2015:Theory of the Strongman and Nigeria’s Survival By Adagbo Onoja

Nigeria as a country has since stopped working, with some saying since the exit of General Gowon during whose time there was no manipulation of the bureaucracy. What is keeping Nigeria going is that systems die hard. Otherwise, the institutions have collapsed. And most of those who should be the statesmen are still busy in partisan politics. The result is that Nigeria is that country which has no statesmen with the moral authority to call her to order and be listened to.

As the argument goes, the only saving grace left for an African country like this is the emergence of a strongman president whose political personality captures the aggregate aspirations, collective ambition and the hopes of both the power elite, the ordinary folks as well as Nigeria’s foreign patrons ironically referred to as development partners.

But then, two question: Is there such a person and would 2015 produce such a person?

That is the guy whose learning, character and ability or track record are not only self-evident but also in equal proportion, (i.e. it is not enough to have gone to Oxford or Sorbonne, the strongman  must also have character and the ability); whose experience, exposure and sense of Nigeria will enable him to rise above turning power into an arena for transactions, deals and money making, otherwise known as the power for profit syndrome; someone whose firmness will be based on knowledge generated from scientific research, not guts feeling or any misguided sense of messianism; a charismatic individual whose communication of politics will fire the imagination of the Nigerian wherever s/he is; some guy whose stature will dwarf forces of localism, jingoism and violence; neither an angel nor a dreamer but also not one whose statecraft is no more than manipulation and deception and finally, that fellow whose theory and practice of Nigeria makes him and the country actual spokesperson/country for the Black race.

Is there such a person? Is s/he among those who have advanced to be recognized already or shall we have to throw a dragnet to fish him or her out? Is s/he a man or a woman? Is s/he from PDP or the opposition? Imported from the Diaspora or home based? A scholar-politician, a professional politician, a businessman, retired General, a religious potentate (but we lack religious leaders in politics in Nigeria) or a technocrat?

Those who read it as a work in light heartedness will be as right as those who take it seriously. But it is not anybody’s agenda beyond the ‘mischief’ of a columnist. It is a ‘mischief’ mission justified only by the columnist’s stream of consciousness and its abhorrence of anything that will bring agony and misery to human beings like a Nigeria in disarray. Feel free to call it Socialism but the foundation of that consciousness lies actually in communal humanism and the Beatitudes in the Bible even as I am not a student of Peace in any illusory sense.

Additionally, most African states are very small entities. This accounts substantially for their irrelevance in the global scheme of things. It thus behooves on progressive humanity to fight for the preservation of big African states like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Unfortunately, the common refrain around now is that after Sudan, Nigeria is next. And this has many believers among us, many of us acting it out under the pull of the false consciousness that a break-up of Nigeria will solve any problems. Of course, it is a lie but it is a lie with so many powerful backers, ideologues and strategists. So, we must try in our little corners to knock that out.

There is no pretension to scientificity in this audit. My methodology is as random as it is purposive. The list below is not exhaustive. We are proceeding in alphabetical order of the surname.

Atiku Abubakar

Having successfully fought three incumbents (Abacha in the 1990s, OBJ in 2003-2007 & GEJ in 2011) and lived to tell the story, the former Vice-President is certainly a strong man. He could, on that account, also be said to have made a sacrifice for Nigeria and, therefore, qualified to be its leader. Aside from Bola Ahmed Tinubu, rarely can one point to another Nigerian politician who has surrounded himself with solid intellectuals and with whom he problematises Nigeria and build scenario and models. If he were to dedicate the rest of his life to business instead of politics, it would take him no time to surprise the world arising from an uncommon use of the R&D facility.

Atiku has no history of advancing any confused notion of restructuring Nigeria. Rather, he has cultivated every section of the country either by marriage or by taking a chieftaincy title or some similar symbolic gesture. In his kitchen cabinet, one finds every tongue, tribe and faith. His external linkage is sufficient just as well as the independent financial muscle to prosecute an electoral struggle and remain uninjured. He has a remarkable predisposition for what some one has called ‘subversive’ generosity. That is the kind of generosity that sweeps the recipient off his or her feet. Of course, he has experience and exposure in terms of running government. And he is a party builder and, therefore, an institutionalist.

But that is the credit side. There is also a debit side. One, people ask if he would not fall prey to the human virus of using power to deal with those whom he has fought in the field of play. Very few human beings rise above such temptation. In the event that he emerges the strongman, his potential victims would not be just the Obasanjos of this world alone but the numerous beneficiaries of his financial and political largesse who ditched, betrayed or stabbed him once danger was looming. Two, the Turakin Adamawa is seen as corrupt. It is surprising though that he has not been mentioned yet in the series of probes so far. It is either that he is not corrupt at all or has been very clever in covering his track. Either way, it is positive for him because anyone who is clever enough to beautifully cover his or her tracks has shown brilliance that should see him to the leadership of Nigeria. Three, the former Vice-President is perceived to see power as an avenue to make money. Here, the perception does not have to be proved before it will work against him because one of Nigeria’s major problems is this power for profit syndrome. Many of those looking for power in Nigeria have nothing beyond the allure of transactions, deals and money making at the expense of the country. Four, Atiku Abubakar has been the most formidable architect of the folly of handing over the Nigerian economy to pirates and buccaneers in the name of deregulation. He also recruited virtually all the technocrats and experts in the execution of this horrendous rape of Nigeria. As such, he may have to explain a few things about what happened if votes were to count in his coming. Finally, what exactly is Atiku Abubakar’s development strategy for Nigeria? Next!

