GEJ, Time to Watch it! By Adagbo Onoja

Departing autocracies could be tempted to set up the system. It is, therefore, not just the responsibility of the opposition to be concerned with the unsettling but organised slip from the presidency talking about a determination not to hand over to Buhari and categorically preferring a military coup. The fact that such a statement was made by a non-descript officer in the Presidency who could easily be disowned or sacrificed by the real organisers of the slip should the statement beget the popular resistance it deserves makes it even more deserving of scrutiny. Methinks the apprehension to that posting should be articulated globally because it is a sure snippet of things that could come if we are not sensitive and careful enough.

The point in that statement is that the departing autocrats have not understood what is happening. It still sees everything in terms of the person of Buhari. It cannot see it in terms of a categorical rejection of someone who has no business being the president of Nigeria in the first case, someone who never understood what it means to be president of Nigeria and even when he found himself there, did not appreciate dashing to a finishing school on the politics of power. And, in the absence of such deliberate grooming in the mystique of state power, he violated its social, cultural, geopolitical and even discursive conventions every minute that he was in power. It is these excesses that have unsettled even the traditional cleavages in Nigerian politics to a point where they are going to vote for anybody but Jonathan. So, to keep talking as if it is Buhari, all by himself, and not the social context of the situation in Nigeria, that is snatching power from Jonathan is evidence of a Presidency that has still not understood what is happening.

If it does not understand the extreme inadequacy of the Jonathan political personality as an explanation of the impending certain defeat, then it would be too much to expect it to understand the political economy of it. That is the fact that the primary contradiction in Nigeria today is the total fragmentation of the power elite. They have no core anymore. As but an ideologically lumpen category, the power elite in Nigeria has always been constituted around the political personality of the Head of State. Since they have no material interests in terms of productive activities beyond speculation, state power and its benefits have been the only constitutive force binding them. Even when the different factions abuse each other on the pages of the newspaper, there is still a sharing formula undergirding their collective interaction. By sharing formula, I do not mean just a loot-sharing arithmetic but also their sense of inclusion and exclusion.

Jonathan was brought into power outside of the group from which the Head of State cadre are usually recruited and which is the military-security network, retired and active. Not that this is good but it is the reality in the sense that those who fought the civil war have monopolised power in Nigeria. Unschooled in these matters, Jonathan thought it was his ‘Goodluck’ of a name that was working for him. And he then sought to critique this but by anchoring his power on a very divisive and exclusionary logic, including verbal and non-verbal communication that sent a reminder every day of a situation whereby the President is himself the threat to the country. In no time, this objective reality collided with the objective and subjective interests of some of the key actors and the regrouping against him started. The way he went about building his own power has been such that the people around him are those who cannot help him in a test of strength with the Nigerian establishment.

Not when the establishment could find in its armoury one member who fulfils the requirement for change. That requirement is that one individual for whom the people are ready to pour out on the streets and die in pursuit of him or nothing else. I am referring to Buhari. Before now, his support base was so territorially restricted to North-Western Nigeria. Today, the dynamics have worked out in such a way that it is across the entire Nigerian territory. It is such that Buhari’s Puritanism, (not fundamentalism) which alienated him from the other members of the establishment is now what the Nigerian establishment desperately needs to reclaim power from an outsider who lacked understanding of the logic of the Nigerian State. That logic is that, although the Nigerian power elite will manipulate all sorts of differences, they know limits because they do not actually want the country to break up over their ethnic, regional and religious differences because they will become bystanders in world affairs if Nigeria breaks up.

The tragedy of the Jonathan Presidency is like that of Obi Okonkwo in Achebe’s No Longer At Ease. Obi Okonkwo tried to do what everyone else was doing without understanding how they were doing it. In other words, Jonathan resorted to ethno-religious manipulation which everyone does in Nigeria but he went about it in a way that presented him, discursively and practically, as the threat itself to the Nigerian State. He painfully failed to learn any lesson from why someone like Obasanjo gets away with ‘murder’ in Nigeria. It is simply because nobody, right from when he was a junior officer, ever associated him with scheming how to break- up Nigeria. It is also the reason for his extraordinary penetration of the different centres of power in Nigeria, particularly the North where most of the emirs, for instance, were either his top bureaucrats or field commanders in his first coming in the late 1970s.

