Let us be direct about this, will President Muhammadu Buhari win the 2019 Presidential Election or will Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Nigerian Establishment triumph over him? There are factors you can examine and come to the conclusion that he will not win. We can look at these factors by looking at three groups that will work and are working to ensure that he does not win. In our opinion the three groups are the college of the retired generals led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, T. Y. Danjuma and Ibrahim Babangida; most sections of the Nigerian media, and many of the Pentecostals that are beholden to Goodluck Jonathan, led by Bishop David Oyedepo. Each of these groups has their grouses, sometimes correct and sometimes over magnified. And we shall examine them one after the other.
The first group we could clearly see is led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. This is because he is the most senior of the lot in terms of military hierarchy, secondly he seems to be more equipped intellectually and thirdly he is the most available to be puppeteered by the West. He boasts of his connection with old Western leaders who could pull strings for him. The core of the argument of this group is that the current president has not managed the Nigerian situation well and in actual fact does not have the capacity to do so. To quote from one of Obasanjo’s letters to Buhari titled; The Way Out: A Clarion Call for Coalition for Nigeria Movement:
But there are… other areas where President Buhari has come out more glaringly than most of us thought we knew about him. One is nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court. This has grave consequences on performance of his government to the detriment of the nation. It would appear that national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest. What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action? How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public? The second is his poor understanding of the dynamics of internal politics. This has led to wittingly or unwittingly making the nation more divided and inequality has widened and become more pronounced. It also has effect on general national security. The third is passing the buck. For instance, blaming the Governor of the Central Bank for devaluation of the naira by 70% or so and blaming past governments for it, is to say the least, not accepting one’s own responsibility. Let nobody deceive us, economy feeds on politics and because our politics is depressing, our economy is even more depressing today. If things were good, President Buhari would not need to come in. He was voted to fix things that were bad and not engage in the blame game. Our Constitution is very clear, one of the cardinal responsibilities of the President is the management of the economy of which the value of the naira forms an integral part. Kinship and friendship that place responsibility for governance in the hands of the unelected can only be deleterious to good government and to the nation.
As referenced above, he had also accused the president of being anti-social as regards Nigeria’s internal politics. The elaboration of being anti-social with regard to the internal politics is that the president has not or is not reaching out to national or regional power centres. It is as a result of this failure that some of the crises that have festered across the country have found root. But we know that when they say you are being anti-social to the internal politics, they may be saying that they are not being granted concessions to power of some sorts to enable them settle the hirelings under their domains. What to make of this is problematic because for a good number of them, Buhari has never had a good relationship with them, particularly Babangida and the reason for it we know.
The second group is the Nigerian media. Again the problem with this group is not difficult. It owed its origin to Decree No. 4 of 1984, which led to the imprisonment of Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, both of the Guardian Newspapers. In 2015, in some sense they tried to patch up this relationship but it didn’t last as parties went back to the pre-2015 grudges. But to keep it in the realm of the fate of those two journalists is to read the dynamics of history hopelessly wrong. The truth is that the horizon and deft of the Nigerian media have shifted considerably to something else. The Nigerian media have become much more ideologically bankrupt and become susceptible to political manipulations by their owners and a good number of their owners are businessmen. And because of increasing globalization, the landscape of the media has also changed. For instance the print media are suffering from low patronage to the extent that it is not difficult for a single politician to pay for their annual budget and they will go to sleep and revel in the publications of half-truths. And buhari seems not to have listened to the 80’s song by Gwen Guthrie’s ain’t nothing going on but the rent. The popular refraign of that song is; No Romance without Finance. Of recent, the president has openly accused them of being unfair to him. We insist the president does not understand the modus operandi of the media, he doesn’t understand that the media are profit outfits driven by the ethics of profit/interest. Those men and women who work there professing to be in pursuit of truth are only pursuing profit for themselves and their masters.
The third group is the antagonistic wing of the Pentecostal Christian group coalescing under the auspices of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Their antagonism it may not be correct to say owed its origin to the Fulani herdsmen crisis, it has been there as far back as 2007 or earlier, but assumed a mortal dimension in 2014-15 presidential election when a Christian was pitched against a Muslim, with the ideology of the Christian South and Moslem North thrown into the mix. And the conflict generated by the activities of the so called Fulani herdsmen did not help matters, but it rather worsened relationship because as the Christians through CAN argued, the government of Buhari by his body language aided or is aiding the activities of the herdsmen. How true this line of argument is, may be a subject of perception.
