It is either that Segun Adeniyi is a dangerous reporter or an over generous analyst. Either way, he ‘punishes’ the reader of his texts with avalanche of data that must create for them a crisis of weighting the facts. Since it is understood that he did not loot the media budget under his care during his time as the late President Yar’Adua’s media aide, it stands to reason that he is a good guy and he punishes us as readers only because he is a ‘victim’ of the positivist trap in our journalism education that insists on a distinction between facts and opinion. The alternative tradition argues against that by saying that all facts are, indeed, interpretations. We will return to this point shortly.
Of course, Against the Run of Play is a thrilling reportage which refreshes the memory, both for those who were at the heart of the matter and those far away from what played out. In this respect, Adeniyi’s Chapter One may be considered fascinating. That is the chapter with the rendition of PDP’s grappling with the puzzle of how to manage the fall outs of the death of an incumbent under conditions of a zoning pact without annoying any part of the country in terms of Jonathans candidature in 2011. Subsequent chapters contain descriptive details of one flash point or the other till the defeat of Jonathan in 2015. At the end of the day, Jonathan reneging on a promise not to go for second term, the president’s banal handling of the PDP, pervasive corruption in government, the northern angst, opposition’s self-reorganisation, the over-privileging of the Ijaw contingency by Jonathan, the Chibok girls issue, external interests and the Obasanjo oversight on power emerged as the ten or so theatres of absurdity which nailed Jonathan. So, on the strength of the details and the questions they lead us to, the book has the potential to contribute more than the sensational or thrilling experience of them at the point of their publication.
It is doubtful if a better manner of sourcing the evidence for the book exists outside what Adeniyi used – talking to the people who were involved in the processes that led to Jonathan’s defeat in 2015. But, going through the book, one notices Adeniyi’s tendency to absolutise the data he got by refusing to problematise them as required when using that technique. There was no grilling of his respondents or intertextualising of their responses. He was thus not treating the responses as discourses or power positioning which they are. That is, power in the sense that discourses are constitutive of power, the reason why the media, for instance, is powerful because it controls discourses more than any other modern site in that realm. Just one example of failure to discipline data!
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo told Adeniyi and Adeniyi reported him as such in the book that Jonathan had blinkers. He listed the blinkers as Jonathan’s basic incompetence, his refusal or inability to fight corruption, his fall back on Ijaw nationalism and so on. He later added the point about Jonathan being too small for the job of Nigeria’s presidency. When relying on the technique Adeniyi used, this sort of claims must either be interrogated or somehow intertextualised to stand. This is for the simple reason that the concepts in question such as competence, incompetence, corruption, etc have no universal, objective meaning. But there is nowhere in the book where this was done. Meanwhile, the same Obasanjo had said it in the media that Jonathan never obtained a PhD, that they only allowed his candidature to pass as an internal PDP affair. How did Obasanjo then expect quality leadership from someone who had no qualms in posing as a PhD holder when he did not have one? Or, how is Obasanjo not implicated in that by presiding over the ‘fraud’? That is just one side of the issue. There is a second side.
A PDP chieftain, one of the five persons who dragged Jonathan into all these, has said it at an occasion attended by journalists, legislators and sundry politicians that Jonathan actually rejected the offer to be Vice-President to the late Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007. And Jonathan’s reason for doing so is that he wasn’t prepared. What he said he was prepared for was governing Bayelsa State. According to the chieftain, it was one of the five persons in the room that day that used non-verbal communication to change Jonathan’s mind. The person who did so said it was because they were not sure whom Obasanjo would come up with as Yar’Adua’s deputy if Jonathan stood his ground. And he said they wanted someone such as Jonathan who would not give the president horrors.
The testimony points at two things. One, the unconstituted nature of the Nigerian power elite shown in the fear of who Obasanjo could come up with should Jonathan’s have stood his ground against accepting to be Yar’Adua’s deputy and, two, the privileging of naivete as the most decisive qualification for leadership in Nigeria. This is because this chieftain mentioned how they did not want someone who could make life hell for Yar’Adua. He meant someone who would not ask questions since no Vice-President will treasure going about creating problems for the system just for the fun of it. While this narrative exonerates Obasanjo from ‘complicity’ in bringing Jonathan into the field of presidential power politics, it does not make his claim of Jonathan’s smallness for the office to stand because he knew very well that Jonathan wasn’t yet equipped to hold that office at that time.
If Jonathan’s discomfort with the complexity of Abuja power centre didn’t indicate this, his historical distance from the Nigerian power process did. He had no history of participation even in student unionism or any such leadership training camp. He had been removed from any such processes that had anything to do with internal and self criticism, organisational discipline, collective responsibility, task handling, management of contradictions, restraint at the point of personal loss, etc.
This showed in his endless construction of enemies, his inept communication skills, his inability to control the counterproductive visibility of the wife, his (mis)management of internal dynamics of the PDP and the other deficiencies on display in whatever he handled as president at different levels as recorded in Adeniyi’s chapters two to six and thereafter. It is, therefore, Jonathan who should be lambasting all those who dragged him to Abuja without first grooming him for the formal and informal protocols of power in Nigeria, the kind of dynamics that the Obasanjos, IBBS, TY Danjumas or other members of the elite got in good schools and/or as middle class professionals, (lawyers, doctors, engineers, military officers, technocrats, diplomats or businessmen).
