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This piece has been reproduced from Spiegel Online, the electronic version of the Hamburg based Der Spiegel magazine where it was originally titled “Erdogan’s Endgame: Turkey’s All-Powerful President Grabs for More” (June 22nd, 2018). Located in such a way that it is interested in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Turkey is both a tempting topic as well as a nightmare for students of International Relations. The agency of the Turkish president seems to be no less if this piece is anything to go by – Intervention
By Maximilian Popp
The elections in Turkey on June 24 will determine President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s future and his legacy. He is currently at the zenith of his power and is looking to add even more. But he remains desperately afraid of losing it all.
The president begins his day with prayer, usually between 5 and 6 a.m. depending on when the sun rises. Then he spends half an hour on the treadmill and lifts weights. He has a light breakfast since he suffers from diabetes and drinks tea from the Black Sea. He reads memos from his advisers and the newspapers, usually the Islamist ones along with Sabah, which is run by a relative. At 8 a.m. Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets his Chief of Staff and his spokesman to go through the agenda for the day. At 11 a.m. he makes his way to the presidential palace.
Erdogan lives with his wife in a villa on the grounds of the palace, which is located on a hill on the outskirts of Ankara. He had the palace built in 2014 and it’s a fortress that encompasses several buildings with a total of 1,000 rooms, a bunker and a clinic. Visitors are collected by car and brought by tunnel to the respective wing. The building is symbolic of the reign of this president: terrifying, powerful, isolated, controlled.
In February, Erdogan turned 64. He still wears the same moustache he did as a younger man, but his cheeks have sunken and his brow is marked by wrinkles. In 2011, he had, it is said, a benign tumor removed from his large intestine. And he still sticks to an extremely tough schedule. Every day, he meets with cabinet ministers, legislators and mayors and controls every action taken by his government, no matter how insignificant. He always carries a notebook with him in which he is constantly jotting things down. He seldom returns home before midnight, and he expects the same of his employees.
He has governed Turkey for 15 years, first as Prime Minister and then as president – longer than any previous Turkish politician. And now, on June 24, the country will go to the polls for parliamentary elections. The presidential election is on the same day, and Erdogan hopes to be returned to office with more power than ever before. It would transform him into an autocrat, any semblance of separation of powers would be essentially passé. Turkey would become synonymous with Erdogan.
But who, really, is this man, whose destiny is so closely entwined with that of his country? He is a person about whom we feel we know a lot, yet so little is actually known about him. How does he rule? Who does he trust? How does he behave among his closest confidantes?
Over the past several months, DER SPIEGEL has spoken with more than two dozen of those closest to the president, including advisers, government officials, party members and ministers. Most insisted that they not be named: They are eager to talk about Erdogan, but they are also worried about angering him.
Nervous and Wary
Combined with internal government documents which DER SPIEGEL has seen, these interviews have made it possible to paint a profile of the Turkish president: Someone at the height of his power who is nevertheless obsessed with the idea of losing it. A man who feels misunderstood and essentially only trusts his family, a state of affairs that has led to tumult within the government. He has become a patriarch surrounded by silence. Nobody laughs in his presence. Ministers lower their voices when speaking with him, their faces becoming solemn, almost stiff. They look towards the ground, nervous and wary.
Erdogan, they say, is quick to lose his temper. His fits of rage – slapping an employee or throwing his iPad at them – are legendary. Sometimes, he uses these outbreaks deliberately. At the World Economic Forum in Davos a few years ago, he was part of a podium discussion together with then-Israeli President Shimon Peres. He became visibly agitated, calling Peres a child killer, arguing with the moderator and ultimately storming off the stage. His advisers were embarrassed by the performance, but Erdogan’s supporters celebrated him when he returned to Istanbul.
Despite having been in power for 15 years, he is still able to present himself as a man of the people. He is a populist, able to captivate people and appeal to the masses. When he speaks on the campaign trail, such as at a recent, early-June appearance in the Black Sea city of Zonguldak, supporters are brought in from across the country to see him. An anthem, written especially for him, blares from speakers and the streets are lined with his portrait. Prior to delivering his speeches, says a former speechwriter, he has a memo compiled including facts and figures so he knows everything important about the town where he is speaking. And his audience is left to wonder: How can he possibly know all of that?
