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Opinions of Sunday, 28 March 2021

Columnist: The Nation

Buhari needs help, but won't admit it (2)

Most Nigerians are pessimistic that President Buhari can reclaim his presidency and realign it for greatness. Captured on the very day he was sworn in, that presidency has groped its way for almost six convoluted years. With about two years left in his tenure, and with no flicker of hope that he has a full grasp of what needs to be done, it is feared that the rest of his tenure will be largely ineffectual and even less intense than his first term. His predecessors had failed to lay the foundation for a great Nigeria; the president has not also suggested in word or deed that he knows how to lay a foundation or appreciates the role it plays. A foundation starts with conceptualizing a great country, for no one can produce equipment without first conceiving it, and no country can become what its leaders and philosophers have not first imagined it to be, now and in the distant future.

Many months ago, this column characterized the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency as eclectic but in some ways pragmatic, and the Goodluck Jonathan administration as undisciplined and unfortunately overwhelmed by the weight and sublime demands of high office. Neither former president produced the inspiring and durable foundation Nigeria sorely needed after decades of debilitating and wasteful military rule, and intervening years of chaotic and equally profligate civil rule. The Buhari administration came in fully unprepared, needing the best of men Nigeria could offer, and the best of paradigms the country’s brilliant, farsighted minds could formulate. Sadly, with him, neither the best minds nor the best ideas stood any chance of getting a look in. This was why he did not think any foundation was needed or indispensable, and the administration has not thought that its controversial and chaotic policies reflect the inexistent foundation. And this was also why many political, ethnic and judicial journeymen simply stepped into the vacuum and wrote their own parochial interests as national interest.

There is consequently no policy of the administration that has reflected the nuances of a hypothetical greatness, and nothing the administration has said or done that is consistent with the rubrics of that greatness. The administration has thus been unable to define Nigeria in any terms other than from a narrow point of view. In fact, no serious attempt has been made to produce a definition, let alone laying a foundation and building on it. If a country is unable to secure its citizens from marauders and kidnappers, surely it can at least try to design policies to manage the crime. If service chiefs punched far below their weight, it would be shocking for a president whose country is being ravaged by criminals to counsel patience, or after ousting the security chiefs, to reward them. But it happened. In a changing world economy where alternative energy sources are replacing fossil fuels, it must perplex citizens that their government is setting aside $1.5bn to repair a moribund refinery.

There is more. Are there no other macroeconomic and financing models other than borrowing to finance infrastructural development, to the point that the Buhari administration has become obsessed with borrowing from every conceivable corner of the world, particularly China? There is no education vision, not to talk of providing the required funds to prompt and realign Nigeria’s learning culture along globally competitive lines. There is no foreign policy worth mentioning. The capacity to even effect a transition between one Inspector General of Police to another has proved elusive, a constant reminder that parochial interests have long, under this administration, been on the ascendancy. Then of course, there is the needling matter of competing cabals who have seized the levers of power and wielded influence in unimaginable and often harmful ways under the nose of a trusting president.

It is not hard to be pessimistic about the possibility of a change in the next two years. And indeed, it is even easier to paint what is wrong than suggest what remedies are available, knowing full well that such remedies, if suggested, would be given no consideration at all save contempt. President Buhari is said to be anxious to leave a great legacy, and even more anxious to determine who is safe and worthy to succeed him. Alas, here also, he needs help to know what he needs instead of what he wants. He needs a powerful and visionary successor, but he seems from reports to desire someone safe, a person who would protect his inexistent legacy. But here is the problem. He has been made to think that steering the ruling party in a particular direction, probably away from the influence of Bola Tinubu, would free the party to win the next elections and produce the protector of his legacy. Did the cabal and other ambitious politicians within the APC actually frame the party’s problem accurately for him? It is doubtful.