What chances does the president have to reconcile with these three groups? It does appear he has little chances of reconciliation with them even if he wanted to. In the first place, Obasanjo has led his crowd to embrace Atiku and made us believe that whatever tar of iniquity that was attached to Atiku has been made holy. But the truth is that in terms of electoral values, one is in serious doubt what they can bring to the table as they essentially do not have the capacity of attracting followership like Muhammadu Buhari. The trump card they have is Obasanjo’s nuisance value in the international community. We saw him few days ago at Bali, Indonesia fouling the air against the Nigerian government. Nobody is sure how many foreign capitals he can go to, to drop his poisons with the hope that his foreign minders will hear him. But his limiting factor is that Atiku Abubakar is not a good product considering the trail of odorous conducts around him, which Obasanjo himself helped to put out there in the international domain. But that may be the reason it might be easier too to sell Atiku as the morality of the so called international community hinges on the immoral. A corrupt Atiku, may even be the perfect guy as they will have him in their hip-pocket just as the Americans believe that Trump cuddles to the Russians because they have some dirt on him.
To understand the capacity of the media generally and Nigeria in particular is similar to the story by Mario Puzo in his books; The Last Don. A mafia executioner was sent on an assignment to recover debt and thereafter kill the debtor for reasons of some transgression. He lost the transgressing debtor in the mist until he got words where to find him. When he got there, the debtor drew a gun and fired at him. In retaliation he shot back and killed the debtor, but the killing was in the open. Since the killing was in the open, witnesses saw him. He was subsequently arrested and charged to court for murder. When the Don was informed of this and reminded that the situation was dire, he responded that they should spread some cash around and by that way memories would fade, and justice will be done. In the end that was what happened as witnesses began to deny seeing what they saw and all sorts, in the end, the mafia hit man walked away a freeman as he was found not guilty. We can safely predict that as the 2019 elections get closer and closer, the men that spread more money not just in terms of advert spaces, but oiling the pen of editorial henchmen, feature writers and media executives will be converted to saints even if they are Lucifer’s henchmen. Already Buhari has lost the battle in that sphere if we remember the Gwen Guthrie’s song.
We believe that the group with the greater difficulty in all this is CAN as it will need to explain to its members how they came to suffer the sudden blindness that has made them to see the miracle of one Fulani and Muslim with the same pedigree as the man they love to traduce for his ethnic and religious belief. Well they may have to borrow a line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm that; not all Fulani Muslims are bad. But it will be an uphill task as the clear dichotomy provided by the Jonathan and Buhari squaring off does not exist. Though it is reasoned that they will build their case around the Fulani herdsmen problem, but again they are in a bind as Atiku Abubakar has a sizeable share of the cattle roaming around everywhere across the country. The problem with CAN is that it is not a progressive anti-government organisation as we have in Latin America. It has been gravely polluted by the ideology of prosperity preaching.
But for the president to concentrate his energy squarely on the above groups is like a man that is carrying elephant on his head to be picking crickets with his toes. The president’s elephant is the Nigerian economy which to paraphrase Buju Banton borders on government officials churning out figures of performance and the masses in the country living in misery. All the indices point in the direction that the people are living in conditions worse than 2015, as cost of living has worsened and peoples’ purchasing power is on a downward slide. And hope is difficult to generate about the way out. And it is the soil of this hopelessness that Atiku and Obasanjo are sowing their hope of a triumph. The government would argue that it has put in place the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP). A reading of the ERGP clearly shows that it is leaning heavier on capital projects than human capital development. And this on the surface is what is fueling criticism from the Western interest of people like Bill Gates, Bloomberg media and others. But there is more to the Western criticism or cynicism. And their fear is that it does appear and we believe it is correct that most of the capital projects in the ERGP seem to have a willing financier, in this case the Chinese or Arab fund like the Sukuk Bond. Unfortunately, many people in the phobia for the Chinese are doing the dirty work for the West. Our stand is that debt as it were, is not going to lead to economic growth, unless there is adherence to the tenors of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
But we dare to say that it is extreme lazy understanding of economic thoughts to use price index as the absolute variable to measure economic performance. The problem we find with it is that it tends to distort the possibility of the other factors that may cause economic dislocations. For instance, a look at prices of two items under Abacha showed that they were cheaper under the military compared to what we have now. As at 1999, a bag of rice in Nigeria sold for not more than N3,000 and a litre of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) was N20. By the time Jonathan left power, ending the rule of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a bag of rice sold for as high as N14,000 and PMS climbed to N141, before finally settling at N87. If we then do the math, it therefore means that the much vilified Abacha’s regime was a better government than all the current civilian regimes.
There is more to it which is the argument of the present regime. And this is to the effect that the current economic crisis owed its origin to the era of brigandage supervised by the PDP in the looting of the public treasury. This argument we do not find difficult to accept because as W.E.B Du Bois argued long time ago; “if we must conquer poverty, thieves should not be left to steal.” Anybody who argues that the stealing of Nigerian wealth by state officials and that the same will not harm the Nigerian economy is dishonest. Stealing of state resources hemorrhages the economy, and to argue against any process aimed to stop the hemorrhage is not something to be applauded.
