By Adagbo Onoja
There is an inviting contestation on the sociology of the most coherent fraction of the Nigerian ruling class between ace columnist, Mohammed Haruna, and Professor Ben Nwabueze. Professor Nwabueze has written a number of newspaper articles in addition to an interview on the past few months of the Buhari presidency in which he, in summary, alleged an invisible government, an Islamisation agenda on Buhari’s part and a pattern of appointment as well as style of governance that is unmindful of the Nigerian Constitution.
His intervention attracted a response from Haruna who pooh-poohed each of these claims, particularly the idea of an invisible government. It is an interesting exchange in which, perhaps because they did not set out to do that, both Haruna and Nwabueze did not pursue their positions on the invisible government to any greater depth. At the point they stopped, they all got it wrong: Haruna for denying the invisible government which exists and Nwabueze for misinterpreting it as a northern thing and attributing invisibility to what is completely very transparent in our politics.
In the end, both Nwabueze and Haruna ended up mystifying what Professor Bayo Adekanye has studied under the title The Retired Military as Emergent Power Factor in Nigeria. This he did by way of an empirically strong book published here in Nigeria. Joined to the study of the 1983 coup by scholars such as Terisa Turner, it can be seen that, no matter what happens, the Obasanjos, the IBBs, the Abdulsalamis, the TYs, the Buharis, the David Marks and a whole lot of them, including certain civilians they have absorbed, would enter one boat and roar in one direction once the Nigerian system is threatened, either from below or from the indiscretion of one of them. Thus when the IBB regime annulled MKO Abiola’s election and shut down the country, they came together and worked out a compromise: power shift.
That was how the 1999 election came about without any mainstream northerner as a contestant. I use mainstream in an ideological sense since the late Abubakar Rimi who did not agree with zoning did not abide by that. Even then, it was interesting that the party returned his money to him, a sophisticated manner of disqualifying him from the race. And in 2015 when this fraction also concluded that the GEJ presidency could, consciously and unconsciously, bring down the temple, they united in seeing his back and bringing in the hitherto bad guy – Buhari. He was promptly re-presented as the good guy and the entire country was mobilised to vote for him. Foreign powers certainly helped as Buhari has amply stated many times but no such help would be an initiative that did not reflect dominant domestic class consensus. Those who have been advertising Buhari’s emergence as the product of their own genius have, therefore, only been showcasing their own limited insight into the dynamics of class politics in Nigeria since the early 1980s.
There is neither nothing to deny about the existence of this fraction nor anything northern and invisible about it. It is our own dimension of the tradition of post war politics of power historically. In other words, we are talking about the distinct elite of power who took the surrender at the end of the civil war and whose power lies essentially in their own imagination of Nigeria on the basis of their experience of the civil war. It is doing what the guys who received the surrender instrument do in most other circumstances: become the most powerful players.
In the case of World War 11, the American Generals, bureaucrats, diplomats and intellectuals who anticipated and eventually superintended the surrender process went on to construct the world based on US global leadership. Every National Security Strategy of the US mentions US global leadership as a requirement for international security, whether it was written by Clinton, Bush or Obama. It is a discursive position aimed at preserving the global protectorate system in which contending and potential powers like Japan, Germany and Europe came under US security guarantee against the defunct USSR under an arrangement which some American scholars now refer to as the US playing the ‘Liberal Leviathan’ and which only the emergence of China is about to challenge and possibly displace.
In the Nigerian context, the intellectuals, bureaucrats and Generals who superintended the surrender constructed no protectorate system. Rather than that, they not only made the strategic declaration of ‘no victor, no vanquished’, a successful technocrat of Igbo origin in the person of Dr Alex Ekwueme was to emerge as the Vice President in less than a decade after the war. Considering, for example, that US troops are still in Germany, the Nigerian surrender takers have been extremely careful and sensitive. The gap between their sensitivity and the reality of Igbo marginalisation is though what is a bit difficult to explain.
But their existence as a fraction is both good and bad news. The good news about it is that the most ascendant fraction of the Nigerian establishment is one that has decided that Nigeria remains one, notwithstanding their own internal differences, quarrels and battles. That’s fantastic because it is by that we have, so far, been saved from the cultural embarrassment of Nigerians forming the majority of refugees in the world arising from badly managed but mostly mindless elite struggle for power that we see in other parts of the continent. The bad news, however, is that this fraction is more imaginative in problem solving than in transformative leadership.
