Reloading Nigeria’s Risk Baggage in 2017, (Part 1)
2017 is here and there is no way the country defined by the highest concentration of blacks under one government wouldn’t be a factor in 2017 as it always been. Nigeria is such a wonderful lady, so beautiful she would get away with murder any day. She has so many loving and loyal lovers, almost all of whom have, however, raped her or plan to do so as soon as possible. It is such that she is, in the opinion of one of her more prolific professors of Political Science, a crippled giant. Nigeria’s patrons confirm this by routinely proclaiming when the already crippled giant would eventually implode. Initially, it was put at 2015 and then it was shifted to 2030. 2030 may come and pass without anything having happened to Nigeria except that it remains a cripple. That is not impossible but the most likely scenario because, as the colonialists saw it, so has it been: the worst never happens but the best is impossible. That is, Nigeria never breaks up but it doesn’t make much progress either. It is permanently in a state of strategic stalemate in which neither going forward nor backward is possible. In other words, it is a threatened entity, a risk nightmare. That is risk as the new language of danger and threats.
One option is to dismiss the discourse of Nigeria as a personification of risk. Some people might, however, argue that since language produces reality, there is not an option in dismissing the risk discourse of Nigeria but to probe into the plausible sources of the baggage. In this Special report, Intervention sets itself the task, taking seven of such sources: Cabalistic Entrapment and the Unscrambling of the Buhari Promise; ‘Oil and Instability’; the Decentering of the State and the Mismanagement of Anarchy; the Rising Elite Fragmentation and the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ in Nigeria; the Crisis of National Self-Understanding; the Demise of the Left in Nigerian Politics and ‘Battleground Africa’. This listing follows no hierarchy whatsoever and it is completely exploratory.
The Crisis of National Self-understanding and Narrative
The United States of America is hardly everyone’s model of the contemporary state but it provides one of the best examples of the statist idealism. At its inception, American founding fathers uttered words that have produced exactly the reality invoked. One of them said, “No matter how unimportant America may be today, there will come a day when this country will have some weight in the scale of empire”. Another one said “America is an empire for liberty, a chosen country, a rising nation”. And the motto on the seal says “God has blessed this undertaking”.
In the case of Nigeria, the founding fathers who fought for independence turned around to make statements interrogative of the national project along a binary view of pluralism, particularly the north and the south, Islam and Christianity, etc. Imagining the country in terms of a mere geographical expression whose constituent units are not as homogenous as in other states or talking of the mistake of 1914 and so on have led to where, today, it is difficult to find groups or individuals who have risen beyond those imaginaries. In fact, it can be claimed that collectively, they have produced a citizenry who think they have to be persuaded to be Nigerians. In the age of the social media and the associated emergent Cyberethnicity, the articulation of positions rooted in these statements is even worse even though we are supposed to be more educated and cosmopolitan than our political ancestors who ran the show in the immediate post independence era.
To make matters worse, Nigeria has no training grounds today that one could say its products would, under no circumstance, betray the nation. It used to be some of the earliest universities. In the current trial of allegedly corrupt politicians, many are from these same universities. The risk here in 2017 is that there is now no groups, political parties or individual politicians with a binding narrative that fires the imagination of majority of Nigerians in terms of popular democratic aspirations. Then how could there be a nation that nobody has imagined if a nation is an imagined community? There we are!
The Rising Elite Fragmentation and the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’
By the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ is meant the claim that, in every society, it is a few who rule and they are able to do so because of their sense of excellence or merit which, for a host of reasons, the majority lack or are said to lack. It is such that although aristocracies are the graveyard of history, it is never replaced by “the sweeping majestic visions of people rising victorious like a tidal wave against their oppressors”. Instead of that happening, “New oppressors will have been readying themselves secretly in the undertow long before the tidal wave got really going”. The temptation is to abuse Chinua Achebe whose Anthills of the Savannah I have been quoting from for being such an irredeemable social realist. The truth, however, is that he speaks to the ‘eternal cycle of elite’ sub-thesis of the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ which has been borne out by even our own experience in the radical movement in Nigeria, whether in NANS, WIN, CD, CLO and what have you. In other words, though conservative an ideological project, this theory has had such a very strong empirical demonstration in history that even those preparing for a revolution must engage with it.
Elite fragmentation is thus an issue to worry about against the background of the inevitability of elite rule. Elite do not have to be sissies or zombies to be elite. But they do not fight over fundamentals because in-fighting among them could be dangerous for the society. Moreover, fighting over fundamentals suggests an elite that is not yet formed.
