t dismissing agency or suggesting that a head of state should be left alone in the analysis of crisis because he is a member of a class or a specific fraction of it. A president is not necessarily a prisoner of his camp of consciousness. In societies where non-class actors involving confluences of the disadvantaged – unemployed, urban poor, women, the aged, minorities of different categories – their standpoint politics could even overwrite the class constitution of a president, forcing considerable concessions.
This is an interpretation Prof Toyo would be comfortable with were he still here and which is another way of saying that, although President Buhari was nationally hailed into power, at least in 2015, he has not been a prisoner of that condition of possibility. He has exercised agency, some of which he loves to be given credit for and others for which he must love to be condemned, meaning that focusing on him in the current crisis of authority is not an anomaly.
Although there is no settled meaning of history, that does not mean that a particular interpretation of a historical event cannot become so stable as to become almost natural until terribly shaken by another account. It is to that extent that history is to be feared. Only very few people are so sure of immunizing themselves against history, either because they are mad by common standard of reasoning or they command the power resources (money, knowledge, political power, time, location and luck) to always overwrite how they have been narrativised in history.
So far, President Buhari is not one of those, if how the government he has led since 2015 has been successfully and essentially narrativised in terms of nepotism, insensitivity and performance failure. If this could happen at the height of his political power, what is the guarantee that he can reverse the narrative that, on the face of it, borne out by the facts: deaths, misery, nominalized national currency, corruption, unemployment and unspeakable decay across the board.
Against this background, what might the president be waiting for before putting in place a Government of National Unity, (GNU), the only way he can rescue his diminished name? he still has slightly less than a year to go but which is a long time in politics and during which he can halt the country from the current bleeding and the associated tension. A GNU would automatically speak to the possibility of renewal, of restoring ownership of the country to component parts in tandem with current level of consciousness in that regard. It offers the opportunity to raise the standard of leadership recruitment to incontestable world class level. Such a GNU can recover a lot of the lost grounds in the next one year and its accomplishments would be Buhari’s. Lastly, it will stabilize the successor regime whose own cabinet must borrow from it or face popular revolt.
If the president persists in his current analysis that part of the problems of the government came from anti-regime forces which it wants to ride out, Buhari will go down irretrievably as the most miserable name in the list of that club. The optimism that it has done a lot of works when they point at railways, 2nd Niger Bridge and all that will not help the president because history doesn’t work that way. History is not about facts but power over and beyond the interpretation of the facts. It is not about good documentation but about that phrase or metaphor that packs so much into it.
In the case of Buhari, such phrases and metaphors will be too much in supply although, in truth, the overabundance of phrases, idioms and metaphors in capturing leadership and power in the history applies to ALL who have led Nigeria, with the possible exception of General Gowon, Murtala Mohammed and Umaru Yar’Adua. While Gowon’s must be in prosecuting about the only war that ended without a winner, the other two must be in their death before any things concretised. Buhari and Obasanjo would get the lowest rating mainly because each of them came at a time when the job was so clearly cut out. The twosome had the advantage of knowing that Nigeria is still basically a pre-capitalist polity and rapid social transformation ought to be the only item on the agenda of governance as opposed to the kind of tug wars they all embarked upon. They also knew that, unlike India, Singapore, Egypt, Ghana, Tanzania and, to a great extent, South Africa, democracy in Nigeria has not been guided. In other words, Nigeria and Nigerians have never had the benefit of being collectively conscientised along a fundamental value. Democracy here has never been moderated. That contrasts with the situation in Singapore, for example, where Lee Kuan Yew was mobilising countrymen and women against spitting on the streets. In Tanzania, Nyerere had to leave office temporarily to devote time to build the party because he was afraid that the emergent elite could take the people for granted in their theory and practice of democracy.
