2015: OBJ, Ruling Class Politics and Crisis Management,By Adagbo Onoja

It must be an extraordinarily narcissistic and/or myopic Nigerian or an outside interest which can afford to assume, by any stretch of imagination, that Nigeria would be okay just by successfully holding a General Election in 2015. Whichever party and presidential candidate wins, assuming the entire thing doesn’t end in a social and political stalemate, Nigeria would still have to self-cleanse before it can know peace. There is no mystery about the logic of self-cleansing as a requirement for peace and progress. At the spiritual and the moral level, the quantum of bloodshed in Nigeria in the last few years, especially of innocent souls who fell to the vagaries of the society where there is no state, (the Nigerian State has been on AWOL) is such that their blood cries to high Heavens and there is very little chance of progress until that is sorted out. I am neither a spiritualist nor a moralist but given the delicate balance in Mother Nature itself, I cannot see otherwise.

At the material level, we have yet to see a national society in history which has built a successful social order without a ruling class and the instrumentality of the state. Right now, Nigeria has neither of the two. It does have the Nigerian ruling class and the Nigerian State but they are so deformed that they have both ceased to be of any use. The truth is that all these did not happen under the current crop of national leadership headed by Goodluck Jonathan but that is not to absolve the current president and presidency of consciously aggravating the health of the Nigerian ruling class and the Nigerian State to red alert level. Jonathan’s personal and camp discourse and practice of politics is totally unconscious of and, by implication, hostile to the idea of the national state as the corner stone of actually existing international order as well as to the idea of ruling class politics.

The result is that Nigeria will painfully pay for that unconsciousness, more than what it is already paying in the chaos that has enveloped it for quite sometimes now if it is not careful. It will, in all probability, pay more for it because of two major reasons. One reason is the fluidity obviously occasioned by the geopolitical changes underway in the international order now in which no dominant interest is in charge that can, whether for selfish or altruistic reasons, rush in a rescue operation should what is left of the Nigerian State now eventually run out of gas and lose control of legitimate monopoly of violence. The second and even more crucial reason is the very nature of the Nigerian society – a society so complex as for complexity itself to become an explanation for its inclination to clapping at its own humiliation. The totality is that Nigeria is an exception to the idea that a problem identified is half solved.

What the foregone tells us is that Nigeria is firmly in a stalemate again as always. But, as stated at the opening of this essay, assuming the elections fall through without a crease and either Jonathan or Buhari, for example, is elected, does that take Nigeria out of the stalemate? The answer would be yes and no at the same time although one sure way of resolving the stalemate and the cheapest would have been the emergence of a leader who embodies the Nigerian complexity. The picture on the ground suggests again that, here too, is complicated.

One, the fact that President Jonathan has still not called it quit from the race suggests the stupidity of underestimating his capacity to retain power. Although this is a socially, politically and diplomatically challenged incumbent, he is nevertheless an incumbent. He cannot still be in the race without having his scenarios and Plan Bs, weak as many of his scenarios look. Although it was not money power that brought him to power but a certain idealism across the country which made some actors work out his ascendancy, the point is that he has since added the war chest capacity to his electoral warfare. In a poverty stricken society, this cannot be ignored in the run up to the elections. The outline isn’t clear but he must have also secured the assurances and solidarity of domestic and foreign constellations behind his calculus of power.

But any incumbent in an African country who has to struggle so desperately to be re-elected as Jonathan is doing now has already advertised his unworthiness for the job. Beyond that is the tenure limit argument against Jonathan that he ought to have resolved in favour of Nigeria and against himself without bringing in the courts. The fact that such high mindedness is impossible on his part is part of the crisis in Nigeria.

