Narrow Politics and Questions of Democratic Development

By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum

The American journalist and historian, Anne Applebaum, in the book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, stressed that ‘The jangling, dissonant sound of modern politics; the anger on cable television and the evening news; the fast pace of social media; the headlines that clash with one another when we scroll through them; the dullness, by contrast, of the bureaucracy and the courts; all of this has unnerved that part of the population that prefers unity and homogeneity. Democracy itself has always been loud and raucous, but when its rules are followed, it eventually creates consensus. The modern debate does not. Instead, it inspires in some people the desire to forcibly silence the rest.’

There is no better description of contemporary Nigerian political reality. The avalanche of objectionable news with commentaries that basically conclude everything is bad in the country, is the order of the day. Any attempt to argue to the contrary is condemned and rejected. Both social and conventional media – electronic, print, local, national, and international news about Nigeria are dominated by horrible newsflashes of activities of insurgents, bandits, ethnic and religious mercenaries in the country. It is either report of kidnap, abduction, and killing of innocent Nigerians, or some depressing reports of attacks on security agencies and institutions by bandits and insurgents, or damaging commentaries of so-called failure of political leaders, parties and governments, especially, President Muhammadu Buhari and the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), or court judgements that further exposes the challenges facing Nigerian democracy, or some angry public statements by groups, so-called analysts, experts and political leaders against political establishments in the country, and so on and so forth.

The list is almost endless. For instance, in August 2021, reported incidences of killings in Plateau State, bandit attacks of Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), continued activities of bandits in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger States, Boko Haram – ISWAP clashes and many other criminal activities across the country have dominated national discourses. No doubt these are challenges, which require decisive responses from government. The occurrence and recurrence of these incidences, resulting in loss of lives and property are frightening, which has generated all manner headlines. Politics, which is supposed to provide options to citizens in terms of how to tackle these challenges, unfortunately, there is hardly any options, especially in terms of opposition to APC and its government.

Instead, some unsubstantiated and meaningless allegations dominate political debates in the country, without any specific proposal on how to resolve our national challenges. May be anger has taken the best out of people opposed to the APC and its government to the extent that presentations are reduced to amplifying challenges to demonstrate failure of APC and President Buhari. Wild goose campaign against ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ as Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue would insist or allegations that government, including the presidency are the sponsors of Boko Haram and bandits as Commodore (Rtd) Kunle Olawunmi would want Nigerians to believe are part of major highlight of the campaign by political opposition in the country.

Sensationally, both Governor Ortom and Commodore Olawunmi argued that they have evidence to prove their allegations. Coincidentally, not too long, sometime in September 2020, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria similarly alleged that a serving Northern Governor is the sponsor of Boko Haram. Although while making the allegations, he also claimed to have proof, after interrogation by the security, Dr. Mailafia was reported to backtracked, saying that he ‘did not really mean to say that the government was part and parcel of the killings.’ Since Commodore Olawumni has already began meeting with the security, hopefully the details of his evidence will come out. On the part of Governor Ortom, he claimed that he has forwarded his evidence to President Buhari and security agencies in the country. But since he feels so strong as to go public with his allegation without waiting for both President Buhari and security agencies to handle the matter, he can as well make the evidence public since he has lost confidence on established processes of managing matters of national security.

Part of the challenge with Nigerian politics is that accountability is almost zero. People could say whatever they want and get away with it. This has entrenched the phenomena whereby the main strategy of so-called opposition to APC is to ‘forcibly silence’ everyone into believing that President Buhari and APC governments have failed. Even leaders such as Governor Ortom whose constitutional powers to mobilise responses towards resolving challenges, no matter how small, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended, has become a leading campaigner against what he considers ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda. As far as Governor Ortom is concerned anybody arguing differently must be a supporter of ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda in the country, which according to him is the continuation of the early 19th Century Fulani Jihad of Usman Danfodio.