The battle to reverse the image of Nigeria as “the poorest oil-rich country in the world” is once again attracting relatively hefty funding intervention from the Chicago based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Foundation is sinking over two billion Nigerian Naira, (N2, 340, 000, 000) or USD$6.5m towards generating and sustaining anti-corruption and pro-accountability campaigns and practices in Nigeria. It said so in Abuja today in a statement by the African Director of the Foundation, Dr Kole Shettima. The funding is to advance anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria by building an atmosphere of accountability, transparency, and good governance in the country.
Although the idea of Nigeria as “the poorest oil-rich country in the world” can be said to be dated now, even within the American establishment where Sandy Berger, the late National Security Adviser to then President Clinton used it at a press briefing ahead of Clinton’s visit to Nigeria in 2000, the British establishment has updated it by the statement of the immediate past Prime Minister declaring Nigeria to a fantastically corrupt country in 2016. Such images of Nigeria are not necessarily real but images can produce reality such as when then President Clinton told then President Obasanjo at a Press Conference at the White House in late 1999 that Nigeria was too rich to qualify for debt forgiveness by the US. Sandy Berger and Clinton were friends long before Clinton became president and he became his NSA. What Clinton verbalised might have been the standard shared understanding of corruption in Nigeria for a much longer time within the circle that runs America.
Intervention understands that the argument within and around MacArthur Foundation, is that almost every other malaise plaguing the Nigerian political economy is reducible, in the last instance, to corruption and lack of accountability. That is, if the military hasn’t got up to date technology to fight insurgencies, it is most likely that is because large chunk of public resources have been stolen. The same thing if there are no hospitals. Above all, it is impossible to enthrone merit in a corrupt society because mediocres with money will buy their way and come first. Although this newspaper has understood that this assessment of corruption and crisis in Nigeria was substantially based on input by Nigerians, it corresponds to the feeling in major centres of power across the world. Within the Nigerian elite, there is, however, deep division about when is an anti-corruption move not devoid of power and vice-versa.
The Foundation is focusing on reducing incidences of petty corruption that it says citizens experience every day but also grand corruption that siphon needed resources from the public sector as well as strengthening the criminal justice system and building citizen demand for and confidence in anti-corruption efforts through support for independent media, journalism, and entertainment organizations.
To be operationalised as part of the Foundation’s On Nigeria grantmaking, this batch of the grants is a continuation of MacArthur’s recent interventions in support for organizations working to capitalize on observable national momentum and increased political will to tackle corruption, with projects ranging from monitoring and transparency measures around the political process to public education about the costs of corruption. The grants would specifically support nonprofits platforms working to inform and empower communities in the fight against corruption and to promote anti-corruption as a national priority in advance of the 2019 Presidential and Assembly elections. Strengthening systems and studying what works to reduce corruption is a key objective of the grants.
In all, the awards build on decades of Foundation support for projects to enhance credibility, integrity, monitoring, and security around past elections, said Dr. Shettima who also added that Nigeria “ has begun an important process of addressing the corruption that plagues it on so many levels”, adding how important it is now than ever before to keep anti-corruption work on the front burner and at the center of the national agenda by empowering people and communities with the information and platforms they need to advocate for themselves and fight for the issues that impact their daily lives.
Among the implementers of the grants are, in the words of the Director, the Accountability Research Center in Washington, D.C. which would be partnering with the Center for Democracy and Development, (CDD) in Nigeria to assess the success of approaches and strategies on strengthening accountability around the world and in Nigeria; the Centre for Information Technology & Development in Kano which would support efforts by civil society organizations to provide platforms and forums for social discourse around accountability and anti-corruption in advance of the 2019 elections and the Chatham House in London which would research the efficacy of behavioral change strategies to reduce corruption and promote accountability in Nigeria.
Others are the Lagos based Legal Defense and Assistance Project positioned to support efforts by six states to fully implement 15 core elements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that should improve criminal investigation and prosecution efforts in corruption cases; the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Abuja that is to support efforts by civil society organizations to galvanize public and political debates on accountability and to keep anti-corruption as an important national issue in advance of the 2019 elections; the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation in Abuja that would be working to support regional organizations to galvanize public and political debates on accountability and highlight anti-corruption as a broad national issue in advance of the 2019 National election and, lastly, the Women’s Rights Advancement & Protection Alternative in Abuja which would be mobilizing and supporting women and women’s groups to document the cost of corruption on women, speak out against corruption as well as promote anti-corruption and accountability as priority issues through traditional and social media in advance of the 2019 elections.