After Jonathan, Buhari offers great promise because he is the closest to fulfilling the requirement of that individual for whom the people are prepared to die to have in power. Buhari or whoever emerges as the APC’s presidential flag bearer will be a powerful opponent for the reason that such a person automatically becomes the symbol of the rejection of the indicators of the past few years. And the rejectionist forces are well spread across Nigeria. Above all, the Sociology of elections is such that even the most coherent incumbent can easily lose control, not to talk of this regime which has fired nobody’s imagination, either in statecraft or developmental politics.

Notwithstanding my own personal inclination to Buhari, partly as a result of his physique which suggests a man with a sense of self-discipline, I would not go as far as say that his election would be the end of trouble for Nigeria. On this score, I would even rate Atiku Abubakar higher in the sense that everyone knows Atiku has well discussed models of how to approach each of the key issue areas of governing Nigeria. This is not to say that Atiku too is not guilty of failing to, ever since, popularise his development strategy document such that, by now, his sign tune must have been a one-liner from there. In Buhari’s case, there is not a mention of any other thing than his cleanliness. In the process, that which should define or make Buhari the most complete referent is sadly missing. Is he going to develop it after he has arrived in the Villa or is it the case that Buhari has a developmental blueprint but which he, like other politicians in Nigeria, is hiding till electoral campaign times? That would even be more hopeless because development strategy documents are not secret documents, except perhaps in Nigeria. What a shame!

Aside from him putting nothing else on the table other than his cleanliness, corruption wise, there is the question of the sufficient ruling class consensus that can put him in power. That is hardly an issue those of us downstairs can help Buhari. Perhaps, he has settled accounts with his colleagues up there or he is relying on ‘people’s power’.

Atiku Abubakar is the other notable possibility on the line. Atiku is significant for three reasons. One, there is no doubt that he will make ethnic, regional and religious differences non-issues in Nigerian politics too quickly. Two, he and his team of solid intellectuals have developed models on key issue areas of governing Nigeria which is a big, big plus, although he too has not popularised the models and we do not, therefore, know what ideology of development he subscribes to. The third point is the image of someone whose presidency might be capable of rational governance of Nigeria which has been the greatest weakness of the Nigerian system. A government can be corrupt but rational and systematic. Nigerian governments are not only corrupt but irrational, however irrationality is defined. But, can Atiku mobilise ruling class consensus in his favour? Someone said in 2011 that adding political power to Atiku’s material wealth would amount to making a god out of a human being. I am not aware that Atiku has dumped his wealth in the ocean and become a pauper as for members of his class to have reconsidered their position. It is not about the merit of such argument but the fact that such is the perception at all. Without doubting Atiku’s capacity to combat this analysis, I think Obasanjo’s recently leaked injunction to the APC against fielding Atiku shows a dimension of the intra-class roadblock for Atiku, probably worse than for Buhari. Although the story was ‘withdrawn’, it seemed the plan was to ‘make’ the statement and then ‘withdraw’ it, with the belief that the damage would have been done.

It is, therefore, in the sense of the absence of a candidate with evident ruling class consensus that Nigeria’s hard times is frightening. It is worsened by the reality of barely existent ruling class. For, were there to be a ruling class in terms of a core with investments and interest in the stability of the country even if mainly for the reason of stability of profit, they will always easily come together and select one of theirs and get that stamped during the election, irrespective of internal wrangling. That was what happened in 1998 when Obasanjo was endorsed and confirmed as president even before he was released from jail and parachuted to power. But that generation of politicians who worked that out have been phased out both by death and by subsequent developments between 1999 and 2011. Only very few of them are still alive and even fewer are in political office and power.  What we have now as politicians do not know and do not know that they do not know and are, therefore, not in a position to play ruling class politics. All they want is to be in power.