The party’s problem was not registration or revalidation of members. One of the problems was the bitter and figuratively bloody war of control between one camp of serving and former governors and another camp of the same group. The other problem was the politics of seizing control of the party to ensure the best chance for ambitious presidential aspirants. Another problem was the rank indiscipline within the party that saw outgoing governors subverting their party because their desires were thwarted, but were eventually rewarded and promoted by the party. Unable to transcend his own primordial instincts, and incapable of appreciating the dynamics that produced and continues to sustain his party, the president has caved in to the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of his party’s goals. In the past few months, therefore, everything the party has done has been focused on undoing the influence of Asiwaju Tinubu, just as the presidential race within the party will also likely be focused primarily at destroying his ambition. The president has bought into these plans, regardless of the denial by presidential spokesmen that no cold war exists between the president and the party’s national leader. Both men of course know better.

Having framed the party’s problem as the former Lagos governor, and having enthused that it had registered a whopping 30 million members, believing that membership translates willy-nilly into electoral votes, the APC will likely leave unattended the real problems skewering the party. It has been the unenviable legacy of the APC that on their watch, the country has become one of the most insecure in Africa, perhaps on the same scale as Somalia, principally on account of the rampage of herdsmen and bandits. The country is groaning under debts for projects the Buhari administration is claiming the glory and passing the bills and nuisance to future generations. Under the APC, ethnic nationalism has grown by leaps and bounds mainly because of the policy of ethnic exceptionalism embarked upon by the Buhari administration, and worsened as the years go by. On the APC watch, religious exceptionalism has also become a state policy, with many states like Kwara wallowing in that sewer.

The APC relies on the confusion in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to sustain and prolong its mediocrity without consequence. It is not clear whether the PDP will regain its sanity as the next polls draw near. But if it does, the chaos in the ruling party will prove costly. But if it does not, and the ruling party gets away with robbery and murder, so to speak, it does not mean that the legacy of President Buhari would be protected, let alone advanced. It does not also mean that the country would be in better hands, and it does not mean Nigeria would suddenly cease to be a byword among nations. Yes, the president needs help; but not only would he not admit it, it is also not clear that he can admit it, given the web woven around him by vested and unyielding interests.


Gowon speaks politics

IT may not be the first time in recent years that former military head of state Yakubu Gowon would speak on politics. But perhaps given the weight of the political topic he addressed last Sunday as the Barewa College Old Boys Association marked the 100th anniversary of their school, it appeared like it was the first time ever, not even in recent years. The summary of his proposition is that for peace to reign, Nigeria should adopt zoning and rotational presidency among the country’s six geopolitical zones. He also advocated for two vice presidents. The ideas are of course not original to him; but it is still significant that he is finally lending his voice to a campaign that does not mirror the non-secular causes of his preference.

According to Gen. Gowon, “Presidency should be zoned and rotated among the six geo-political zones of the country. This is key to peace, tranquility and development of our country. Also, among the 19 northern states, the Nigerian presidential position should be rotated.” The former head of state is a new entrant to the murky and inscrutable waters of politics, and so he should be forgiven for not appreciating that the Nigerian dilemma has gone beyond just rotation and zoning. It has taken the one-sided government of President Muhammadu Buhari to recognize that zoning or rotation alone would not address the complex existential problems the country is grappling with. The country needs to redefine itself, its structure, and its ambitions in order to determine how to proceed. Gen Gowon should have addressed these other issues, not to say that his home state of Plateau would have welcomed his views on the more than four dozen villages sacked, occupied and renamed by Fulani militia.

Reckless APC, PDP push the envelope

In two unrelated events, both the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have shown themselves to be unsure of their grasp of democracy beyond the kindergarten process of balloting. While inaugurating the APC’s 61-member Contact and Strategy Committee in Abuja last Tuesday, Mai Mala Buni, the ruling party’s caretaker committee chairman and Yobe State governor, euphorically declared that the party was working towards ruling Nigeria for 32 years. It is of course presumed that President Muhammadu Buhari would govern for eight of the 32 years referred to by Mr Buni. He did not say why he chose the arbitrary figure of 32 years. Why not the 60 years the PDP once loftily dreamed about but lasted a measly 16 years?