Dr Shettima’s statement recalled how MacArthur has been making grants in Nigeria since 1989, opening an office in Abuja in 1994 staffed by Nigerians. By the grant, the Foundation is leveraging on the power that comes from the management of discourse and discourse flow across the civil society platforms implementing this particular grant. It is not clear why there are two or three of them based outside Nigeria such as the Accountability Research Centre in Washington DC and Chatham House in London. It may not be connected with their experience or expertise or, alternatively, strengthening operationalisation of the ideals of the grant by bringing in well located platforms as those.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation seeks to support people who could be described as creative ones, institutions that could be rated as effective and networks that can be called influential vis-a-vis “building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world”. MacArthur is also held up to be placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges such as over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. It has of late added the role of journalism in responsible and responsive democracy to its Fellows Program without drawing down on its focus on the strength and vitality of its headquarters city, Chicago in the United States.
It would be recalled that in July 2017, Macarthur Foundation also pumped $9m into strengthening anti-corruption and pro-accountability consciousness activities in Nigeria, arguing that addressing corruption requires action and partnership among a wide range of people and groups, from the government to the media, civil society, communities and consumers. The grant then which stretched across several civil society platforms was pegged on reinforcing and expanding the growing network of organisations committed to investigation, advocacy, accountability and transparency.
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Nigeria is back to sorting out its indiscretions 25 years ago when the freest election up to that time was annulled few hours into declaration of the final results. It was a very interesting election in that a Muslim-Muslim ticket was acceptable and one individual was able to make himself acceptable across one of the most complicated but natural federation in the world-Nigeria. But junta politics annulled the election, provoking resistance of diverse ideological temperaments – class, ethno-regional, party and generational.
June 12 and the aftermath has been a loudly ‘silent’ factor in Nigerian politics since then, defining who comes to power at what time. On June 6th, 2018, however, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a revivalism by announcing June 12th as the new date for Democracy Day as opposed to the May 29th that the holiday has been observed since 1999 and that was in addition to honouring Chief Abiola, the June 12 martyr with the highest of Nigeria’s national honours – the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, (GCFR). Chief Abiola, it seems, is so far the only recipient of that honour without actually serving in that office.
Ordinarily, that should have been a great day in Nigeria, a healing gesture, to use Abiola’s daughter’s reckoning with it. The basis for such could be said to reside in three highlights of President Buhari’s address: the revivalism as assuaging of feelings, putting it on record that a wrong was done and that Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. Fortunately and unfortunately, the president’s statement is coming against the background of a deadly power game unfolding in the country and in which the battle line is drawn and combatants are being mobilised into taking positions on both sides. As it is now, only God would know when and how it will end. Being a game without referees, it can be difficult to predict the duration of each duel. It is worse when it involves a sitting president versus some well heeled attackers. In such circumstances, very few would accept to be referee because it is a terrible fate across Africa to be seen or be thought to be on the other side of power. So, duration depends on who establishes him or herself first and how quickly. Such contender is then the winner, depending though on the issues in question, the context of the fight and the power relationship between the combatants.
June 12 thus emerges as the issue over which the power game is being fought at the moment. Before June 12 surfaced, it was claims of mediocrity, nepotism, non-performance and condoning of corruption against the president. And to which the president replies by dismissing such charges as coming from the corrupt people, some of whom he said were those who staged a coup and overthrew him from power in 1985. His ideologues say it is because the corrupt know what is coming that they are against his re-election. It has been a tightly drawn battle line, with each side offering a powerful discourse of the Other. As is with such discursive practices, the real reasons are rarely clear to the masses. It is the grand claims that are put on show.
It is probably too much to expect an elected president to remain above politics in all instances. To that extent, many are in the mood to excuse President Muhammadu Buhari’s sudden and surprising entry into June 12 politics. Whether that applies to the virtually unqualified acceptance of the honouring of Chief Abiola, the unarguable martyr of the June 12, fiasco remains unclear. The mood on the ground before the sudden announcement on June 6th, 2018 would have suggested it was unlikely to be such a consensual response to any such move. On June 5th, 2018, the National Assembly (NASS) had passed a resolution asking the president to direct the security agencies “to curtail the sustained killings of Nigerians across the country and protect life and properties of Nigerians as this is the primary duty of any responsible Government”. As the National Assembly today is still the institutional expression of the popular will, its documented view to that effect serves to validify the narratives of presidential complicity in the security siege on the country. It was such a scary rating of the Executive arm by the Legislative arm of the government. The assumption was that the president had suffered such a normative knockout. But that was before the very positive reception of the president’s June 12 revivalist move, especially by the key families of those who lost their lives in the June 12 struggle. It suggests the move has been some master stroke in diluting the NASS resolution and the national mood the resolution spoke to. For almost a week, blaming the president over escalating violence in Benue, Plateau, Zamfara, Birnin Gwari and Doguwa in Kano State took the back seat. Reference has already been made to Hafsat-Costello, Chief Abiola’s daughter and a key victim of the June 12 crisis’s moving statement calling the presidential recognition for the father a healing gesture.
Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobelist, is, however, saying the revivalism is not the closure for June 12 but the beginning. Aside from calling for a ‘Hall of Shame’ in Nigeria, he is arguing that “There are far too many traumatised individuals walking around the streets as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictators that this nation has ever known”. This is a sentence pregnant with ideological and policy implications, depending on how an interpreter understands it. It could mean a welfare policy for the many victims of a brutal dictatorship or conscripting a particular dictator into the ‘Hall of Shame’, something which could be difficult for President Buhari to accomplish, having once joined others to absolve the particular dictator Soyinka is believed to have in mind. Additionally, whatsapp messages are already circulating whether the president is also going to apologise to ex-President Shehu Shagari he overthrew in 1983 or to General Shehu Yar’Adua who also suffered a different form of annulment and subsequently died while in jail under Abacha, the unnamed dictator? It just shows how complex the country is!
Away from the June Twelvers, the entire revivalism politics is reconstituting Nigerians into different groups: the IBB group which annulled the election; the Abacha group in whose hands Chief Abiola died; the Obasanjo group who are seen as having failed to have honoured the late martyr; the Buhari group who are behind the revivalism; the Southern elders who have flatly rejected the revivalist move, preferring that the president goes for Restructuring instead. There could be other groups/voices that have yet to speak.
This is the basis for one or two plausible but yet unforeseen anti-theses of the move that scenario watchers are beginning to point at. One such unforeseen outcome is whether Nigeria might have seen all there is to it from a crisis such as June 12 that has a history of forcing someone somehow to step aside against his or her desire and wish. Have the dynamics worked out in such a way that there may not be a repeat of someone stepping aside for someone as the scripts unfolds? The president has granted Chief Abiola the (GCFR) award in addition to apologising to his family. The NASS has asked INEC to publish the results. What’s next after apology and publication of the results if not actualisation of June 12? And what is actualisation of June 12 if not an Ambassador Babagana Kingibe presidency, especially if the president is scared out of power. Kingibe was the Vice-Presidential candidate to the late Chief Abiola. The analysis is that military elements can do anything when scared out of power as when IBB gave the job to Chief Ernest Shonekan, a civilian, when he was scared out of office. In this case, Kingibe has the status of a natural heir apparent long before this time.
Those asserting this claim argue that the diffuse nature of this re-composition is such that no one knows what demands will follow the revivalism and from which quarters because it is like the revivalism has opened a floodgate. In an election year in which the second term ambition of the president is highly contested, what stops the politics of June 12 revivalism from assuming just any tactical move once such a move undercuts a particular enemy? And what if such a pragmatic move makes June 12 the only election on the ground for both those for and those against it, thus making Babagana Kingibe the ultimate beneficiary of June 12, like him or not?
The question of who to watch for this sort of reading of June 12 revivalist politics is still unclear. Some contacts swear that there is no room for Ambassador Kingibe in any script just as there are those insisting that “Kingibe is a heir apparent”. There is a third group that are categorical about no room for Kingibe because President Buhari is set on a second term “when he will move politics to a revolutionary plane”. If journalism is about “the hierarchy of credibility”, then it is almost impossible to dismiss any of these claims on the face value. Instructively, the ‘heir apparent’ status of Ambassador Kingibe predates this moment.
What seems reasonable to infer about the persistent mentioning of Kingibe is that, while President Buhari might only not seek second term if it were too evident he would suffer a humiliating electoral disgrace, a role might have been set aside for Kingibe that makes otherwise well located persons to list him. Otherwise, the president is in the race to, as his aides say, do a ‘revolution’. This is also what a top traditional ruler said recently that Buhari is being fought because those fighting him knew that on getting second term, he would take far reaching decisions that would miniaturise his predecessors. This power game might turn out a multi-script play!