It was the American linguist and philosopher, Noam Chomsky, in his recent book, The Precipice who lamented about how ‘the “political landscape” is indeed ominous. While today’s political and social circumstances are much less dire, still they do call to mind Antonio Gramsci’s warning …about the severe crisis …which “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born [and] in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”’ When a retired public servant of the status of Dr. Mailafia and a retired military officer, Commodore Olawunmi can go on air on national television to allege that people in government, including a serving Governor are the sponsors insurgency and banditry in the country and the issues are reduced to media debates, it highlights how low we have descended as a nation. Such weighty allegations should be matters of judicial investigation and once proved, all identified culprits should face the full wrath of the law.

It is more worrisome when a serving Governor could attempt to substantiate allegations of complicity against political leaders, especially President Buhari with argument about ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda in the country. What does ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ of Nigeria mean? Although it is possible to convert people from other religions to Islam, could anyone who is not a Fulani be conscripted to become Fulani? Maybe it means that every Nigerian will be forced to have a Fulani tribal mark. What will be such a mark? In addition, Fulfude may become the lingua franca of Nigeria.

With respect to so-called ‘islamisation’, is it possible to force everybody in Nigeria to convert to islam? Maybe ‘islamisation’ means that shari’a law will be imposed on the country. Will that be possible. Often those who campaign based on narrow agenda have short memory. As recent as 2000, when Zamfara State under Ahmed Sani Yerima, made a questionable political declaration adopting shari’a law, thereby triggering a campaign in many parts of the North to make similar declaration for shari’a law. How many states in the North succeeded in making such a shari’a declaration? In Kaduna State, it was resisted, which led to a big crisis that consume many lives. If it wasn’t successful in Kaduna, how can it succeed in Nigeria? Even as tales by moonlight, how conceivable could Governor Ortom’s alleged ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda be?

If a primary school pupil talks like the way all the diehard opposition campaigners in the country campaigning against so-called ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda, one can excuse it because at that level of innocence, everything could appear possible. But for a public servant as highly placed as that of a Governor, retire public servant, retire security personnel, etc. it portends a big danger, which if overlooked can produce a cult mentality in the country with all the ethnic and religious hatred associated with it. Being Governor, retired public servants, retired military personnel, with all the knowledge and experiences they have but decided to adopt the imaginary notion that a country as diverse as Nigeria can be taken over by any ethnic or religious group, is the highest manifestation of morbid symptom of attempt to block any possibility that a new society can be born out of the dying culture of corruption, greed and lawlessness, which was the hallmark of PDP’s sixteen year tenure.

The debate about whether PDP and APC are the same and why some mischievously argue that they have both failed was substantially treated in the presentation Nigerian Politics and Fallacy of PDP – APC Semblance. Those who wish to block initiatives to produce a new Nigeria can continue to dismiss the rebuilding work of APC government under President Buhari. However, to accuse APC and President Buhari of promoting ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ will be taking politics beneath the realm of logical reasoning. Ideally, knowledgeable and experienced people, especially public servants should not suffer from any problem that can exhibit ‘morbid symptoms.’ But, sadly, as a nation, we are having knowledgeable and experienced people with manifestations of ‘morbid symptoms.’

The fact that a serving Governor is one of those exhibiting manifestations of ‘morbid symptoms’ calls for urgent review of leadership recruitment processes in the country. This should not be a partisan matter. All the parties in the country should take this very seriously. As part of that reality, the case of wild goose allegations of ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda, should be a challenge, which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) should take over and make it an important priority. There is no reason why for instance Governor Ortom should not disclose the full details of the APC and President Buhari’s ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda. The proof should be a major campaign advantage for the PDP. Inability of the PDP to take over the campaign against ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ may simply confirm the lack of evidence. To achieve that makes it obligatory for the PDP to call Governor Ortom to order by demanding for all the proof at his disposal. The consequences of allowing Governor Ortom to continue with a so-called campaign against ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ without proof will confirm that the campaign is nothing but to promote ethnic and religious hatred in the country, which is dangerous.