In 2011, this fraction brought GEJ to power. It was not a consensus among them but the more grounded among them asserted themselves and had their way in installing GEJ. Instead of publicly setting a governance task for GEJ, they stepped back. As GEJ came in contact with individual rather than the collective agenda of the fraction, he began to discover himself, relying more and more on the name ‘Goodluck’. Both GEJ and his managers began to believe in the trees rather than their tap roots in assessing the Nigerian political forest. Before he knew it, the grandmaster behind his ascendancy departed him.
Though massively empowered, those who stayed back had not mastered the game sufficiently as to help his cause in terms of successfully replicating Obasanjo in rank breaking in 2003. Obasanjo could do that and sustain it because he was one of them, not in the sense of being an agent of the Caliphate as a Femi Fani-Kayode would write but in the sense that he is a member of that fraction glued together by a picture of Nigeria common to them as an elite of power. Without the symbol called Nigeria, they would become bystanders in world affairs, a fate they cannot imagine. Perhaps, it is difficult to understand the dynamics of their politics if one hasn’t read Adekanye’s book. The long and short of it all is GEJ’s loss of power to Buhari.
But, after enthroning Buhari, do we hear of such a clear agenda for him, well spelt out as for everyone to know this is the game? One would have thought that certain recent events in the country would compel members of this fraction to assert, for example, that Buhari has a singular task: commence a process of rapid industrialisation of the country, no matter what the situation might be. This is for the reason that Nigeria’s industrial status up to this moment is now both an economic and cultural embarrassment. It doesn’t connect with the very promising assessments of Nigeria as done by the Jim O’Neills of this world reminding, demanding and shaming the Nigerian elite of the historical challenge imposed on the country by our demographic status, among others.
In the absence of such a constitutive agenda, everyone waits for the president. In Obasanjo’s case, he kept no one waiting. As formidable as the PDP was then, he virtually instructed the late Solomon Lar who was the Chairperson to inform Atiku Abubakar that he was the chosen one for the Vice President’s slot. If Dr Alex Ekwueme were one of today’s generation of politicians, Obasanjo would have verbally awarded him the Senate Presidency before even the party contemplated it. These are things Nwabueze could have brought together towards making a more helpful generalisation about the way members of this fraction exercise power.
Professor Isawa Elaigu calls Obasanjo’s residual militarism just as some people call Buhari’s messianic diagnosis. If we stretch it farther beyond the current republic, we go into the Maradonic reflex of the ‘evil genius’ himself. Abacha referred to the military as protectors and guardians of the national interest. Given his pronouncement of preparedness to check out if Obasanjo did not get the presidency in 1999, TY Danjuma would not have been fundamentally different if he had accepted to take power earlier or after 1999. Are we blind not to see a messianic central tendency peculiar to the ‘Men on horseback’ in all these? And that this central tendency is not even as heavy in ethno-regional foundationalism as it is in class politics of power?
Ethnicity, religion, culture, race, civilisation and place are powerful discourses and since discourses are, in the last instance, constitutive of reality, nobody makes sense who dismisses them. More so in the Nigerian context which Patrick Dele Cole and Chuba Okadigbo have most powerfully captured in a way that one cannot avoid quoting repeatedly. In his June 6th, 1988 interview with Newswatch, Dele Cole identified this as part of the problem: The Southerner has the perception that something that is his birthright is being taken away from him by some Oligarchic group that sits up there in the North and reaches Lagos (now Abuja) every four years in uniform or agbada and take it away”. On the other hand, the North, according to Chuba Okadigbo, has the mistaken belief that it must control political power because economic power has resided in the South.
However, after the Chibok girls tragedy, we no longer have the luxury of this kind of politics. It is no longer a crazy socialist but commonsensical idea to insist that the multitude in Nigeria and their intellectuals need to rethink our imagination of the country in favour of who, where and what is posing the question of what a country with 200 million citizens should do with such a power resource. Let characterising and critiquing the Buhari presidency continue to the game in town. It cannot be otherwise given the primacy of power, particularly in our type of society.
