By Edwin Madunagu
What, really, is happening in Nigeria? This is a simple question. But it is not that a complex or difficult question is being simplified for didactic reasons. No. The question is simple, direct and straight-forward, and I am putting it as it is: What, really is happening in Nigeria? Many of our compatriots are mistaking shadows for the real object; many others are even chasing the shadows. Many others, unfortunately and tragically, are deliberately promoting the confusion and benefiting from it. However, in attempting to answer the question you need not aspire to be as brief or concise as the question is. You may choose to begin with the general or the central picture and then proceed to the details and ancillaries; or you may start with the latter – that is, what immediately hits you as you begin to observe and contemplate- and then try to see their relationships or their common root or roots, if any. The caution here is: “Weep not, laugh not, but understand”.
If I choose to start with the general or central picture this is partly became I have been contemplating this question for a long time and partly because I wish to avoid a tragedy I read in a book a long time ago. Two hunters set out on a joint, hunting expedition in a thick forest. Let us call them Hunter A and Hunter B. Suddenly Hunter A alerted his mate, Hunter B: “See an elephant there!”. He pointed and his mate looked. “Yes”, Hunter B answered, “I have seen the legs”. “I am not talking about the legs, see the main body”, said Hunter A, becoming agitated. “Oh yes, I have now seen the tail”, said Hunter B. To cut a long story short, the two hunters were still arguing on which part of the elephant could be seen when the huge animal saw them. You may imagine what happened: the two hunters were attacked and consumed by the elephant.
How then would I concisely answer the question: What, really, is happening in Nigeria? I would answer: Boko Haram insurgency in the battle for 2015. Some months ago I had, in this column, described an earlier stage of this phenomenon as Struggling for seats in a sinking boat. (January 31, February 7 and 14, 2013). The present description is more explicit, reflecting the emergence of dominant (and more urgent) elements of the national crisis in which the country is now engulfed.
Several other elements find meaning and relevance in these two dominant elements: The struggle for 2015 and the Boko Haram insurgency. Now, I would be the first to respond that there is not much that is new in the formulation above. Many analysts have said almost what I am now saying. The only new element in what I am saying is implicit: namely, that the Boko Haram insurgency will, at least as much as any other factor, determine 2015 – what happens and what does not happen.
The proposition here is that there are links between the Boko Haram insurgency and the struggle for the country’s presidency in the 2015 general elections. And my fear is that as more weapons – legal and illegal, orthodox and unorthodox – are deployed in this struggle, the links between Boko Haram and 2015, which are at present indirect and mediated, would eventually become direct and open. By then the power struggle in Nigeria would have rendered the constitution, the law, elections and the existing democratic institutions totally irrelevant for its resolution.
That is the second proposition, or, if you like, a corollary to the first. For now, the power struggle finds expression in the following crises among others: the politics of the Boko Haram insurgency; the crises in the central, regional and partisan forums of Nigerian governors; attack on, and defence of President Goodluck Jonathan and the Jonathan presidency; the struggle between power and office; the politics of combination and dissociation (around the country’s two power blocs); the resurgence and intensification of “hate politics”; and General Olusegun Obasanjo’s politics.
All these crises, and several others, have no meaning by themselves; they can only be explained by, and have their roots in, the battle for 2015. The direct implication is that criticising or attempting to resolve any of them through the application – honest or dishonest, cynical or sincere – of “democratic” principles is like chasing shadows.
And yet, an interim resolution of the central question – the question of power – has been offered to Nigeria’s ruling classes: a sovereign national conference; insertion of “zoning” and “rotation” principles – mandatory and clearly stated – in the country’s constitution, thereby compelling every political formation that desires power by constitutional means to adopt the principles; constitutional recognition of the geopolitical zones; adoption of collective or collegial presidency (with rotational headship and deputy headship) on the basis of this geopolitical restructuring; and the massive redeployment of national resources to the needs of the desperately poor in the country. You can see that like the methods being used for the prosecution of the crisis, the methods for its resolution lie outside the Constitution – original or amended.
Before taking up the listed elements or instruments of the current power struggle and expanding on the two propositions presented above I would wish to preface what I have to say with a number of recent newspaper reports, opinions and editorials. The president of the Nigerian Senate, David Mark, captured several manifestations of what I have called “power struggle” in the speech he delivered “at the end of the second session of the 7th Senate appraisal” on Thursday, June 6, 2013 (as reported by the Leadership newspaper of the following day, Friday, June 7).
In a story titled Mark to Jonathan, Amaechi, Others: Stop overheating the polity, the Senate President was reported as warning “players in the Nigerian polity to stop causing commotion in the country ahead of the 2015 general polls but to focus on efforts to deliver good governance to the citizens”.
Senator Mark, according to the report, “was apparently re-acting to the inflammatory remarks and actions by some political stakeholders and bitter face-offs which have pitted President Goodluck Jonathan, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, former Heads of State, Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, former militant leader Mujahid Asari Dokubo and Northern interests, among others, ahead of the 2015 presidential elections”. David Mark lamented: “Elections are two clear years ahead, yet the collision of vaulting personal ambitions is overheating the polity and distracting the onerous task of governance. With so much work yet to be done, we, as elected officials, should focus on governance.”
Three days before this report, on June 4, 2013, the Leadership newspaper carried on page 5 a report titled “Amaechi, Jang may step down for consensus chair.” The section of this long report that is relevant here is titled “NGF: you cannot solve political problem with threat” – Aliyu. The first two paragraphs of the section read: “Meanwhile, the Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu has said that there is no internal democracy in political parties in Nigeria, even as he stated that negotiation rather than threat should be used to solve political problems.
In the same vein, he stated that to end the security situation it must go beyond amnesty and require deeper findings to why people took arms and the sponsors”. The governor was addressing members of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in Minna, the state capital the previous day, June 3, 2013. Senate President, David mark and Governor Babangida Aliyu are frontline mainstream politicians and government functionaries.
On Monday, May 13, 2013, The Guardian newspaper carried an angry editorial titled “Kuku, Asari-Dokubo and the limits of blackmail.” I reproduce the first two paragraphs of the editorial: “it would have been enough to dismiss the utterances as the rantings of overzealous and misguided courtiers.
But against the background of the fragility of Nigeria’s security today and the embarrassing spectacle of scums stumping around the national stage as potentates, it is risky to weigh the recent statements of Kingsley Kuku and Asari-Dokubo lightly”. That was the opening paragraph. The paper then went on in the second paragraph to tell or remind its readers of what the two “indicted” men had said.
The second paragraph: “Kuku, Special Adviser to the President on Amnesty, reportedly warned while on a visit to the United States that the peace in the Niger Delta area cannot be guaranteed unless President Goodluck Jonathan gets a second term come 2015. And leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, Asari-Dokubo, went even further to declare that “there will be no peace, not only in the Niger Delta, but everywhere if Goodluck Jonathan is not president again … (because) Jonathan has an uninterrupted eight years of two terms to be president according to the Nigerian Constitution”.
The editorial was angry at what it called Dokubo-Asari’s “ignorance” of the relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution dealing with presidential “second term”, particularly the fact that this “second – term” is not automatic. The Guardian ended by urging President Jonathan to call his frontline supporters to order.
• To be continued next Thursday.