It reminds of the interesting claim early in the 21st century that “Media power is one of the most outstanding conundrums of contemporary era public discourse in that we still cannot account for the media’s persistent presence as arbiters of events in the real world”. Something is currently happening in Nigeria that makes this even more interesting. On May 1st, 2017, the trio of OBJ, IBB and AAA met in Minna. One account has it that they did so at the instance of President Buhari who wanted them to extract a compromise from Acting President Yemi Osinbajo not to exceed the remaining Buhari/Osinbajo term in the aftermath of his ascendancy. By this speculation, the trio was also to select a manageable replacement for Osinbajo’s office in the event of his metamorphosis to the higher plane of the president. That the three met is not in dispute. When journalists asked Obasanjo at a different occasion few days later, he declined to be interviewed on the meeting but he did not dispute that they met.
Of course, whether it was Buhari or ‘Buhari’ that asked them to convey the meeting is not important here because that is the bit that cannot be confirmed. Some people would say that if Buhari is in a position to ask them, why could he not take the decision himself. Others would counter that it is only those who do not know how the military elements operate when it comes to management of power that would raise such a question. Neither here nor there at this point! What is here and there is the media politics of the meeting.
Exactly a week after the Minna meeting, the first speculation surfaced in the least likely newspaper for such a detailed reporting of what purportedly took place. It said the trio would be extracting the compromise from Osinbajo but that for the position of the new Vice-President which would become vacant as soon as President Buhari resigns to go take care of his health, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State would be the correct guy out of a list of him, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State. They had the bases of their position which, again, is not the issue here.
At issue here rather is how another version of what took place at the Minna meeting surfaced just as the first speculation was about to settle, to become normal, accepted and formed. The new speculation said it was actually Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso that the trio endorsed ahead of 2019. The ‘story from nowhere’ actually linked such endorsement to reported Atiku Abubakar’s jitters, coming within a week of Mustapha Jokolo, former Emir of Gwandu’s return to the 53 suitcases saga, invoking a feared prayer along the line. Who knows if a third speculation would not surface giving it to Naser el-Rufai? Who even knows if the ‘king-makers’ are not the ones enjoying themselves?
That all these are taking place in the media is the issue in question. It sets up the media to determine what we think about as well as how to think about them. The media does that by supplying us the terms by which we even think about what it wants us to think about. And it is the power to determine the terms by which a thing is thought of that actually makes all the difference. Apart from the few within the route of their respective sphere of influence, no average reader is going to go back to any of the ‘kingmakers’ – OBJ, IBB and AAA to ask them about what they actually decided when they met.
Meanwhile, with several versions of what happened at the meeting circulating, none of it hegemonic, truth becomes relative and the struggle for power becomes a matter of ‘speaking is doing’. That is the winner may not be the guy who might actually have been endorsed but the one who can articulate and interpellate a narrative of the office of the Vice-President today vis-a-vis him or herself self better than all else. After all, the trio would not be the only centre of power in the struggle. There are other centres that will play or try to play a part too. A winning narrative can make the word and the world to co-constitute the reality in this struggle. It is a new kind of power that does not dispense with old forms of power such as wealth, political position, structural location, institutional leverage or coercion but harmonises all such pre-existing forms into a new dynamism.
It would not be such a completely new thing since even Plato deployed it in his days and we see a lot of that in Obierika and the thinking elements in Achebe’s novels, for instance. What has been very new is the technological expansion of the media space and the blooming it has brought about. What is so new, at least in this shores, is the post structuralist temperament and the revolution it has enacted in the study of power as a textual entity. It is one thing that will rescue Nigerian universities because nothing will stop Nigerian legislators from throwing the entire budget to the universities the day they realise that the struggle for power can be transformed into a more pleasant engagement by harmonising the non-material/discursive with the material/non-discursive forms of power. That day can be seen around the horizon but a pre-requisite of which is better universities, capable of adding the post structuralist temperament to its current offerings. That way, Nigerian universities can mount more specific modules such as “Discourse and Power”, “Popular Culture and Politics” and even “Popular Geopolitics”, just to mention a few. Our universities would still carry on with Positivism and Realism but the world is also moving and fast too.
In the meantime, it could be interesting watching the language game playing out in the struggle for the Vice-President’s office, how the agenda setting dimension is being shaped in the media with incredible dexterity rather than the ‘jaga-jaga’ media style of yesteryears. Do not forget the quote we started with: “Media power is one of the most outstanding conundrums of contemporary era public discourse in that we still cannot account for the media’s persistent presence as arbiters of events in the real world”.