The question at this point then is how might this be resolved? The answer must be in the wisdom that there is no problem whose solution is not hanging by it.  The claim that there is no problem whose solution is not hanging by it is, in my own thinking, a reckoning with the dialectical nature of reality as developed in critical analysis. That is to say that the current crisis will inherently produce its own anti-thesis and the two will combine to produce a third outcome which will be qualitatively higher than the previous reality. But this analysis does not mean that we just sit down and wait for it to unfold. Human agency has a role in it and that is what I will take up in the third and final segment of this piece. And I do that by asking how the recent supplication to Obasanjo by PDP mandarins fits into the configuration on the ground? How might we make sense of that? What significance might we attach to it?

We begin by reckoning with that overture as the kind of thing ‘Baba’ craves for: being acknowledged as indispensible. It is unbelievable how a man who has seen all there are to be seen in life could still be vulnerable to such frailties. That must be part of the Obasanjo paradox. But the open invitation to him to ‘return’ to the PDP cannot be limited to that. It must be read in its wider social context. It social context cannot but suggest a belief on the part of GEJ and his TAN paratroopers that an Obasanjo is some force to reckon with in the battle ahead, not because he is popular but because he is an archetype graduate of this game.

Be that as it may, what might we expect Obasanjo to do in the present circumstance? What can an individual do in the present conjecture in Nigeria? Adamu Adamu was right when he claimed in a recent write-up on Obasanjo, (Daily Trust, 10/10/2014) that Obasanjo committed numerous blunders between 1999 and 2007. There is no doubt about that. It is from that perspective that Obasanjo must be propelled to appreciate the recent acknowledgment of his indispensability in the jungle of ‘our great party’ called the PDP. In other words, the public acknowledgment and invitation is a serious development which Obasanjo must be encouraged to read contextually rather than psychologically. Being a solid graduate in this game means that no neophyte needs bother himself advising Obasanjo how to go about this decision. But that is if this were not about Nigeria, about leadership and about his own claims to some space entitlement in ‘History’. The long and short of it is that Machiavellianism is not an option for him this time.

Reading David Mark and Adamu Muazu’s entreaties to Obasanjo brought back to mind late Dr. Ibrahim Tahir’s reason why he would have wanted to write Obasanjo’s biography. At that time, I couldn’t imagine him say that but I think he was coming from a stronger contextual sense of the issue than myself. Obasanjo moves to act in ways that might have been informed by a survivalist instinct in the shark infested politics of Nigeria’s retired military as an elite of power (apologies to Professor Adekanye who wrote a book of that title) but which also corresponds most of the time with the aspirations of the people. Obviously for regime survival, he ended up operating a very roguish ‘SAP’ but at the time he made the statement that SAP ought to have a human face, he effectively captured popular imagination. On reflection, my suspicion is that Ibrahim Tahir was saying that the paradox about Obasanjo cannot be reduced to his suspected cleverness or the survivalist’s calculations but also a pinch of nobility, (he actually used that word and the tape recorder of the interview should still play to confirm this). Notwithstanding Baba’s ‘Do As I Say’ ways, his Arewa House speech in February 1994 and his explosive letter to President Jonathan last year support Tahir’s thesis substantially, particularly in a country where the abduction of over 200 young girls is still not enough to bring out the leading lights of the ‘national conscience’ industry, (our own actual and potential Martin Luther Kings, Havel Vaclavs, Mother Terisas, Desmond Tutus, Mandelas, etc). Such that were it not for Obasanjo, Olubunmi Okojie and the wonderful #bringBackOurGirls# movement, the rest of the world would have finally dismissed Nigeria as but a zoo of caged or mummified human beings.

Aligned to the question of what an individual can do in this sort of situation, the challenge is cut for him: bring into play his capacity to bend the Nigerian ruling class to his own will towards a ruling class consensus candidate for 2015. This is the only way to avert disaster, given the current balance of material and subjective forces. By the logic of ruling class consensus, the next president of Nigeria would have been elected even before the formalities, a consensus that would be justified by the great prospects of such an in-coming president in recovering and restoring Nigeria through imaginative and creative leadership. The country has been so fragmented that it cannot be subjected to the dynamics of freewheeling democracy.   Nigeria is also too big and the world is too busy with other pressing challenges to rush any viable rescue plan should Nigeria fall into anarchy and chaos. The human cost will be unspeakable and we must do whatever it takes to nip it in the bud. As things are now, only the consensus in question can be the bulwark against needless bloodshed because anyone fighting such consensus knows he or she would be confronting the domestic and global connections of the Nigerian ruling class and is guaranteed to be routed even before he makes any false move.