So, it has been clear that Jonathan would find it difficult to retain power. As I argued in an earlier piece on elite fragmentation titled, ‘The Truth No One Would Tell GEJ’ (See Sahara Reporters, Dec 14, 2013). “Where the president comes in is the fact that the crisis requires a new face around whom the deeply fragmented power elite can re-connect and rally around as its resolution. That rallying point individual cannot be the same GEJ whose candidature has been a source of the fragmentation in its current dimension in the first case. This is the sense in which it is failure to read History properly by insisting on contesting in 2015 which is where all the problems are coming from, both for himself and the country. Since the country has mastered surviving  at the expense of the individual, (Gowon, Buhari, IBB, Abacha, Obasanjo), Dr. Goodluck ought to have thought very deeply about Ahmed Joda’s advice last year to withdraw from the race in 2015 unconditionally”.

Everywhere else, elite fragmentation is the sure basis for catastrophe. The only reason Nigeria has not witnessed catastrophe worse than Baga is its diversity and the level of integration at the lower level. But these have limits as we can see from what has happened since Kasua Magani in Kaduna State in 1981. That is when the manipulation of religion over which the late Dr. Bala Usman kept warning started, climaxing today in BH. And the imponderable prospect of what could happen in trying to stop Buhari at this point is one reason why everyone else should be part of a global advocacy against any plans to botch the impending election for fear that Buhari would win. The image of where a simple thing like succession in power results in the death of hundreds of thousands in one African country or another must be unacceptable to everyone by now. If only for that reason, those with their hands on the triggers of one act of smartness or another typical of departing autocrats should, please, rethink. Of course, they have a choice but they can be assured that they risk spending the rest of their lives along with people like Charles Taylor or Laurent Gbagbo at the Hague if they play any such trick.

This is because there is a global consensus that Jonathan’s presidency of Nigeria is an invitation to crisis. Africa’s silence about Jonathan and events in Nigeria is a pregnant silence. Since the sidelining of Nigeria at Mandela’s burial, it could be said that Africa has spoken. Once Africa ‘speaks’, the world follows, except when the issue is about oil and solid minerals. A rapid rescue of the Chibok girls is something that a Jonathan would not have minded exploiting as the handwork of a Christian president. There is no such story to tell. What this means is that this president who wants to be re-elected has already alienated himself from Africa, from the world and within Christianity. And yet, he hopes to win. How would that magic happen?

Add to that the gist that anyone who actually fought Jonathan is either in jail or on the run. Ibori is in jail for corruption but there are thousands of Iboris in Nigeria, many of them powerful and close to the Presidency. And then Henry Okah, the source of the most suggestive piece of information on the essential direction of presidential mindset. It is not the truth of his claim associating the president with the October 2010 bombing of Abuja that has totally undermined but merely associating the president with such a thing. In other countries, Jonathan would never have become the president after that statement. But he did because Nigeria is such a diseased country. The guy has been in jail, also outside the country. I am not sure Jonathan has ever contemplated the implication of his image as a president who goes after his ‘enemies’ wherever they might be in the world and deals with them conclusively, mostly by jailing them. Why do we go to school and suffer privations to get a PhD if the PhD would have no moderating influence on our ‘state of nature’ mindset? Is it any wonder that there are too many people and networks in Nigeria that can already say what will become of them should Jonathan win back power? Since power is relational, what will stop them from ensuring they unmake Jonathan now?

However one looks at it, Jonathan never understood the import of his office and that being so, he never considered repositioning himself for the job. That has cost him everything because it means he did not bring the ‘horizon of understanding’ to presidential power in a complex and very difficult country. Whatever might explain this, be it his social class location or remoteness from the political education centres in Nigeria, (the professions, student radicalism, labour politics, the civil society/media, etc), Nigeria has suffered for it and they are up in revolt. To try any tricks at this point will result in his personal tragedy because, as he can see in the last one week or so, Chibok girls and now Baga has touched off the thick skinned global conscience and made the February 14th presidential election a task that everyone wants accomplished. This cannot be lost on Mister President the week the American ambassador to Nigeria went everywhere and Emeka Anyaoku as well as Kofi Annan were activated. It is not advisable for the president to start any trick at this point because he will be plucked like Gbago and other foolish African leaders who think like them. You can’t inflict so much pain by your acts of omission and commission and expect to go on and win in any credible election. Rome did not collapse because the Romans were lacking in wisdom. It did because the contradictions had become overwhelming. It is still morning on creation day!