The criticism that will make sense to people is that there seems to be no departure from the logic of creating an economy that is private sector and foreign investment dependent and driven. Such an economic approach is not healthy for an economy in the Southern hemisphere. A study of the Asian Tigers clearly shows that they built their economies on the strength of their nationals and which is the right way to go. Be that as it may, anybody that takes a look at the ERGP cannot but agree that the government has made a reasonable success of the document; even international organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are not disputing the fact that they have been effective in implementing the growth plan, despite its lopsidedness.
So much about the economy and interestingly in other areas of the president’s promises, he has also had divided opinions with regard to the anti-corruption fights. The opposition has kept on with a simple narrative that the whole fight against corruption seems to be against them. On the surface, it appears a valid argument, but for us this is the most insane and irresponsible argument to make and cheaply buy support from a divisive society like ours. The record available shows that all persons arrested or indicted for stealing public fund, none has said I didn’t steal the money, all they have been doing is to pull some legal shenanigans, exploiting the weak justice system to muddle the waters. From even a legal stand point, crime does not run against the state. That a criminal or suspect escaped the eye of the law today does not mean that he would escape forever, it then becomes absurd to foist by means of aggressive media campaign a consciousness that a legal and legitimate prosecution of a suspected criminal is defective because there is a criminal out there that the long arm of the law has not or refused to caught up with. It is very disingenuous argument meant to hoodwink the gullible. To argue that there is also corruption in the current regime is to be flippant in thought. There may be areas that have posed challenges in the fight against corruption, but to say that the government is not genuinely fighting corruption is to be dishonest in all absolutes.
In all this, it goes to call to fore the troubling nature in our politics, with particular regard to the amnesia of the citizenry. This is because it befuddles to understand how quickly a people in a plebian hysteria can be making justification for the return of the PDP back to power after 16 years of horrendous despoliation of all that makes us good as a people. This is a story for another day, but it is interesting for purposes of social inquiry as it shows how inconsequential is the memory of the people in the processes of capturing power by a group of political elites. Power defrocks, and in the process of this defrocking do leave the people vulnerable to the acceptance of the horrors of the past. What it means today is that if PDP wins the presidential contest, it will consolidate the belief that nothing changes and that the paradox of it all is that all tragedies must repeat itself again with graver consequences as the narrative becomes that the past was actually correct, but only interrupted by a deviation for the correctness of that past. We saw it when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida removed Gen. Mohammadu Buhari in 1985 and the historians of mischief had a field day revalidating the ugly past that ought to be corrected.
What was interesting was that by the time Gen. Babangida left power, he had institutionalized a new national ethos of official brigandage in the management of state resources. And since it was Babangida that brought Chief Olusegun Obasanjo back to power with the aid of foreign interest and the military wing of the Nigerian ruling class, it became a simple script at play for Obasanjo to re-act the script of tragedy which Babangida has played for more than 8 years. Interestingly, Babangida and Obasanjo again have realigned to repeat the same cyclical process of institutionalizing public immorality and ethical misconduct as philosophical foundation of state governance. This is the challenge faced by Muhammadu Buhari in his final battle to defeat this narrative that corruption is a statecraft obligated to triumph in the management of the affairs of citizens of Nigeria, or a new ethos that the stealing of state resources, though a central philosophy of capitalism should not be the foundation stone of building a capitalist order. And it is the latter philosophy that has exposed the whole enterprise of the logic of the private sector being the corner stone of any economy in the world. It is this logic that has created the stretch and stress of the Nigerian economic situation, where the economy takes the shape of a functioning economy, but wrongly functions on the spirit of the state distributing largesse like a Father Christmas which has been used to fuel the appetite to the bankrupt ruling elite.
It is such that no matter how inchoate in thought President Buhari is about this, it is important that he defeats the club of the generals and their acolytes if Nigeria is to begin the genuine transformation towards the production of a ruling class less reliant on state patronage in the match towards the production of a productive ruling class. This may not be the synthesis and the resolution of the conflict of the Nigerian state, but to say that it will not create its own thesis will be anti-history. The brazen culture of the leaders of the state stealing public funds as a right must be repudiated even if you don’t like the face of the person saying it because it poses a grave danger even to the most revolutionary government in a transformational process of change as to return the PDP to power will only deal a mortal defeat to the people of Nigeria in the final quest to defeat those who created poverty by stealing the resources of the state, in a perverse logic that it is their right to do so.
Onyeisi Chiemeke, is a legal practitioner. He is the author of the book; June 12 Election – Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left. Copyright © Onyeisi Chiemeke, MaroonSquare