In other words, there is a risk baggage in the unending tales of intrigue over fundamental issues of nationhood such as the very concept of federalism as applicable to Nigeria, succession, business model or development strategy, the role of religion in national affairs and the stateness of the state, among others. Someone might say is this is an unfair assessment in the light of the idea of ‘no go areas’ that used to feature under the military. The problem is that the ‘no go areas’ are the issues over which no consensus now exists. If the elite cannot agree on the fundamentals, it automatically loses the claim to merit that privileges it over the majority. This is more so that elite-fragmentation in Nigeria today goes beyond the cataclysmic altercations spilling into newspaper pages from former military rulers but also within civil society organisations such as Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo and Arewa Consultative Council that advertised themselves as canvassers of ‘one voice’.
In these cases, it is not democracy but fragmentation we are seeing. That advertises an unconstituted elite in any society, an elite still contemplating its mission. It means trouble in the engine room of power and it explains the earthquakes that define Nigerian politics every now and then. Up till today, every four years, it is like the country will collapse over who takes power.
Going by the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’, elite fragmentation is a deadly source of threat because it is from these mini-wars that the major wars such as ethnic/religious violence, insurgencies and enclave politics arise. Where it is not a classical insurgency, it could be the stalling of the anti-corruption war in Nigeria today even as the elite know that the level of corruption is undermining its collective right to rule. Coups used to be part of it. Africa as a whole seems to have put that behind but only to be confronted by insurgencies left, right and centre. The rising elite fragmentation in Nigeria today over just about every issues is both a source and a risk to watch.
Cabalistic Entrapment and the Unscrambling of the Buhari Promise
The coming of General Muhammadu Buhari was a deliberate choice, both at the level of the cohort who make these things happen as well as at the popular level. Both levels saw a promise in him: the last member of the establishment under whom any modicum of ending unregulated and unruly capitalism could be achieved. Achieving that was considered critical to the development of Nigeria because the bunch of speculators constituting the capitalist class in Nigeria needed to be dislodged to make way for property rights that is informed by rule of law. We have made reference to this before and would still do so again regarding how beautiful and powerfully elder statesman Adamu Ciroma has put why Buhari was the last man: “Sincerely speaking, for a retired soldier in the Nigerian Army, who has just one wife, even though his religion allows him to marry more. For an ex President who declares his assets publicly with no foreign account. For an attractive man who can boast of having no girlfriend or mistresses in a world where having extra marital affairs is the order of the day. And during all these time, the devil has not possessed any of his worshippers to blackmail him. There must be something interesting about this person, and Nigerians want to learn such discipline from this personality. This is not a campaign, this is an intriguing mystery we want to be part of”.
Then Buhari arrived Abuja in May 2015 with a three point agenda: security, the economy and an anti-corruption war. The most powerful power resource anyone needs to achieve these is political power. And political power is automatically about political leadership. It is the quality of governance or leadership that brings about peace and security. Quality leadership is incompatible with cabalistic entrapment because cabals do not guide. Cabals are not in all cases sinister but they all seek to manipulate. Yet, central to the Buhari regime has been the gists about its entrapment or hijack by cabals. The initial hints were about the emergence of a cabal that wanted to run the country alone, outside of the formal machinery around and about presidential powers for sometimes. So, for a long time, there was no cabinet. Interestingly, these hints came from sources that could not be dismissed as far as how Abuja works or, better still, how presidential power works in Nigeria.
The first to confirm these speculations was Bukola Saraki, the Senate President who told the world in June 2016 that a cabal had seized the presidency and shoved aside President Buhari from occupying the centre of gravity in governance. In fact, in Bukola’s own words, “… what has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari who have seized the apparatus of Executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda”. In mid October 2016, the president’s wife followed, talking on a global radio network about a cabal ‘behind presidential appointments’ such that neither the president nor his wife of 27 years knew more than five out of 50 of such appointees. Going as far as calling them usurpers, Mrs Buhari also said many of the cabal’s kind of appointees do not even have voter’s card, not to talk of voting for the ruling party. It has remained a landmark intervention in the history of Nigeria by the wife of any Nigerian leader, from whichever angle viewed.