Of course, ruling class consensus means that anybody, including President Jonathan, has a 100 per cent chancing of emerging the next president. What that means is that ruling class consensus is not inherently arbitrary or exclusionary but actually democratic. That is, democratic in the sense that it is seeking that who, by pedigree, can contemplate and eventually replicate what my ‘African politics teacher’ would call the Julius Nyerere model. He believes that, in African politics, Nyerere remains the reference point in party building, over and above any other member of that generation. Let me now, therefore, plagiarise myself somehow by extracting the portion of an earlier op-ed capturing the Nyerere model a few years back. It goes like this:

Nyerere, an obvious beneficiary of the protest politics during the Second World War was no stranger to spell bounding electioneering campaign when he stormed into politics. Speaking to the people in their own tongue, Swahili, he could strike at the popular cord so powerfully. As thus a persuasive mobiliser, Nyerere had gone round and so effectively popularized the Tanganyika African National Union, (TANU) that all the candidates on the platform of the party won their independence elections in 1960.

But it was that victory that sent fear into him. His fear was that these gentlemen who won the elections on the honour and integrity of the party could think things were always that easy. If the trend continued, time would come when these new breed could begin to take the country for granted and reduce politics to a matter of drinking whiskey in Dar es Salaam. They would have forgotten the people because they never really stood before these voters to ask for their votes. He said the situation was not acceptable because the people had voted for the party but had actually not elected the parliamentarians. The voters were voting for TANU without really knowing the candidates. He did not want such a situation to develop.

This was when Nyerere struck, taking time off duties to devote attention to re-moulding the party. He handed over the job to his second in command and hit the road on a mission of party building.  To date, he is the only African leader to have done such a positive and extra-ordinary thing. So, he hit the road, asking the voters whether their representatives were coming home and consulting them; whether they felt it was right for them to be electing their representatives on the technicality of the party but not their individual merit.

On the basis of his findings, Nyerere came to the conclusion that, although he was opposed to politics as football match, a contest in which one team must win and another must lose, he was nevertheless inclined to integrate competitive politics through African Village Square approach to resolving problems by communally talking it out. He then came up with the idea that, hence, every seat or position must be contested by multiple candidates. All must face the constituency in question in an open affair. There was to be no private campaign of going to anyone or group by any of the candidates to say, vote for me because I speak your language or I am from your family or kindred or ethnic group or same religion or race, (since Tanzania has people of Indian extraction). Instead, the community of voters will listen to each candidate in the open square, ask him or her why s/he thinks s/he is the ‘correct’ candidate, etc. That way, the conflictual dimension of electoral politics is blunted by the communal dimension of the electoral family talking together.

That is the Nyerere legacy of party building. Nyerere was responding in his own way to the problem of party politics in the African setting at his own time. The world has since moved on but the creativity and seriousness with which Nyerere approached popular rooting of candidates cannot be said to be dated. It is such creativity and seriousness that is called for in Nigeria in the politics of Nigeria’s re-birth from its present soullessness.

Obasanjo and all the members of his generation, military and civilian, must quickly transcend their own petty quarrels and personal interests and rescue this country by coming together and finding our own Nyerere who can confront the culture of unbelievable rascality around power in Nigeria. Nowhere else in the world is that level of rascality observable. Who that leader could be right now can only be a product of ruling class consensus and those like OBJ who animate that class in Nigeria irrespective of our individual and collective perception of most of them, as individuals and as a ‘class’.

The author is at University College London