By his self-understanding as a lion in the Nigerian political forest, the past one week must have come to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as a shock. The lion is rarely caught off-guard or easily messed up by its others in the manner that things turned up for the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC). Aside from the bragging from the APC governorship candidate for Kaduna State that the state will vote 100 per cent for the Asiwaju, there were no bright lights at all, particularly if one relied heavily on the Facebook in making this assertion. As the most easily accessible site for the ‘rest’, the Facebook remains a credible barometer of popular sentiments.
Of course, Asiwaju could ratchet up and overturn his image before long but, for much of the week, he has been game. All manner of idioms, metaphors and graphics were deployed against him on that site, expressions the users obviously aimed at aggravated damage from which recovery early enough for electoral surprise could be difficult.
This is not to suggest that anyone or every representation spread on (social) media automatically hits the target or produces a damaging effect. No. It doesn’t work that way. It could even be said that no politician needs to lose any sleep over what opponents spread about them in terms of whether such stuff are positive or negative. The materials spread in the media have no meaning or effect outside of the interpretation of them in the established centres of power. By Obasanjo’s list of the centres of power in Nigeria, these are Northern Nigeria, Southwest of Nigeria, the Southeast, Western world and the security establishment. Intervention cannot immediately recall the sixth centre of power in Obasanjo’s list but Obasanjo’s list itself is a 1993 list. Since then, China has crept into a definitive centre of power in global affairs. China might not love intrusive tactics in its relation with Nigeria but it is not naïve about discursive power. Russia is also coming up or has even established itself in deploying ‘distanced witnessing’ as a power resource in its digital geopolitics: you don’t see its troops in motion but it can still produce or influence (electoral) outcome through state instrumentalisation of Algorithms.
To this extent, those too excited that they deal a blow on whoever they attack on Facebook are lying to themselves. Meaning of a text, (a speech, a book, a text message, a sermon, etc) does not lie solely or even substantially with the speaker or writer. It does more with the audience and how they re-inscribe it. This is not a defence of anybody but an exposition of how meaning and actions are produced in deconstructive reasoning.
Intervention is not also suggesting that calling a Muslim politician or dressing him up in the robes of a Catholic Bishop cannot be a damaging depiction in a country such as Nigeria but even then, such a graphic is not capable of a universal meaning across Nigeria. In other words, meaning and effect are not derivatives of the facts and facticity that social media enthusiasts are hoping on and throwing about. They could transform into (discursive) power but there are intervening variables which make that to happen. Attention to Obasanjo’s list and what might be going on there would be more strategic than the foolish but understandable Facebook warfare defining contemporary Nigerian politics.
In that context, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) is more sophisticated in his analysis of his own chances vis-à-vis Asiwaju’s and that of Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party by putting a lot of stress on structures and control of them. However, that is if Atiku too is careful enough not to fall into the Astronomer’s calamity. The ‘Astronomer’s calamity’ is a uniquely improvised version of a larger construct by late Dr. Tajudden Abdulraheem to analyse the phenomenon best associated with Peter Obi in Nigeria today. When Barack Obama emerged as a contender in the United States, many established pundits and folk sociologists as well concluded that the big players connected with the Military Industrial Complex would not allow an upset from an upstart. They stressed structural power to its very limits. In the end, Obama won. All such pundits were subsequently bracketed in the ‘Astronomer’s calamity’ category because they were comparable to the astronomer who was still analysing the clouds and predicting that the rain would not fall even when the rain had already started dropping outside his comfortable location.
So, underestimating Peter Obi in 2023 can be a calamity because it is a matter of what he is successfully constructed to come to signify in popular imagination. Situated further in this very phase of the struggle for power in Nigeria in which the ethno-religious and regional stakes are very high, that popular imagination can determine what happens or do not happen. What is at stake are thus not how good or bad Peter Obi or anybody for that matter actually is but how s/he is represented. For now, Obi has been mediated largely as the guy who has the age, pedigree and promise or newness to change things as opposed to Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Tinubu. The potential in this representational practice of power is that Atiku and Asiwaju could be mediated to a point that they cannot reverse their image early enough as to win the next election. Of course, it could also happen that they, individually or collectively, could deconstruct Peter Obi as to strip him of any electoral worth, particularly in the course of the impending electioneering campaign. Peter Obi has been with them and they know what can be played up about him in the context of ethno-regional and religious fears in Nigeria.
So, it is a balance of deconstructive terror in which Obi’s only advantages at the moment is a broad popular perception of Atiku and Asiwaju as simply not good enough gentlemen as far as presidential power is concerned in Nigeria of today. That is a major advantage that any contender, especially an Obi, can frame by way of a metaphor with devastating effects. But such miracle will depend on Obi stopping to make some statements that simply expose his grasp of statecraft as well as stop overplaying some of his boisterous and over-confident promoters. Right now, none of the three leading contenders has anything that makes them speak to an Ataturk. That’s a tragedy already, given the depth of the decay in Nigeria. In that sense, neither is Asiwaju and Atiku’s haphazard neoliberalism NOR is Peter Obi’s populism and folk enthusiasm good enough. It is still Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who has the right word for it: the transformation agenda. Whether Goodluck understood the radical import of that commitment when he was the president is a different matter.
For now, it is Asiwaju Tinubu that is at the receiving end of tough luck from ruthless whipping which keeps assuming different dimensions: from Chief Bode George’s consistent articulation of his unsuitability to the focus on shaking fingers suggestive of the health dimension of that unsuitability down to the DoB/school records/certificate issues and now, the Muslim-Muslim ticket palaver. Interestingly, it is Atiku Abubakar, his fellow traveller, who dealt him the most decisive blow on this by saying in a recent interview that Asiwaju has always favoured a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Given Atiku’s hierarchy of credibility in matters Asiwaju, this could be a big blow because religious balance is what the Constitution insists on, most likely because those who framed the constitution must have in mind that it is a communication in nation building when an incumbent Nigerian president stands with his deputy, each of whom is of a different religious identity. The issue is thus a matter which is beyond Asiwaju being married to a Christian wife or having Christian friends.
Within a certain level of media operatives in Nigeria, Asiwaju Tinubu is known as the rainmaker. It means that, unlike Obasanjo, for example, (Chief Obasanjo being the leader of the movement for calculated stinginess in Nigeria), he has no ‘aradite’ infection. He shares this classification with another ex-governor colleague of his from the Southsouth who has gone quiet after a failed bid for power at the centre. The question now is whether Asiwaju will suffer that ex-governor colleague’s fate or re-strategise and overturn the linguistic roasting that has been his fate the past week.