Nobody should be shouted or shut down or be earmarked for punishment for the reason of his or her views in such conversation just as no one might be allowed to take it as a licence or what Gbolabo Ogunsanwo would refer to as ‘Magna Carta for mandibular wakabout’. Nwabueze, therefore, with all eyes open, offered himself to be mauled by a Mohammed Haruna which he did via a remarkable upper cut by describing the professor’s analysis as less dignifying than pepper soup joint stuff. It ought not to have come from anybody who knows Nigeria as Nwabueze does to pose such an intellectually embarrassing argumentation because what obtains today is that even if Buhari has it in mind, he would find it impossible to Islamise the North, not to talk of adding the rest of Nigeria.
Nobody wants to Islamise or Christianise anybody in Nigeria beyond instances of elite experimentation with divide and rule tactic. Even as diseased as our level of development, Nigeria has advanced beyond the radius of a Theocracy. A Theocracy would be as messy in Islam as it would be in Christianity. We must make a distinction between the religious character of contemporary protestations against the distressing nature of modernisation in the developing world and the theocratic imagination. Only such a sociologically distressed scholar would fail to make that distinction after examining Liberation Theology in Latin America and much of recent political Islam. Instructively, the US, for example, has analysed Boko Haram in terms of modernisation failure.
More importantly, Islamisation of Nigeria is not the politics of the elements of the fraction we are talking about and of which Buhari has been a member since 1983. As a class fraction, they certainly haven’t advanced Nigeria qualitatively but we have no way of knowing what might have been the alternative if they have not been the dominant fraction. And even now, it is a cause for worry given the average age of the key actors here being 70+. Where is the next such coherent group in whom, individually and collectively, we can take Nigeria and its existence as settled, whatever the class rascality? It’s more a case of preferring the devil you have experienced to the angels yet to be encountered! So, it is not the excellence of this fraction but their attitude to the idea of Nigeria even as they are unable to transcend problem solving.
Once again, what the Chibok girls tragedy illustrates is how it is the multitude (both in the sense in which it is used in the Bible and by ‘dissident’ scholars) that suffers. This is true of the civil war as well as of June 12 and of Boko Haram. There lies the imperative for privileging as critical but more emancipatory discourse of every regime or presidency hence with a view to constructing it so. Is there an example of such a constructive discourse? Yes.
At the NLC Leadership Retreat in Calabar from August 25-27th, the chairperson of one of the sessions prefaced his tenure with the announcement that he had been told that President Buhari had finally launched his development strategy the previous day. He said he still didn’t have the core direction of the strategy as at that time and could, therefore, not make any substantive comments. It turned out that no such thing happened. But when Alhaji Hassan Summonu, the pioneer president of the NLC, rose to comment on the main paper of the session, he came to a point where he said bluntly that labour would not co-operate with neoliberalism.
Speaking much earlier, Ali Chiroma, Summonu’s successor, gave a sharp narrative of the substance of the battle between labour and the Babangida regime in 1986. His narrative is so graphic and powerful that one is almost certain the NLC information management machinery must have transcribed that aspect separately for a full page advertorial. This is because no summary or abridgment would do justice to Chiroma’s presentation that Monday noon as far as Nigeria’s search for direction is concerned than such an advertorial, no matter the cost implication. It is the briefest and yet the most coherent portrait of the ideological context and character of the IBB regime, (not IBB as a person) including its global setting.
The NLC, like the ASUU, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, (MAN) and its sister, the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, (NACCIMA) and like each and every one of us has its own fears about the Buhari presidency but it is not seeing Islamisation where there is none. The NLC is fearful and preparing for combat if the president were to launch a development strategy or an economic blueprint today and we are to find that such a strategy is neoliberal in essence. It would regard such as so sad and depressing a day just as it would be a great day were he to launch a blueprint today and it is a decisive critique of neoliberalism.
Buhari who once said that “the IMF aroused the indignation of all self-respecting and patriotic Nigerians when it started insisting…that the government must carry out its dictates” will hopefully not go the way of neoliberalism. The NLC way is, therefore, our best model of engaging this presidency: critical but constructive. Remember the classic constructivist credo: Anarchy is what we make of it. So will it be in this case: this Presidency too would be what Nigerians make of it.
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