It was assumed the president would fall back on reflexivity and, from there, make strategic moves since he stood no chance of winning against his wife on the issue of cabalistic seizure of his mandate. Then the events of the mid December 2016 came to show that he had done nothing of the sort. Not only did the mid December drama show the president to have done no self-critique, it also showed how clumsily the cabal operates. The drama unfolded in a way that it is impossible to find anybody who knows what actually happened or what might be the truth of what was happening. Bukola Saraki being the first source of the reality of cabalistic entrapment makes perfectly understandable the move by the Senate to knock off the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), one of the legs upon which the cabal is said to walk.
But the outline is not that clear in the Ibrahim Magu case which followed. It is not about whether Magu is the best person or not for the chairmanship of the Nigeria’s anti-graft agency but about doing things neatly. The president sent his name as a nominee to the Senate for confirmation as demanded by the rule book. First of all, sending his name was delayed. The rest of the society has no idea who did that and why? Then the Senate returned a verdict of No. The Senate in Nigeria is not used to saying No to presidential nominees. Such nominees, for the most part, go there, take a bow and go. The No of the Senate was an interesting one although it is still not a big deal if the Senate had not said the decision was based on a security report from the secret service. What!
Of course, the secrecy of their service has positioned the secret service to exercise veto power over everyone else, including the president. But it exercises that power through its background check task on appointees. It does not send a separate report on a nominee to the Senate on an appointee after such a nominee had been cleared by it and, on the basis of such clearance, the president had sent the name. It is so puzzling that the president’s nominee could be undermined by a security report said to have emanated from the secret service. Could there be a fifth columnist located within the DSSS or had there been a grave accidental error of judgment in that same DSSS or the National Assembly or in the Villa?
No matter how one looked at it, there appears some vested interests at work, most likely a duplicate president or what Aisha Buhari would call the usurper. Except if there is an extreme case of betrayal. Three levels of betrayal are fingered. It could be the Senate betraying the DSSS which might not have thought the Senate will attribute its rejection of Magu to a security report by it. It could have been DSSS betraying the president and it could be the president betraying Magu. Some of these are very unlikely but in government, nothing can be ruled out totally.
The scenario speaks to the tale concerning the strategy session conveyed by the council of elders of mice who were troubled by the cat. The popular response was to string a bell on the cat so that it does not catch the mice unaware. But then interjected this elder mouse to ask who will put the bell on the cat without being suicidal? It is from there the expression, ‘who will bell the cat’ entered into popular usage. With the conspiracy on Magu, corruption appears to have won a very big relief. The question now is who can challenge corruption in Nigeria today without being blocked? The real tragedy is that it is all happening under Muhammadu Buhari who effectively turns into the umpire who cannot blow the whistle! The anti-corruption war might be the most striking casualty of cabalistic entrapment but no less is the totality of its impact.
What cabalistic entrapment does is to kill whatever potentials existed or still exists of the Buhari political personality by subjecting it to a discourse of Nigeria that suffers from a unique poverty of realism. The conception of Nigeria in unchanging terms is a grave risk to both those doing the conception and to the country. What has happened since May 2015 has, very unfortunately, not shown a Buhari preparedness for post Jonathan Nigeria. There is not enough to show that the president studied why there was a clamour for change and even the change he promised. To talk about rot in a post Jonathan Nigeria is to advertise such unpreparedness rather than a regime that had made the important distinctions about what is most primary and what are of secondary importance in the present context. Without such distinction, there has been no such nuanced conceptualisation of the Nigerian situation that would have shown the presidency as the leading force within the state which should itself be the leading force in the society. That was shocking in the context of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north east in particular and the imperative to quickly take the north off being the point of conflict in the politics of the national question. A very deep discourse was expected both for the larger Nigeria and for northern Nigeria in relation to the region’s monopoly of violent conflicts of the type that depicts a pre-take off stage, developmentally speaking.
An uncompromising mobilisation against the future guaranteed by a recent alarming picture on the front page of Daily Trust in which the bare floor served as a classroom somewhere in the region was expected. An agro-industrialisation strategy promised the fastest and cheapest way – in, with particular reference to taking millions out of poverty within the shortest possible time. It was the sort of commitment that could justify the current hunger and misery in the country because it promises a tomorrow that everyone could see. But it is just not there! It is not because oil prices have fallen or because politicians have stolen all the money, true as these are. It is fundamentally that the strategic vision is not there in the first case. Or is it that shy? A cabal that could dictate appointments but would not articulate and push a radical discourse or programme of development even in the aftermath of everything that Boko Haram have brought up regarding development must be a problematic cabal.