This is perhaps also the place to advice General Buhari to tone down on his rhetoric of sending corrupt people to jail. That is the job of whoever becomes his Inspector-General of Police if he wins the election. He might still recall Victor Malu’s analysis of his trial of the politicians in 1984. And Victor Malu was the reflective voice of a Buhari diehard. In other words, that exercise was not something Buhari should be uncritically proud of because there were many gaps in the process. That of one particular governor cried to high Heavens.

Beside that is the point that even if there is no corruption in Nigeria, we would still not be, say Brazil, India or China today because the Nigerian establishment has NEVER had an original development strategy. They never did. Therefore, we want to hear Buhari talk to us about his comparative analysis of what is going on in much of Latin America vis-a-vis our future. Asia is the region that has astounded the world in terms of how to develop under conditions of globalisation but it is Latin America that is sending the kind of messages about democracy, development, human security through popular control of the processes that should interest Africa’s most populous country. Extreme cases of corruption and misuse of power should be investigated and corrected but we can do this without spending three out of four years on crime and punishment.

The fact that Buhari, as a person, did not loot public treasury does not exonerate him from the collective guilt of the Nigerian establishment in terms of their lack of big minded developmental sense. If he wins this election, it provides him a golden opportunity to rehabilitate that establishment in terms of social transformation rather than see it as victory for his puritanical self. And we want to see signs of this not in the promise of electricity and those things that have been taken for granted everywhere else but the great strategy doctrines by which other countries have accomplished the social transformation that our own members of the power shamelessly travel to go and mop at in Asia, the Middle East and the West. In this regard, it is not Buhari’s WASC that is missing, (who cares at this point) but Buhari’s industrialisation strategy document.

This is not to forget that too many families in Nigeria are in need of symbolic gestures of the Nigerian State to restore their humanity and re-assure them. The next president must become the symbol of reconciliation and restoration of the sanity of so many ordinary people devastated by things they can never come to terms with – children whose parents were killed brutally before their own eyes, husbands whose wives were taken away and so on and so forth. In those ‘mysteries’ lies the national security complication of the future because that moment when innocent girls or children or wives or husbands looked up and the Nigerian State was nowhere near to help them will be the source of one future anarchy or another. Unless it is cured with ‘soft power’ and personal touch of the president, we live in falsehood. In my view, it ought to be so primary in the schedule of duty of the next president.

Then the imperative for leadership recruitment drive such that in 2019, all the governors, for example, would be a replica if not superior to the three or four out of the current set of governors that have done fairly well. And I would argue, at grave risk to myself, that these four are Borno, Lagos, Rivers and Jigawa. Borno governor is well groomed for power, highly moderated and focused. Sule Lamido of Jigawa is a politically problematic politician but that he has developed Jigawa is not in question. I was always in Jigawa between July 1999 and 2006, then I became part of the government from 2007 to 2012. So, I can prove my rating of Jigawa and, irrespective of the circumstances of my exit from that government, I owe it to my conscience to stand by this. Amaechi is one of the few who, in spite of long stay in power, retains a brashness that makes him politically useful.

So, where does Buhari have the time to spend time fire fighting and jailing anybody? I think Professor Bolaji Akinyemi got it completely right when he issued his consensual but mature ‘House of Lords’ approach to overcoming the possibility of transition anarchy in Nigeria. Discouraged perhaps by the belligerent response he got from the presidency whose strategy of communicating power is by embarrassing power, he gave up the idea too quickly. But some form of negative security assurance to Jonathan is nothing terrible or outrageous to suggest. After all, we cannot have too much peace. It won’t be bad if Akinyemi returns to this task in terms of something superior and deeper than the Abuja Peace Accord. It doesn’t matter if no one claps for him. History might.

The author wrote in from UCL in the UK & is accessible via [email protected]