Babangida Aliyu

Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State is a bit difficult to assess in this audit. The first problem is that today’s speculation in the newspapers about him would be denied by him the next day, something suggestive of someone waiting for something to happen before he puts his head. Those who want power should come out and say so, complete with why they think they should rule. Otherwise, we would be inculcating in younger Nigerians this backward political attitude that it is criminal to challenging an incumbent.

The second difficulty in auditing the governor of Niger State is that he cannot be neatly categorized. Neither does he cut the image of someone who wants to be seen as a conservative nor does he fit into the tribe which the Lagos-Ibadan newspapers love to call the Northern radicals.

The third difficulty is that he does not appear to have successfully branded himself as a governor. The governor of Lagos State, for example, has successfully branded himself as someone who is shaking the state, developmentally. Jigawa governor, for another example, has also cut the image of someone who has achieved a turning point for the state. These are mere discourses but for anyone to successfully challenge them, such a person has to go there and compile the sort of data that will show that they are not telling the truth. Babangida Aliyu is not saying that he has achieved or not. He has only been quite opinionated but he cannot be classified on the basis of his opinion of things.

Finally, while it is true that the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum is not necessarily the leader of the governors and there is nothing in it concretely, that office gives the holder a powerful platform for problematising the North, both for the Northern and in the larger Nigerian audience. Governor Aliyu has not been doing this with particular reference to the seriousness and depth it merits. That suggests that the forum which he chairs has not been thinking strategically. Yet, beyond the Northern governors, there is nothing else that looks like a central mechanism reifying the North. Certainly, there are pan-regional issues which this forum should have taken up beyond the level of press statements by the Chairman’s aide.

And I think this is what critics of Northern governors like Shehu Malami, Ango Abdullahi, Enyantu Ifenne, Isyaku Ibrahim, Garba Shehu and, lately, Ghali Na’Abbah might have been referring to. Against this background and my further possible counter education, Babangida Aliyu’s auditing in terms of the theory of the strongman and Nigeria’s survival is deferred.

General Ibrahim Babangida

General Babangida is not audited here as a strongman in the sense of becoming president of Nigeria again but in the sense that he is still involved. IBB is certainly not smoldering anymore but the ashes are still hot. To whomever he transfers his political assets, such an aspirant would be politically taller by many inches. This is because he would be transferring his own conclusions about Nigerian politics in the last two decades. They must be rich since they are empirical. Who knows, IBB might, by now, be completing the manuscript for the book thereto titled The Animal Called Man. Don’t mistake this for the one written by his boss, OBJ. No. This would be a completely different stuff, only sharing title with OBJ’s. In this book, IBB’s main concern was with a more thorough problematisation of the concepts of loyalty, betrayal, abandonment and the problems of ‘the will to power’ theology, what the Italians call “fasci de combatimento”.

He would have been wondering where all the recipients of his state generosity have gone to. As documented by a University of Ibadan PhD student of Political Science recently, the recipients cut across: from the Ecumenical Cathedral, Abuja, 50m; to Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, 30m; Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria, 20m; Zik Hall, Zungeru, 40m; Arewa House, Kaduna, 35m; Yakubu Gowon Centre, 30m; Nigeria Labour Secretariat Building, 50m; NUJ National Secretariat, 30m; Abuja Council of the NUJ, 10m; Launching of General Olu Bajowa’s book, 5m; Centre for Advanced Social Science, PortHacourt,  5m; Launching of the book on Isa Kaita, 2m.

Against the background of this list which is not exhaustive, IBB’s discourse of Nigeria cannot exclude his personal experience of the concepts of loyalty betrayal, etc Everything he does for the rest of his life will revolve around them in relation to whether this strategy aided his will to power project or not. Certainly, he has not had cardiac problems only because he learnt early in life never to be disappointed by anybody. 

So far, people think he is merely just pulling a typical Maradonic stunt as far as locating a strong man is concerned.                                                                                                                

General Muhammadu Buhari

General Muhammadu Buhari is the kind of politician whose Media Adviser would have started his or her job by, first, ‘reading’ Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man and abstracting the argument to the help of his principal. There is so much to attribute to one-dimensional reasoning in the way Buhari has been perceived. In the Nigerian context, a man who can say anywhere in Nigeria that he is corruption free and no one can challenge him does not deserve the image of Mr. rigid. Especially if that is a man who was a military governor, an oil minister and then Head of State.


In that sense, it is not the charge of religious fundamentalism leveled against Buhari that may make him not to emerge the strong man but the disposition of his own class to him. Clearly, Buhari is not in power because, somehow, those who make these things happen do not want him. In that sense, what Mahmud Jega said of him in the aftermath of the 2011 elections should be instructive. The editorial big gun of Daily Trust promptly called Buhari the Awolowo of the North. And who is Awolowo in Nigerian politics? He was the man who was so clinical in thinking and action as to be compared to electricity. In the same way that electricity has no feelings, so also was Awo was associated with capability for deft use of power to tendential advantage without feeling. So, he was blocked.

It is not clear if Buhari accepts this comparison but it is not much different from what General Victor Malu has also said to Buhari. Victor Malu said that if the trial of the politicians for corruption in 1984 had been done openly before the very eyes of Nigerians, none of the politicians would have had the moral courage to surface today, organise and block Buhari’s second coming. That not having been the case, the General is today painted as Mister Rigid and Mister Draconian. And, therefore, confronted with vanquishing a whole generation of elite to be able to come to power. It is absolutely doable but it could also be a Herculean task.