Left on their own, the people could not politicise the contradictions of postcolonial nation building beyond investing fellow human beings with angelic qualities, hailing them to political power but to be rewarded thereafter with nothing. In 1999, Obasanjo was hailed into office as the Messiah. The Obasanjo of the ‘Eminent Persons Group’ who had also said that SAP must have human face could not but be a Messiah. It is only last week he came to agree that he was less than a Messiah when, in a hauntological fit, he restated his regret in selecting Atiku Abubakar as his Vice-President in 1999. Unfortunately, that revealed more about Obasanjo’s own democratic credentials than it does on Atiku’s.
Umaru Yar’Adua was not hailed into office because he was Obasanjo rather than Nigeria’s project. It is paradoxical that he is one of the few former leaders history would be kinder for the reasons mentioned already and the one to be mentioned now: he was a socialist. His ideas of socialism gained from student activism contributed to his relative success in running Nigeria in a more promising manner.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was hailed into power as the boy who wore no shoes to school and who would, logically, be expected to be more sensitive to the yearnings of that class. Six years later, the slogan shifted to “Anybody else but Jonathan”. In his place, ‘mai gaskiya’ (the truthful one) was brought in. as a retired General, he would give Boko Haram a bloody nose very quickly. As a practitioner of the utmost hostility to corruption, he will cleanse the society of it by jailing all corrupt politicians and eradicate the practice. As the most austere politician Nigeria has ever had, he would run a disciplined rather than an ostentatious and wasteful government. Today, all of these have turned the very opposite. Perhaps, Prof Toyo had a point in allocating no quarters to the discursive condition of possibility that structures agency, except that the slave mentality he privileged in explaining the crisis of authority in Nigeria is not material too.
There is thus a meeting point between the two of us which favours the theory of the banality of democracy when not guided, a situation in which Buhari by far but also Obasanjo are the most complicit of all past Nigerian leaders. They didn’t have to have attended the University of Oxford to appreciate this. The late Chief Sunday Awoniyi was close to both Obasanjo and Buhari and told them of the imperative of nurturing democracy in Nigeria in the most pointblank manner possible. Prof Sam Aluko told Obasanjo as aggressively as possible that he would ruin Nigeria if he didn’t shift from his market economy approach. Similarly, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir told Obasanjo and the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) several times that Nigeria had become something of a pressure cooker heading for an explosion if governance did not quickly become more qualitative. He must have told Buhari the same thing. Properly speaking, Awoniyi, Obasanjo, Aluko, Buhari and Tahir are all members of the same social class – the petit bourgeoisie and their own standpoints would contradict too much emphasis on class belongingness as reason why a head of state may not be isolated and carpeted.
But Prof Toyo is substantially correct in asserting that the mental frame of reference of the domestic bourgeoisie accounts for the unique underdevelopment in Nigeria. That is if we link that to how we came to get this ideology that pose multi-partyism as democracy or periodic elections as constituting democracy. And insisting on market economy even when the IMF/World Bank, its chief practitioners, have shifted from the version the Nigerian leaders are still parroting. And a democracy in which not a single presidential candidate is mentioning rapid industrial transformation even when they are all promising job creation. How does anyone create jobs corresponding to the current magnitude of unemployment without rapid industrialisation as the one and only item of concern? These must be magicians, indeed!
But the tide is turning. It is not only seemingly internal critique of the system symbolized by the Peter Obi phenomenon, it is also the risk in Prof Ango Abdullahi’s statement last week that neither Atiku Abubakar of the PDP nor Asiwaju Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) is good enough. Although he was specific about the two names, he could also be read as an early warning to a system whose operatives have grown used to taking Nigeria for granted and thinking that nothing will happen.
President Buhari did say that age would be a constraint on his speed and overall performance. That would not exonerate him from complicity in aiding and abetting turning Nigeria into a ghetto of global capitalism where almost nothing is now impossible. A president does not need to be 100 per cent healthy to perform. An A team can do more than age and health. That is the point about a GNU at this point in time. It is up to him!