The much expected post medical vacation speech of President Muhammadu Buhari has come and gone. It was basically reading the riot act, declared in the very second paragraph of the speech where he said that “some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation”. Recalling history to support this thesis, including his discussion with the late Biafran warlord, Chief Emeka Ojukwu, the president devoted the rest of the speech to his ‘law and order’ approach to recovering the Nigeria State from terrorists, kidnappers, promoters of ethnic violence and sundry elements. Corruption suspects and farmers versus herdsmen clashes were also mentioned. Although he recognised what he called legitimate grievances, he directs all those with such to sort it out at the level of the National Assembly and the National Council of State. He is also on record as annulling any quit notices by anybody to anybody, a major feature of the current standstill.
The speech brings to mind Professor Osinbajo’s earlier threat to unleash the Department of State Security Service, (DSS). Unleashing the security service is a language Osinbajo did not use but, in the context in which he spoke at the height of quit notices a few months back, it was similar to Ronald Reagan’s threat to unleash the CIA in the 1980s which he eventually did in order to get the defunct USSR out of Afghanistan. Osinbajo obviously didn’t go ahead on the scale expected probably because the ‘Lion King’ wanted to be on ground before it is unfolded. In that case, there are interesting times ahead.
There is no doubt about it that the intelligence or security services have enough tricks to undermine criminality and irredentism especially as Buhari cannot have been uncompromising and aggressive in tone without some elite consensus. It is thus assumed that his speech is the position of the Nigerian establishment. If this is correct, it is safe to say that the much feared elite fragmentation might have been overcome. If there is elite consensus, the intelligence services can undermine agitation. The problem with this analysis is that there is no knowing the degree of coherence of the elite consensus under reference especially in the context of what this cartoon here illustrates:
One layer seems certain though. That is the club of former military rulers. Those ones may quarrel and abuse themselves on the pages of newspapers but it is unlikely that will come between them and a collective position on the oneness of Nigeria. There is no influence category higher than this exclusive club because they – Obasanjo, IBB, Abdulsalami – created almost whoever is anybody presently in Nigeria through the various programmes they have implemented over the years. So, they have a vast reservoir of actors they can reach out to. It has nothing to do with whether they are popular or not.
The second issue in the Buhari speech is it looks like the eve of some tinkering that might be coming because he could not have been so categorical without some tinkering coming up. After all, some of what he called legitimate grievances are what his regime is criticised for. John Duku, the leader of the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators articulated the sentiments in an interesting way from the point of specificity of meaning in a Punch interview as follows: the Inspector General of Police is from the North; the Chief of Army Staff is from the North; the Chief of Staff to the President is from the North; the Minister of Petroleum is from the North; the Comptroller General of Customs is from the North, the Director General of the Department of State Services is also from the North. All the major positions are being occupied by the northerners. So, if you believe in one Nigeria, why can’t we get some of these positions? The Senate President is from the North; the Speaker of the House of Representatives is from the North. All members of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation board are from the North. With this, how do you want the southerners who have oil to feel? They (northerners) don’t have oil”
Forget about the empiricism of the narrative, we are talking about meaning and in meaning-making, everyone sees the world from where s/he stands, not from the nonsensical concept of objectivity that realists peddle in right wing scholarship. The way people see things is the way they react to it. Expecting such people to be reasonable without coming half way is discursive.
Where the president has a point is whether grievances such as this warrant questioning the existence of Nigeria as one country at a time huge demographic profile and tremendous resource endowment coincide with the re-arrangement of the global order, presenting a country as Nigeria a lifetime opportunity to break the chain that makes it impossible for her to industrialise. Of course, without industrializing, Nigeria is a joke. So, where is this restructuring coming from at this point in time?
Most would accept the president’s analogy that Nigeria’s oneness is not negotiable, especially in the light of the reasons given for that by Historians such as Professor Adiele Afigbo. Afigbo is worth quoting because he said what he said many years before the current standstill. Writing in 1991 in an entire edition of Publius devoted to “Federalism in Nigeria: Towards Federal Democracy”, Professor Adiele Afigbo said “In answer to this question, Nigerian historians have usually drawn attention the economic and other linkages existing among the various Nigerian peoples, linkages having roots in the soil of pre-colonial history. They have drawn attention to the binding force of the Niger-Benue river system, to the complementarity of the geographic regions and, therefore, to their mutual interdependence in the economic area emphasized the population diaspora, especially among the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa, which had taken place under colonialism, thus making it difficult to contemplate a political arrangement that would involve disentangling the various Nigerian peoples. Some others have drawn attention to the unifying effects of the new road and railway systems, the central bureaucracy, the fragile trade unions, Western education, and the Western legal system.” To the practical man of affairs, versed in Nigerian politics, these points sound academic and marginally relevant. To such a realist, the valid explanation would lie in the determination of the imperial power to administer the territory as one and then to graduate it into independence as one nation”.
As far as Afigbo is concerned, it is practical men of affairs or realists who have been behind restructuring, whether it came as confederation in 1983 and in 1985; excision of some states in 1990; Sovereign National Conference in 1991; Southern Presidency in 1993; rotation of power in 1995, power shift in 1999; resource control thereafter and the rise of an insurgency in pursuit of it between 2001 and 2009. In other words, Nigeria is confronting the problems of political realism. Might Nigeria then be confronting the rigidity, narrowness, lack of sophistication, repressiveness and hostility to human interest that critics of realism such as Ken Booth leveled against it for misleading the Cold War?
It would be interesting to watch reactions to the speech from various quarters in the next few days.