His travails in the hands of his own social class will remain a puzzle for him till he departs this world. One can hear Buhari asking: Why should I be ‘penalized’ for doing what the people were yearning for? But that would be undialectical thinking. Of course, the people were yearning for action against those perceived to be looting the treasury but it was not the people who put Buhari in power. He was put in power by conspirators who organised to overthrow the wobbling Shagari government and dealing with corrupt politicians in the Buhari sense was probably not part of their agenda. In other words, Buhari’s error was not in jailing the politicians but in not locating the action in context, anticipating and counter balancing the possible back lash.

Whether he contests as a presidential candidate or not, Buhari will shout and punch plenty before, during and after 2015. Having already lost faith in several of the institutions connected with managing elections in Nigeria, even a more credible election may still not satisfy him except if he wins. There will, therefore, be a lot of the temptation to push righteous indignation to rebellion especially by a Buhari who is convinced of his own authenticity, backed by the fact of a mass followership. These two combine to prevent him from obviously reflecting on why he is in the electoral locale he finds himself in the political field of play.

Well, some Americans are saying the system should engage him. So, it might still just be a partial eclipse. The sun might still shine again as far as the second coming is concerned.

But that is if he could quickly resolve the question of whether to contest again in 2015 or not; come up with a programme that offers something more concrete about strategy of rapid transformation of Nigeria rather than merely posing his anti-corruption profile and decides on a Vice-Presidential candidate with a wider base than the leader of a Sunday school that he came with in 2011 as a response to the perception of him as a fundamentalist.

T. Y. Danjuma

Just like IBB, T. Y. Danjuma is not audited as a possible strongman of Nigeria, come 2015. He is in focus only to the extent that if he were to accept the theory of the strong man and Nigeria’s survival, he will be its most decisive facilitator from behind. Although he does not operate at the level of imposing and rigging election for those he endorses and gives moral and financial support, he has the advantage of being in the frame of mind to walk up to whoever is messing up to stop it. And such a person or people will get the message. The question posed by T. Y’s style then is: in the context of the theory of the strongman and Nigeria’s survival, how is the gap between his unavailability to “impose” candidates or rig elections for anybody in an environment in which abounds those ready and willing to do that to be filled?

General Aliyu Gusau

No one has heard of him lately as far as being a strong man in post 2015 Nigeria is concerned. But, with people like him, it is never over until it is over. There is no doubt about it that he is more than informed, more than connected, globally, very much at home in many world capitals and very patriotic. There is no one who will not be impressed listening to Aliyu Gusau talk about how to re-invent Nigeria. But unless the scenario of an Obasanjo parachuting an Umaru Yar’Adua to power happens again, General Gusau will most likely not get elected. He may have conquered the world of intelligence but it doesn’t look like he has conquered the world of (Nigerian) politics. So, in the unlikely event of a dramatic re-negotiation of power in his favour, he is a most unlikely lord of the Villa after 2015.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala:

The two-time Minister of Finance has not told anybody she wishes to be Nigeria’s president but the novelty of it is tempting. She dresses African and does not ghettoize herself by trying to paint herself so as to look Caucasian. It is also incredible that she could have studied and lived in the United States of America for so long without any impact on her accent. So, she is not only a financial wizard but also an African cultural ambassador.

She caused a global sensation not too long ago by challenging the American candidate for the World Bank presidency. She did not win but she made the point. Global sensation is not new to her. As Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, she negotiated a debt buy back which saw Nigeria getting out of external indebtedness. At that time, it was glamorized. But even then, it concretized the impression that Ngozi Iweala was no more than a modern day ‘District Officers’, (D.O) of mighty firms and their global fascism.

Professor Festus Iyayi is the most tested of the intellectual- as- guerilla tribe, solid in theory, concrete in practice, a man who has conquered fear because the successive military regimes went on the over drive in trying to teach him a lesson. With that moral authority, he described the recent utterances of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as ”irresponsible and shameless” at an event where the minister’s father was the Special Guest of Honour, in Lagos last Friday.

It must have been the most painful thing to do by Iyayi. This is because, for many years, the minister’s father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo (he would protest being called a professor because he says he is no longer a don) who is now the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Ukwu, was an elder and Trustee of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU). I am not sure if he is still not a trustee. Professor Okonjo trained in Mathematics and Logic and Scientific Method in his first degree. Then he got two masters degrees, one in Mathematics and the other in Economics. He then did his doctorate in Mathematical Statistics. When he sought employment at the University of Ibadan, he was employed simultaneously in the Departments of Economics and Statistics. Not only that, that is also the man whose own ideas about how to reform education is what other nieghbouring countries have used to rebuild their educational system to global competitiveness. Yet, the man who propounded those ideas is a Nigerian, the father of a super powerful minister of Finance whose own country is not ashamed in sending their children to universities in the nieghbouring country.

The contradictions must be maturing too rapidly to a level where a former president of ASUU like Iyayi would have to take on the minister and daughter of a great brain, a patriot of note and a (former) trustee of ASUU. It must be contradictory or painful even though, the gallant Chukwuka Okonjo has since distinguished Ngozi, her daughter from Ngozi, the Finance Minister when he told a newspaper that Ngozi, the Finance Minister “had a father who sent her to Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and she worked in the World Bank for over twenty years. So, she would like to try the Harvard orientation. She is not a Nigerian in that sense in the same way that the other members of the elite are not Nigerians in their mental and ideological outlook but she loves the country and she is back”. This was when Mrs Iweala became Finance Minister under Obasanjo.

In this sense, painful as the event of last Friday in Lagos, it can be understood by Mrs Iweala, Chief Okonjo and Professor Iyayi as echoes of a war foretold. It is the predictable reaction to a contradiction. And the contradiction is this. In a journal article much earlier, the chief said once declared that the 20th century has been for most Nigerians one of colonial domination, made up of external (British) and internal colonialism. Asked to elaborate on this much later, he said the internal colonialists in his discourse refers to the 10 per cent of Nigerians who rule the country as against the ninety per cent who live on less than a dollar a day. This elite, said Okonjo, are catering for themselves instead of mobilizing the people for development. “They have, with the World Bank, thrown away the 130 million Nigerians outside of the elite circle. This elite, they are blacks but they think like Americans”.

Then he cautioned the Nigerian elite: the Nigerian elite who run the government should remember that ninety per cent of the populace, that is over 130 million of Nigeria’s 140 million population exist and their needs have to be catered for”. The 10 per cent who rule should remember there are 130 million others in the country who do not have anything and the elite have to think of ways of mobilizing them for development. But, in his view, the elite cannot mobilize the populace for national development unless they begin to think properly. Right now, they are not thinking properly the moment they use a concept like informal economy, for example. He says that there is nothing like informal economy but a domestic market economy. Calling it informal economy is trying to imitate Harvard, he declared, short of calling it colonial mentality.

The views of Chief Chukwuka Okonjo, makes him a more appropriate person to be the minister in a developing country, not his daughter. The contradiction is that the daughter is the minister and not just a minister but the Minister of Finance and not just Minister of Finance but a virtual Prime Minister.

The question is what is wrong with that. Two things are wrong with that. The first is empirical and that is the butt of Iyayi’s anger in Lagos: what Iyayi called an “unparalleled robbery in the history of the world.” or else known as the nation’s debt buy back scheme in which US$12 billion was spent.

Hear Iyayi, “We were told that there would be no more foreign debts…the country’s total earnings would now be devoted fully to the development of our people. “… in April 2012, … Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told the nation that the nation’s total debt stock was now $44 billion with $5.9 billion in external debts and $38.1 billion or N5.6 trillion in domestic debts. “Another N559.6 billion, she said, had been set aside in the 2012 budget to service the domestic and external debts”.

Still, this same minister, according to Iyayi, went on to tell the nation that the situation “was healthy for the economy….and we are reasonably in good shape.”

“Can anything be more irresponsible and shameless than telling us that ‘we are in reasonably good shape’ in the face of debts totaling $44 billion? He followed this with still another poser, “Who or what, we might ask, is in reasonably good shape as a result of these dubious loans – the increasing population of not just the poor, but the core poor?”

We must give thanks to God that Nigeria’s collapse has not reached a level where not even a soul could voice out against a brutal reality as the neo-colonialism of Okonjo-Iweala. Iyayi has, therefore, rescued the Nigerian intelligentsia from the ignominy of celebrating the appointment of a World Bank shot as Minister of Finance of an African country. We must also give praise to Professor Chukwuka Okonjo for being so illustrious and patriotic as to disentangle himself from the father-daughter sentiments and to, at the same occasion, call for a revolution in the education sector. He was reported as saying that he had calculated that, “in 23 years, we are going to catch up with Canada, the most educated nation in the world”. “There is an intellectual distance which also must be revolutionized. We must shorten the distance just as we shorten the distance between the rich and the poor. If we do, we’d see that this is the greatest thing we have done,” the chief said. That is totally agreeable, although we can do that in a much shorter time than 23 years. It is a matter of political will.

In other words, Mrs Iweala is formidable because she has the international community even as the home base is hostile at two fronts. The more serious hostility is typified by the story above. The other level of hostility she will encounter will be the question of her zone. She is a South- South woman married to an Easterner. In Nigerian politics, she doesn’t belong to any.

Can she become the strong woman and if she does, can she save Nigeria?

President Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

Any incumbent president of Nigeria is already a strong man. Although Nigeria is not one of the ten biggest emerging markets in the world, does not account for 40 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s total GDP, controls much less than 60 per cent of U.S. trade with Africa and isn’t the most powerful forte in intra-African investment, all of which South Africa has been and which makes the President of South Africa to be Africa’s most powerful international actor, the president of Nigeria has more rooms to manipulate his country than his South African counterpart. There are many things the president of South Africa cannot do but which the president of Nigeria can do. It is a matter of level of development.

Whether you conceptualise this manner of use of power as incumbency blackmail or whatever, it is a mark of a strongman in our politics. It can take an incumbent far especially if President Goodluck can quickly shed some of his many baggage.

The first is the moral baggage of coming to power by shattering a subsisting elite consensus. It is only in Nigeria that this could be done, especially where the shattering was so shabbily managed. Shattering the rotation of power consensus could have been better rationalized by saying, as one of the members of the Northern elders said, that wherever a sitting president dies, it affects every other things. And that since the rotation is all about fairness, it would be unfair to insist that Jonathan must not move on to becoming the president. Nobody would have gone against such a sensible argument if powerfully delivered and popularised. Jonathan would have come in as a national hero, a rallying point.

But, instead of that, it was argued that since Northerners or Hausa-Fulanis had run the show for 32 out of the 50 years of independence, the consensus could go to hell. But it was a consensus which was warranted in the first case by the need to halt the monopoly of the Northerners. That was the apoliticism of the blackmail approach to the coming of Goodluck in 2011. It just has to be corrected.

Two, the president needs to counter the image of his person as quickly as possible. The image issue is of concern as long as he is the president of Nigeria because we have our pride as Nigerians. No matter anyone’s hatred for Obasanjo, for example, when he enters an ECOWAS or OAU/AU meeting, you know that Nigeria has arrived. The point is that this is not the case with the incumbent although he does not need to be like Obasanjo or any other president.

The president would admit that things have gone on to the point that even more mediocre people now refer to him as clueless. And the president appears to be so aware of this psychological warfare on him to the point of unconsciously giving observers all the evidence. Well, it would have been great if he were witty or very expressive. But even then, the first point is for him to realize that he is still not the worst case. He will appreciate this most if he finds just ten minutes to brush through Mark Miller’s The Bush Dyslexicon to see how ignorant and ungrammatical George W. Bush aka president Dubya was.

But George Bush had a functional system in which his appointees/gate keepers observed the appropriate deference to the person and office of the president but without being servile and sycophantic to the point of telling the president that it is mere bushfire somewhere when, in fact, the country was on fire. The point again is that it helps if a president has gone to Cambridge or Yale University. But even then, it is the quality of people around a president that makes all the difference. President Jonathan might need to read Alan Greenspan’s book as it relates to this question.

The third baggage to address is the programmatic incoherence of his regime. Scattered notions of development of railway, electricity, cassava bread or refineries do not amount to a development strategy. A government cannot talk about performance when it has no strategy document. This regime simply doesn’t have.

Fourth baggage is the perception out there that the president doesn’t mind using resource nationalism/militancy to bring the roof down on everybody if he doesn’t become president in 2015. It is only a perception but in politics, perception is as important as reality. The president has said several times that he will not preside over the liquidation of Nigeria. Presiding over the liquidation of Nigeria might not be his explicit plan but he could become an accessory to it if he or his strategies for re-election promote the perception that he doesn’t mind to achieve the objective. Why allow this kind of impression to be created in the first case?

In a country like Nigeria where the powers of a president almost knows no boundary, an incumbent must be extraordinarily careful because it is in the power of the president that the problem lies. In other words, a president must resist the near limitless rooms for maneuver, for manipulation, for undermining those a president wants to undermine and so on and so forth. This is not easy because people in power are advised to use power to settle scores and to re-arrange things. But that is the kind of street wisdom that has got us to where we are today – a nation state without statesmen, a nation with nobody with the moral authority to call it to order. It is the most frightening reality about Nigeria.

In pursuing this ambition, the president could make one mistake and get the elite united against himself. If that should happen, he would find himself out of power in a more embarrassing manner than IBB or OBJ. It certainly wasn’t that IBB or OBJ were not sufficiently manipulative but they couldn’t have been wiser than the Romans.

The way things are going, the PDP could split and/or be defeated. The defeat can be organised from within and there is nothing the president can do again because, one by one, he would find himself returning to the ordinary Jonathan he was. All the cheer leaders and hand clappers, including international backers and linesmen for fire and brimstone would suddenly become reasonable and before he knows, he is on his own. He would find those he thought were his strongest backers to have only been playing the role of the weird witches in Macbeth. So, relying on incumbency blackmail has many pitfalls.

By the way, has GEJ heard the gist merchants at work, mimicking him as saying: What other master stroke appointment such as Sambo Dasuki’s can I make and overwhelm the country? Oh Sambo, I got them there: educated, exposed, rated spy, connected military officer, scion of the Caliphate, in law to another spy master, son of an injured former Sultan, cousin to the incumbent Sultan of Sokoto, ADC to the gap toothed one and brother to an MTN baron and, by implication, an international business player. How brilliant was I there? Where are such other people I can graft on this regime? I need a Northern version of Chief Edwin Clark, but a more tasteful defender. Who is out there who can play that role? If only Jerry Gana would come in as Minister Extra Ordinary and  Plenipotentiary”

Sule Lamido

Who will say that a former legislator, a former national youth leader of the defunct PRP, a former National Secretary of the defunct Social Democratic Party, (SDP), one of the original nine who founded the PDP, A former Minister of Foreign Affairs, a performing governor and a legatee of Aminu Kano is not qualified to rule Nigeria? Nobody can say that. But Sule Lamido’s unique selling point might not be in all of these. It should be in his heightened awareness of the historical denigration of the Blackman which he demonstrated in his rhetoric, body language and actions throughout his tenure as Foreign Affairs Minister. It could also be seen that this was something he could do whatever it would take to accomplish, be it kneeling down and begging or cajoling or slapping or shouting plenty or making trouble generally with whomever is to begged, kicked, shouted at or troubled about the correction of the image of the Blackman depicted in History.

In this, he was never lured away from this nativisit commitment by the pleasures, temptations and opportunities offered by Foreign Affairs ministership.  Any African who is like this is automatically a Nigerian leader because Nigeria has the highest concentration of Blacks under any one government in human history.

