Politics and the Institutional Disconnect in Nigeria, By Jibrin Ibrahim

On Monday, the Northern Union organised an anniversary lecture to honour Senator Olusola Saraki, five years after his death.  The theme was national unity and the future of Nigeria. My contribution was to make the point that Nigeria’s political class has a lot to learn from the legacy of “Oloye” Olusola Saraki. He built a powerful constituency and bonded with his community over a period of five decades. He regularly interacted with ordinary people, was a philanthropist who helped tens of thousands not because he wanted their votes but because that was his nature. They understood that and compensated him by always voting for him or candidates he proposed to them. His bond with his people was not mainly financial. It was based on the fact that they had access to him, he listened to them and he genuinely understood them.

The great majority of Nigeria’s political class did not follow his footsteps. They get to power because they have connections with the powerful – the president, the governor, a powerful party chieftain or even a security chief. The instruments used in getting them to power are money, influence from the corridors of power, thugs and security connections. Objectively, they did not need the people to get to power and they have therefore never needed to talk to the people, get to know them and their problems and therefore the issue of the bond between the politician and “his people” never arise. Of course when elections come, they give some of the people some money and the people take it knowing that that is the only “dividend of democracy” they will get from their leaders. The disconnect between the people and the politician is almost total and that has been a tragedy for our democratic politics process when leaders have been socialised to believe that they do not need the people.

Yesterday, I participated in Bolaji Abdullahi’s book launch “On a Platter of Gold: How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria.” He describes Goodluck Jonathan as the Accidental President who found himself accidentally as a lecturer who became deputy director who was noticed and made the deputy governor whose boss lost his seat and he became governor and ended up as vice president whose boss died and he becamethe president “without getting a single vote in his own name”. The moral of the itinerary of Goodluck Jonathan is that you could arrive at the summit of the political pyramid without a real constituency and without a popular support base. Goodluck Jonathan never needed the people to access political power. Sadly, he paid the price of not knowing that Nigerian politics had started to change and the people’s vote was beginning to count so disregarding them has consequences.

Bolaji Abdullahi had a front row seat in the Jonathan Administration and with his beautiful prose was able to describe in detail the former President’s journey from one of Africa’s most popular presidents in 2011 to the most vilified and insulted when he lost power in 2015. He had a huge support base when he won and he became incapable of sustaining it. According to the Chairman of the book Launch, Governor Shettima of Borno State. the President suffered the misfortune of allowing himself to be surrounded by a narrow band of essentially tribal cohorts acting as his inner cabinet composed of people such as Edwin Clark, Asari Dokubo and Oronto Douglass who had no interest in Nigeria and were keen on what they could get out of government rather than the success of the Administration. He compared Jonathan with President Obasanjo whohad a broader more national and technocratic inner cabinet with people such Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nasir El Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu and Charles Solubo who had a stake in governance and could see beyond their immediate interests. What the book shows is that it is not the Federal Executive Council that matters but the people the President listens to.

Governor Shettima used the example of the Chibok girls to illustrate the way in which President Jonathan was cornered. He described the meeting in which Jonathan demanded that he, Governor Shettima and the State Police Commissioner, Chibok school principal and SSS Director must produce the Chibok girls from where they went to hide them to embarrass his Administration. The must important stakeholder in security administration in the State, the army was not even invited to the meeting because the inner cabinet had told the President that it was the Governor that was playing pranks.

I recall that in the beginning of the Bring back Our Girls movement, we had gone to the Defence Headquarters and they had discussed quite honestly with us, and admitted our sincerity and confessing that at that time they did not have the capacity to fight back. Bolaji Abdullahi’s narrative shows in detail the loneliness of the President and how he was the last to know what was going on. He was also the last to realise that his inner circle friends were not friends interested in his success or legacy.

I also spent time yesterday at the Conference organised by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies on the theme; “Towards Integrating Community Policing in Nigeria’s Security Architecture.” The joke in the conference was the adage that ‘the police is your friend”, but sadly no Nigerian believes it. If there is one institution with a near total disconnect with the Nigerian people, it is the police. Half the police force is devoted to supplying VIP security cover and the other half to extorting Nigerians. Today, the military is deployed to carry out operations in 32 States of the country because the police, our friend, is simply not available to police our communities and its wing for combatting civil disturbance, the Mobile Police is too busy guarding VIPs. Many participants argued convincingly that the solutions to the problems of the police are known and documented in four major police reform panels that have been set up over the years with similar recommendations that have simply not been implemented. The core problem therefore is the political will to reform the police. The most important element of the reform must be to divert resources from the office of the Inspector General of Police to the State level, which is where police operations actually take place. The Nigerian police station might very well be the must under-resourced office in the Nigerian system. Yes community policing is good but we must first make the police a function organisation.