General Muhammadu Buhari is an extreme moral face of the ruling class. For that reason, he is in isolation, left high and dry. Even in the Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC), he is a problem to them in almost the same way that he is to the Nigerian establishment but which is also a problem for him.
Now, if my premise is logical, then the General has committed a blunder by throwing away an opportunity to strike at the heart of Nigeria if he were to successfully negotiate peace between the FG and Boko Haram. That is assuming that the offer from Boko Haram is real this time.
His decision might have been informed by the intelligence he got but intelligence is always raw materials for a political leader. The political reading of intelligence is always superior. My contention is that Buhari suffered from a predilection in assessing the opening, failing completely in leadership and public service.
What is the leadership and public service challenge as opposed to the partisanship in the opening? It is in the fact that any insurgency is a serious threat to any nation state, more so an insurgency that tends to pitch one religion against another. In that sense, President Jonathan even underrated the challenge when he compared it to the Biafran Civil War. While the civil war was a more straight forward patriots versus secessionists in an age when the international community privileged the state over any other actor within the national space unlike now, that of Boko Haram is not so. Instead, it is provocative of religious and regional fissures. Aside from that, Boko Haram insurgency would have been hotter to handle had it not alienated itself by attacking Christian worshippers, thereby making it look like a Christian-Muslim conflict instead of the social injustice avengeance mission they emphasized.
Given all these, whoever successfully negotiates a peace deal and disentangles the country from the disruptiveness in favour of culture of peace has served society probably even better than being a president. Only a few will ever get called to such a task, however and from whomever the summons came. I guess this was what lured Obasanjo into his ill-fated attempt at intervention. To reject it out of the fear that opponents will come to the conclusion that a nominee is one of ‘them’ suggests a not totally deep enough reflection.
That argument suggests how Buhari and his handlers obviously spend so much time on the least important things and very little time on the most important things. The most important thing as far as Boko Haram’s nomination of him is concerned is what Buhari would have told them in accepting the challenge, not the counter factual attitude in the rejection of the task. In other words, Buhari had not reached the point to withdrawl before he did so. That point would have been after welcoming the nomination with the conditions in which he could carry out the assignment. It is those conditions that would have told Nigerians who Buhari really is, with particular reference to defining the agenda for both Boko Haram, the FG and even the international community, leaving Buhari as the winner, whichever way it went.
The issue in question is negotiating to end a terrorist insurgency. It is, ab initio, a testy but an unavoidable option because of the very nature of terrorism. That is why a Mandela would insist and push the African National Congress, (ANC) into negotiating with the Apartheid regime even though he knew everything that happened. He did so because, as the leader, he also had the responsibility to think ahead and be more holistic in his appraisal of the situation. It was clear to him that what is most strategic is different from what is politically correct.
The late Umaru Yar’Adua and his thinkers did this beautifully too with the Niger Delta insurgency. He appreciated that if he insisted on bombing MEND and co to submission, for instance, the human rights implications alone could even overshadow the substantive issue. His sobriety or his advisers took him in the direction of an unorthodox application of the concept of amnesty which turned out very creative.
This time, we haven’t had that critical or reflective statism, neither from the FG nor from Buhari. But Boko Haram is a social crisis. The task for leadership is to go beyond the surface and deconstruct such a reality in its interconnectedness. It is from such deconstruction that resolution comes, not from standing aloof just to prove political opponents wrong. In this context, what Buhari has done is prove what he fears most – being labelled as someone who see things in either good or bad, black or white.
The only conclusion one can draw from this mishap is that General Buhari is feeling the pinch of the fundamentalist tagged on him. And he is getting so pinched to the extent of doing many things just to prove that he is not. I wouldn’t say such a tag is nothing to worry about but to allow the feeling to determine his reaction to just about everything he does in politics is to surrender. For, Buhari must know that if the class balance of forces were to change drastically and the Nigerian establishment can only find in him its hope of stabilizing the status quo, the label of religious fundamentalist against him will be replaced with a very complimentary label. That is ruling class politics.
Depending on the shifting balances, the ruling class can pick any of its members and dress or re-dress him or her for any roles. And this is why Boko Haram’s assignment is the kind of assignment Buhari should have embraced because it helps him to transform from the image of a too angry fellow to a system stabilizer. A system stabilizer is a more crucial player than anything else because it is the stability of the system that is most important. The system has to be stable before anyone can become anything. No one can be opposed to this irrespective of one’s ideological preferences, considering the interesting postulation of the sober and thoughtful elder statesman and former FCT Minister, Muhammadu Abba Gana that we can never have too much of peace.
It seems that Buhari is determined to prove T. Y Danjuma permanently right in T.Y’s assessment of him as a perfect Chief of Army Staff but an unsuitable choice for the position of Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. That was several decades ago. Nothing seems to have changed even with a Buhari who has contested for the office of the president thrice. And even for a man who said that the collapse of the USSR converted him to democracy. The conversion looks incomplete.
…So speaketh General Abdulsalami Abubakar
There is nothing to disagree but everything to commend former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar for dismissing all threats of secession as mere noise. That is the kind of thing we should be hearing from all military and political leaders about Nigeria not only because it counters the megalomania of those who first begin their politics by threatening secession but also because it is the truth. The cultural, geographical and strategic problems of secession in Nigeria make it a dead on arrival option for all of us.
Having said that, people like General Abdulsalami who, to the extent of being the only statesman around as a result of being a non partisan actor, should also begin to recognise that Nigeria’s journey to Somalia is real. In Africa, state collapse starts with loss of rural areas to unlawful authorities. That is going on steadily in Nigeria now. Today, there are many communities where there is no manifestation of state authority beyond dirty and torn flags. The police run away when kingpins are in motion. I believe I don’t have to give any examples since the SSS knows all these. Yet, all the king’s men and all the king’s horses are never on sight.
Nigeria may not collapse but something can trigger a situation of imponderable mass suffering. And after which we could count loses in millions. If small Rwanda could lose a million to an absolutely preventable genocide, anyone can guess how many Nigeria will lose to anything like or similar to what happened in Rwanda. May God Bless Nigeria!
Adagbo Onoja, a student-researcher is accessible on [email protected]