In 2015, the ruling class might find in Sule Lamido the least evil in the circumstance: the perfect grass roots man who is not coming to power with a grudge against society. Instead, this is gonna be a witty president, exposed in state protocol, steeped in statecraft and as tall and dignified as Nigeria, a height advantage suggesting the international status and stature of Nigeria in the comity of nations. I used to draw his attention to the fact that he was almost twice taller than Madeleine Albright and even when Colin Powel took over from Albright, Lamido was still one inch taller. According to Joe Garba in his Diplomatic Soldiering, Murtala used to remind him of being the only African Foreign Affairs Minister who could look down on Henry Kissinger because Garba was much taller than the American foreign policy mandarin.

But if Lamido becomes the president of Nigeria, what will be his development strategy? It is not enough to be a populist or to declare Democratic Humanism. The president has to be able to reduce his ideological posturing to more concrete models. In this way, President Sule Lamido would not be taking from Aminu Kano and the IMF/World Bank at the same time. That can be a major snag if he is to save Nigeria as a strongman.

Secondly, how is Nigeria going to cope with having to send the presidential aircraft to the president’s village every now and then to fetch him? Or, would becoming the president cure him of his mania for his village?

Senate President David Mark

The foremost militician and survivalist must already be asking whether this is a cross road or a turning point, both for himself and for Nigeria. And whether the strategy of trafficating right but turning left would still do.

David Mark has experience and exposure going for him, having been in one political office or another since the rank of a major. His commitment to Nigeria is also not in question, having been part of the squad that bursted some of the ridiculous coups. He can even claim initiating the democratic movement against Abacha with his revealing interview in Newswatch then. But his greatest advantage is that no one can say he is clueless. He knows all parts of the political pitch, with particular reference to when the system itself is under stress and how to negotiate saving it.

David Mark is also serving a latent function that is probably as important as his manifest position in Nigeria. No one can say what might have happened in Benue politics by now if Mark or an Idoma were not high up in Abuja. The pervasive feeling of exclusion among the Idoma in Benue State is compensated by the ‘affective fallacy’ that one of their own is strategically inserted in Abuja where everything is happening. It doesn’t matter that the Idoma man or woman feeling so might not have even had a handshake with Mark, much less have anything to do with the Senate over which Mark presides.

Yet, Mark would score very poorly if rated on mobilizational politics, taking so long to accomplish the transition from the soldier to a politician. This is very evident in the Number 3 citizen who is basically absent from the soap-box and/or the platforms doing things without which the politician is not yet a politician. By Achebe’s ‘man of the people’, this line involves climbing the podium now and then to pontificate on nothing, expound on just anything, propagate lies and promise bridges even where there is no river. It matters. The second but more serious leg of that is reconciliation in Idomaland. Mark must work hard to erase the impression that those who contested against him at one time or another are automatically his enemies. Reconciliation at home is not part of the requirements for the theory of the strong man and Nigeria’s survival but the healing import of it should propel the Okpokpowulu in that direction. After all, politics is nothing other than conciliation and reconciliation.

Finally, what would be strongman Mark’s development strategy? Yes, he shocked everyone by telling IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde the home truth last December about market access inequality but that does not say anything about the strategy he would pursue if he is on the driver’s seat.  Is he in support of this racket called deregulation or something more transformative and equilibrative?


OBJ has nothing left on his shopping list to pick from Nigeria’s political supermarket. He is still around only because the soldier man (and woman) is never comfortable leaving his flank open. He is doing the only thing left for him to do- globe trotting. But nothing can lesson the pain of an OBJ who is not Mandela’s successor. As Audu Ogbeh said, nobody worked as hard for Nigeria as OBJ. But he couldn’t come off needless battles, thereby successfully lowering his prestige below where many of us think he should be. Still, it is not an idle poser to ponder upon: can Nigeria still make it when it couldn’t under OBJ? Apart from Murtala at death, Nigeria never stood as one behind any one as it did for OBJ in 1999.

History might be more charitable to him than journalism and journalists because History will be looking at the wider context in which the Balogun of Owu was swimming. Professional Historians might decide that after having gone to jail and come out and then straight to the presidency, nothing else stopped OBJ from thinking that he was a special child of God and it must be only a stupid man or woman who would want to challenge him or appear to be contemplating such. Hence his many battles!

But OBJ is still an enigma. Whoever under rates him does so at his or her own risk. After reading Bernard Odogwu’s comments on OBJ in his book, T. Y. Danjuma’s account of OBJ’s strategy of ending the Nigerian Civil War in his interview in The Guardian few years ago and Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo’s biography of OBJ. He may not like it but there is a sense in which it is not such a terrible thing to say that OBJ is Mobutu Sese Seko’s name sake. That is for those who know that Mobutu’s full name is Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Waza Banga, the full meaning of which is “the all powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexibility, will-to-win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”.

In the context of the theory of the strong man/woman and Nigeria’s survival, he is gonna be a big trouble maker in 2015. Nobody is going to stop him because he is already moving. What is unique about OBJ in this regard is that he doesn’t give a damn about what those he is dealing with thinks of his intervention. He barges in on them and pushes his own agenda full throttle. He still has the audience, both at home and abroad and has an incredible ability to align forces or disperse them when he wants. He is not a General by just picking corns. Unfortunately, people assess him by what they think he should be instead of what he is. As a result of this contradiction, Obasanjo’s pre 2015 trouble making will be asserting himself through his emergency coalition building tactics he is good at in ensuring that the candidate of his choice prevails.