For the PDP, it was not as a political party that it came under the radar of reckless politicking. The party’s Edo State chapter dragged the party unusually — and some PDP grandees would say, APC-like — into the recklessness arena when, the same last Tuesday, Godwin Obaseki’s PDP government controversially sanctioned the demolition of three houses belonging to APC chieftains, to wit, former deputy governor Pius Odubu, and party chieftains Mike Etemuagbon and Julius Ihonvbere. The state anchored its decision on, among other reasons, the revocation of the Certificates of Occupancy of the houses. The victims accused the government of not following due process and not giving notice. They suggest that the governor, who has justified why he is probing former APC national chairman Adams Oshiomhole, is playing toxic and vengeful politics.

The two leading parties may be familiar with the letter of the constitution, but it is hard to say they are also familiar with the spirit of the constitution. Former PDP national chairman Vincent Ogbulafor in 2014 talked of the PDP ruling for 60 years, and former military head of state Ibrahim Babangida authenticated this statement in 2017 when he nostalgically said that the party was designed to rule for more than six decades, while former first lady Patience Jonathan, who shortly before the 2015 polls proclaimed the same ambition, lent her diatribe. The APC does not seem to mind that the PDP ambition miscarried very badly, nor appeared worried about the arbitrariness of the longevity desired. Without any indication of how it wants to refine its ideology, assuming it has one upon which it is safely moored, and reluctant to adhere to the great and indispensable need for justice and fairness, the APC is planning to rule for 32 long and arbitrary years.

In the words of Mallam Buni, “The constitution of the Strategy and Contact committee, therefore, is to consolidate the achievements we are making in building a strong party with a solid structure that would accomplish APC to stand the test of time. Our vision is to provide a wheel that will drive the party to go beyond 6th, 7th and even 8th terms of office to effectively implement the party manifesto, improve the lives of Nigerians and, to remain Nigeria’s leading political party.” The APC is an even greater puzzle than the PDP. Between 1999 and 2015, it was not too difficult to guess where the PDP stood on a number of demeaning issues and principles. They were a rambunctious lot, exquisite abridger of due process, arrogant politicians, and exponents of strong-arm tactics in winning polls. But the APC, which presumes to be different, has been even more indiscriminate and illiberal.

Not only is the APC buying time with more and more needless committees to perfect its strategy to deliver on the election of party executives and nomination of candidates of their choice, they have opened their doors and invited the influence of individuals who have no moral or political principles, some of whom worked against the victory of the APC in 2019 and even funded the opposition. It is hard not to assume that the caretaker committee is working towards a predetermined end. But quite apart from that distressing objective is the embarrassing allusion to some whimsical longevity in office, an ambition that discounts the weariness of the electorate, the acceptability of the candidates, and the relevance of the party platform. Those who argue that the APC is merely the opposite side of the same bad coin with the PDP are not far from the truth.

Edo’s Mr Obaseki, like Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, has a reputation for being a vindictive politician of the first order. It is one of his innate attributes. He will indulge his viciousness at the drop of a hat. Despite at least one of the demolished houses being subject of litigation, and believing like many other governors that the state courts would always deliver judgement in favour of the government, Mr Obaseki simply went ahead to demolish the three houses. In his cynical opinion, let the aggrieved go to court. Fortunately, Mr Obaseki has never pretended to be a democrat. He will harry his opponents to the end, and if matters come to a head, he will use state power to bury them. He is faintly aware that not too long from now he will vacate office, but in tandem with his private philosophy and as is customary with his public style of leadership, he will leave the matter of crossing a river till he gets there, bridge or no bridge.

Whatever happens in 2023, and given the disillusionment coursing through the electorate, neither the APC nor the PDP will change substantially. If hypothetically the PDP wins, it will not take them many years to begin to dream an empire expected to last as long as the Roman Empire, even if in the process they manage to get the fate of the Third Reich. They have their equally vicious step brother, the APC, to draw inspiration from.

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