This is not an endorsement of the disaster he was in government but insisting on tracing problems to their origin and being fair and just in all that we do. It is a reviewer’s way of saying that if someone looking for a leader from a zone of quality such as the Niger Delta or south-south where Clement Isong, Eskor Toyo, Claude Ake, JP Clark, Melford Okilo and many others originated could only get a Jonathan but without first grooming him, then the choice maker ought to be blaming himself rather than Jonathan. Secondly, it is insisting on being faithful to the demands of the rules of the technique in use. It is contextual analysis that makes that technique Adeniyi used to be so powerful a way of producing information or knowledge which is what writing a book is about.
A second point is this. If all facts are interpretations and the idea of two plus two is only a specifically meaningful idea, then former President Jonathan can very easily build a sustainable case of bias against Adeniyi on the basis of Adeniyi’s structuring of Against the Run of Play in such a way that the dense forest of ‘facts’ in chapters two to six tend to naturalise the inevitability of Jonathan’s defeat in 2015 as articulated in a very bare manner on page 217 of the book. That is the more plausible ground Jonathan would have based his reaction to the book were he to have critically read Adeniyi’s book. After all, the data in question are all discursive data and could be said to have been arranged to produce the reality invoked – the reality of Jonathan as a non-starter. Adeniyi is unlikely to have set out to do so but that’s what a dialogic engagement with the text can produce from especially the uncritical engagement with the data. So, Adeniyi hangs himself in what he might have thought was merely providing the empirics of the build up to the rupture in ruling class politics.
A third observation on the book comes from one of the positive features of Adeniyi’s advanced reporting in book form: the questions they enable us to ask when situated. One such question would be whether the ten or so theatres of absurdity cited in support of the thesis of the inevitability of Jonathan’s defeat, individually or collectively, explain that reality or are things to be explained themselves. Why, for instance, did the interests we used to call imperialists had to save the Nigerian power elite from itself in 2015, failing which the country might still have been boiling? Is the centrality of Ijaw nationalism in the Jonathan presidency an explanation or something to be explained? Within which context did a regime get hanged for reason of corruption level in Nigeria? Why did the PDP unravel from one of the best organised political parties in modern Nigeria to the haven of organisational rascality in recent Nigerian history?
Adeniyi was keener on arraigning the facts as he sees them on each of these points. In that regard, he was a great success. He fulfilled the requirement of specificity of why corruption, Ijaw irredentism, abject lack of organisational sense in handling the PDP, an uncontrollable wife, etc, etc undid the former president. But, beyond specificity, we need an overarching argument that ties all the many different problem areas.
Adeniyi provides one where he makes the claim about how Nigerian presidents are always chosen by accident. In other words, Nigeria still has no tradition of leadership grooming and succession. So, succession in Nigeria is an accident in which anybody can be a victim or beneficiary. That is a middle level theoretical intervention from Adeniyi. He is on a very strong ground although critics would argue if zoning were not a succession regime. They would ask if the products of the Nigerian military in the late 1950s could be described as not groomed because, although Sandhurst where majority of them went did not train them for high state office, their Western patrons rated them as the only elements who operated on rational criteria in much of the Third World. And that is why they encouraged them to stage coups and take over power then. And it is only with the end of the Cold War the West started singing new song against military intervention in politics.
Do these annul Adeniyi’s claim? No. It doesn’t. It only leaves a poser for everyone: assuming Nigeria realises this gap and wants to start grooming philosopher-kings, how does it do that in the context of largely dead political party culture, dead universities and dead elite orientation sites such as NIPSS?
The question may still be asked if lack of leadership grooming/succession explains the decisive, stabilising influence of external interests in the 2015 election. Does it mean Jonathan would not have needed feelers of a dreary future before conceding victory if he had passed through whatever passes as Nigeria’s rites of passage into high office or if the succession regime were in place? The answer would depend on what we can claim to know as the reasons for US interest in the 2015 election, for example. For those who have followed Ambassador John Campbell’s writings in particular, he has never hid his incomprehension of why a national elite would toy with keeping to an elite pact. He found it strange and he is a resource person to the US system. By their own understanding of an elite pact, it was the turn of the north and they saw a group human rights violation in that and a potential source of trouble. Two, the US has come to understand the psychology of the Nigerian elite as one that is prone to a fight to finish mentality. There was no way the US was going to oblige this elite this luxury at a time its war commitments in the Middle East has drained it of the capacity to even contemplate anything about a blue helmet operation for containing an implosion in Nigeria. Yet, its claim to global primacy would be in tatters were Nigeria to be boiling and it cannot do anything. Not when it is in a great power security competition with an aggressive peer competitor such as China.
So, there was what could be called an American framework into which the contending representations from Nigeria about the 2015 struggle for power were fitted to produce a policy of subtle regime change. Would leadership grooming/succession regime have made any difference in this? Doubtful! For, where in much of Africa is this the case? So, the case for an overarching explanation still hangs. We take this up along with a concluding statement on the two books that ended up with one theme in the final instalment of this review, (part 3). The two books are Segun Adeniyi’s Against the Run of Play and Onyeisi Chiemeke’s June 12 Election: The CD and the Implosion of the Left.