However, something tells me that, at the moment, the crafty General is searching for that caliber of a writer who can competently and successfully reconcile the many different versions of his life’s story. Damned too many persons have told the Obasanjo story, depending on which segment of the man s/he felt or touched or, in short, encountered. They are very contradictory stories and getting an intellectual to tie them into a coherent narrative might be the 9th wonder of the world. For, there is the version told by Nelson Mandela as well as the one told by Oluremi; there is the one told by Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba in his biography of Obasanjo titled Olusegun Obasanjo in the Eyes of Time as well as the one told or waiting to be told by Atiku Abubakar. And down to the versions from Wole Soyinka to Nadine Gordimer; from T. Y Danjuma (in his famous Guardian interview in 2009) to what Condoleezza Rice wrote; from Helmut Schmidt to Tony Anenih; from Tony Blair to Alison Ayida; Muhammadu Buhari to Ken Nnamani and Pius Anyim; from Otunba Fasawe to Audu Ogbeh; from IBB to Victor Malu; from Andy Uba to Aliko Dangote; from Ahmadu Ali to Mike Adenuga; from Ghali Na’Abbah to Segun Adeniyi (on behalf of Umaru Yar’Adua).

On the eve of OBJ’s exit from power in 2007, Mohammed Sani Zorro posed the question whether Nigeria would miss OBJ. All of us in the car said no one would miss him. Zorro said we were not serious. He asked: when again would Nigeria get a president who would invite all manner of people to a stakeholders’ forum and then proceed to function as the Master of Ceremony, the moderator, the Chairman of the occasion, the Special Guest of Honour, the Chief Host and the Time Keeper, all at once, from start to finish. We are still laughing!

VP Namadi Sambo

Because he is the Vice President, Namadi Sambo can become the strong man. If the opposition within and without the PDP is so tough as to make GEJ lose his centre of gravity in the determination of a successor, the VP might come handy. In that sort of situation, who can better act the receivership for a stampeded incumbent? In any case, who knows what pact or contingency exists between the two now?

Other than this, the VP has more roadblocks than any other potential strong man. His first battle will be with GEJ. If GEJ is contesting, the VP will have to fight to be retained. It is very unlikely he would want to challenge GEJ to a contest for the Numero uno. There will be no more troubles to make if GEJ is contesting and retains him. The problem will be if GEJ is contesting but throws the dragnet further afar when Namadi is very much around, ready, willing and revving. Heaven would not have seen the kind of fury that this sort of situation could produce in the VP.

His second station of trouble will be if GEJ neither contests nor anoints him. The third is if he were miraculously anointed by GEJ but faced with a stronger contender from within or without PDP.

So, the VP will have cause to make trouble on too many fronts before, during and after 2015 because if nobody picks him and if he is not the presidential candidate, is he not then confronted with early retirement? A former minister of foreign affairs, for example, can be sent to New York as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the UN but what do you give a former Vice-President? He cannot even be the Senate President, that being one step below him already.

The second aspect is whether he can save Nigeria if he becomes the strong man. His commitment to Nigeria cannot be questioned. The VP is not in any way suspected of associating with any group nursing ambition of waging war against Nigeria. He has no residual army beyond the hand clappers in darandandam. He also has such a trouble free mien which augurs well for presidential leadership. He is well educated and has been the governor of a strategic state like Kaduna.

The first problem is that the VP has not branded himself. It makes it difficult to rate him because a man is assessed in terms of what he says he is, what he has done and what people say he is. If he had branded himself, it would have taken care of what he says he is and what he has done. So, he has robbed himself of any marks in terms of what we can count for him as a governor.

The second problem is the Architect has not popularized his design of Nigeria. He must have an idea of where he would like Nigeria to be in the comity of nations but he has not made much ‘noise’ about it. He once said at an Aminu Kano memorial lecture in Kano that he too subscribed to the Aminu Kano School of politics but nobody has heard him repeat it. Without identification with a definite ideology and without giving documented account of himself, he cannot be scored objectively.

No one would expect an incumbent Vice-President to start talking about his achievements in office. All achievements belong to the head of the regime. This is why a previous scorecard and/or a branding would have provided what to work on. In the coming politics, I guess it would be difficult for people to win elections without expounding any vision for the country.

There is no doubt that VP Sambo has done a lot for the North West in particular but he would do well to stabilize Kaduna because every day of curfew there undermines his grip of home. Even a baby would tell the VP that such is dangerous for acquisition and consolidation of power.                                                                                       

CBN Gov, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

The name of the CBN governor has been floating around. As a matter of tactics, he has not spoken yet. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is a straight forward case of a potentially great reformer and, therefore, a perfect strongman if he should come into the race and if the ACN/CPC machine can parachute him to power in 2015. He is an educated version of people like Nuhu Ribadu and General Buhari. By education, I am not referring to certificate education but the political nuancing. Of course, he would have to do a crash programme in how to be strong headed without being controversial.

How he would also overcome the interests and forces he has put in jail and their types who are still outside the jails is something else.

Although, the CBN governor is not a politician, he can create problems for PDP especially if the PDP fails woefully in self management, with particular reference to correcting the mismanagement of the zoning principle. Sanusi Lamido can generate a bandwagonism that can sweep PDP given his cross cutting intellectual, elite, professional and now, political insertions, his cultural self-reference and track record of reformism. He has already established a track record which is equally valued outside the country.

The only problem is if he could eat less tuwon shinkafa and more of tubers so that we don’t end up with a lepa president. Secondly, it is difficult to understand why he is a protagonist of withdrawl of petroleum subsidy. Could he be practicing stoop low to conquer, (he doesn’t seem to be such a person).

Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu

Bola Tinubu is a fortress of power. He has got it more than any other politician at the moment, whether one is talking of the intellectual/research apparatchik to defend power or the media establishment to nourish it or the governmental machinery to impose his will in negotiating with others. If governors were allowed state police, Tinubu who controls about six governors would effectively have, to all intents and purposes, become the prime minister of Yoruba heartland. Even now, he is enjoying a stature far beyond Awo, Abiola and OBJ combined because his power is located in a caucus that thinks. Whatever his own personal deficiencies, they don’t affect the fortunes of the group. He has also earned it.


If not his advocacy for a notion of restructuring Nigeria that only he and his palace philosophers understand, he is a perfect actor to turn over Nigeria to if only because he has a thinking core. The great thing about having a thinking group is that, if it is really a thinking group, it will never fall into the problem of one dimensional reasoning. There must be one crank of a fellow there who will draw attention to one gap or another and save the group from a dramatic contradiction. In the 21st Century, anyone with claims to leadership but who hasn’t got a critical thinking group is simply a false messiah.

It is people like Tinubu that Nigeria probably needs. Anyone in whom OBJ met his match in the madness of April 2007 should be preserved because the country would need him again, somehow. That is why I said earlier Nigeria is not looking for angels. The only embarrassing bit is how come many of his governors don’t seem to be performing even as solid as their base is. By education, international exposure, activist background, age and the Tinubu factor, one would have thought that Ekiti governor in particular, Dr Kayode Fayemi, would have redefined governorship in Nigeria by today. If he has done so, it should be self-evident. And if he has not done so, by now he should be expounding a theory to explain that so that others can learn from his experience about why performance breakthrough is rare in our clime.

Govs Isa Yuguda/Murtala Nyako

Atiku Abubakar has gone nuclear politically. Otherwise, I would have put all those from the North East under one heading because they have made a case of being marginalized from leadership. So far, only Yuguda and Nyako have been speculated repeatedly even though without a word from each of them. It could be a matter of strategy because Isa Yuguda needed not say much beyond aspects of his last interview in the Sunday Trust. There is a section there where he took the option of the moderate Northerner on the off/on shore controversy. Not too long ago, he had also gone to deliver a lecture at Lagos Island Club in Lagos, (I am not sure immediately if it was Lagos Island Club or one of those elite circles in Lagos). It was there he said that Nigeria could not break up because the break –up would be marked by too many war theatres. Utilisation of membership of such an elite circle on the topic of the lecture couldn’t be lost on any one. It is a vital network.

Yuguda’s brand of politics is not known. He appears to be incapable of hurting a fly and, therefore, a repository of finesse. If that is miraculously true of a Nigerian politician, then we may have a strong man president whose greatest claim to it is being trouble free.

If the Bauchi governor can deliver the North East to himself, he can be a formidable candidate. This is because the North East, like the North Central but unlike the North West, is quite heterogeneous. As a banker by profession, it is assumed that he can easily mobilise resources to fund his campaign if he doesn’t already have money. It is an important point since he doesn’t appear to have a godfather.

I see Murtala Nyako playing out a script, engaging in a typical military maneouvre whose real agenda is not what it seems. Therefore, until I listen to him formally express desire to be the strongman in 2015, I will not move further.

As a phenomenal success story in private agricultural investment before he went back into government, he fulfils the track record requirement eminently. That aspect would even count higher than attaining the rank of Vice-Admiral in the Navy. Not only was Nyako exporting into North Africa and Europe, his subject matter mastery of Agriculture was really, really encyclopedic.

Not much of his governorship has been well articulated in any holistic narrative. But it would be shocking if he has not got a great story to tell on agriculture. In fact, agriculture is the only subject Nigerians might want him to talk about during his campaigns were he to truly join the race.

As a military man, there is nothing to fear in giving him Nigeria. Nyako might have no published developmental document but I would have no problem voting for him if it is just that issue. Before he became governor, I was once taken to him by Sule Lamido to assist him at the secretariat of one of the caucuses during the 2005 Political Reform Conference. One of the assignments I ended up with was producing a development strategy paper. Nyako looked at it. He actually commended the paper but Nyako who told me that he didn’t go to school ended with a critique of the paper that no book could have taught me. So, I would not insist on a document before voting for him if I were the only elector. He has it in his head. It is one thing for a strongman to be knowledgeable but yet fail to achieve just as it is another thing for a strong man who cannot achieve because he doesn’t know how to go about it.


It is 4. 46 a.m now. I have been on the last segment of this exercise for so many hours. I can see that Nowa Omogui, the Medical Doctor turned military Historian, is also awake like me, sending an email to all of the 6th anniversary of the military air crash on September 17th, 2006 in Vandeikya, Benue State which killed many top military officers. May their soul rest in peace, Amen!

From the survey above, it doesn’t seem that the problem is with leadership oh! The problem is with the nature and quality of the post colonial elite. If this is not the case, why is it that only very, very few of those surveyed have got a coherent agenda of power. Of course, they do have agenda of power but it is too embarrassing to be spelt out.

So, once again, back to the same old question: is it a strong leadership that will re-invent Nigeria or a strong followership that will compel the leadership to move? It may be an unfair judgment but it must be true that a people get the leaders they deserve.

Mr. Onoja is an Abuja based columnist