Already, it is arguably very clear that Governor Ortom’s passion for the so-called campaign against ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ is not about developing the country or even Bunue State. Without going into the politics of Benue State, which the citizens of that state are very competent to handle, Governor Ortom’s campaign mode is based on ultra-right-wing politics, which is neo-fascist and neo-Nazist. Being neo-fascist, in our context, the politics is anchored on ethnic supremacy, which is the source of Governor Ortom’s so-called campaign against ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ agenda. As far as Governor Ortom is concerned, fulanis are the source of all his problems, by extension, the problem of Benue State and that of Nigeria as a whole. The bigger danger is that having identified the so-called problem, he is beginning to develop an ideology of hatred around it, which sadly is winning all manner of converts.

The only reason why such a campaign is attractive today is because President Buhari who is a Fulani man is in power. If President Buhari, a Fulani man and a Muslim being in power confirms the existence of ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation, does that suggest that when his tenure ends in May 2023, less than two years away, he will succeed in imposing another Fulani, Muslim to take over from him? Could it be part of President Buhari’s strategy to impose a Fulani Muslim, that many PDP leaders are already campaigning that a PDP Presidential candidate for 2023 should come from the North? We can choose to dismiss or take for granted all the warning signs about the appearance of ultra-right-wing leadership in the country. Once the issue of leadership recruitment in the country maintained a blind eye to this reality, the potential of producing people with such ideological mindset in leadership position of Governors or even President is high. If United State could produce a Donald Trump as President, activities of people like Governor Ortom, Dr. Mailafia and Commodore Olawunmi will prepare the stage for ultra-right-wing elements to assume leadership positions in the country.

Again, if today, ultra-right wingers can conveniently moblise hatred against Fulani Muslims, it will just be a matter of time before they shift focus to other groups. Any group that can potentially block or weaken its power base, it will mobilise hatred against such a group. Given Nigerian reality, depending on who will be the major contenders in both PDP and APC, campaign against so-called ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ will mutate against both Yorubas, Igbos, Ijaws, Ishekiris, etc. Based on short-term calculations, it may choose to contract fluid partnership with the aim of blocking emerging candidates even within PDP. Therefore, as we move closer to 2023, the pangs of ethnic and religious hatred will have its strong manifestation inside PDP. Once the PDP is not able to moderate campaign of ethnic and religious hatred of so-called ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’, it will be weak in controlling how it manifests itself internally in PDP.

There is therefore the urgent need for political parties in Nigeria to take steps to discourage ethnic and religious campaign of hatred. The hard truth is that to be able to discourage ethnic and religious campaign of hatred in the country would require that parties put in place internal code of conducts – byelaws, beyond what is provided in their constitution. Parties, as they are today, are weak in regulating the conducts of political leaders and elected representatives. If Nigerian democracy is to develop and become the facilitator for national unity and political development in the country, regulating the conduct of political leaders and elected representatives cannot be left to chance. In the circumstance, as things are today, so-called campaign against ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ is more a danger to PDP than it is to APC.

In fact, it is more a danger to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, former Governor Sule Lamido, etc. than it is a danger to President Muhammadu Buhari or any potential APC Presidential candidate from the North. It is also potentially a danger against the emergence of any possible Presidential candidate in PDP from the South-West, South-East or South-South than it is to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Kayode Fayemi, former Governor Ibikunle Amosun of APC from the South-West; or former Governor Rotimi Amaechi and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from the South-South; or former Governor Rochas Okorocha and any other contender from the South-East.

Narrow politics can misrepresent ultra-right-wing politics based on partisan coloration. The biggest danger of ultra-right-wing politics is more manifest in the host party. PDP leaders would need to understudy what became of the US Republican Party after President Donald Trump to appreciate the dangers of so-called ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ campaign of promoting ethnic and religious hatred to PDP’s electoral fortune. Already, PDP is faced with enough challenges. It must not allow the seed of right-wing politics to grow within its leadership. Once that happens, its capacity to put up any strong electoral contest in the country will be eroded.

This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum