From Nnangagwa to Atiku Abubakar


In a sense, this past fortnight has been the story of two vice presidents, in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. First Zimbabwe

This is a teachable moment for us all especially Africans. For days on end in recent weeks no one could come up with a precise definition of the political situation in Zimbabwe. The country’s military set the ball of half-communication rolling with a carefully worded announcement of an intervention targeted (it claims) at purging Robert Mugabe’s closest political circles of the liability of the rotten eggs (cleverly evading attribution of governance failure to the man at whose desk the buck stops)-while confining the President himself to house arrest. Was it a coup or a coup in the making? Was it correct to assume that Mugabe had been deposed-as near unanimously wished by Zimbabwe citizens and non-citizens alike?

The deliberate stonewall of the Zimbabwe military on the interpretation of its intervention must, firstly, be understood against the backdrop of a hostile global disposition towards military takeover of government. The confusion deepened, days later, when the embattled President, Robert Mugabe emerged, deferentially flanked by the Military hierarchy, to host a press conference where the most significant message he conveyed was a conspicuous omission-silence on an anxiously awaited statement of resignation. Yet he had been roundly repudiated by friends and foes alike.

The political party he founded, the ZANU-PF, had demanded his outright resignation failing which its parliamentary members were instructed to commence impeachment proceedings against him. The streets of Harare had complementarily erupted in pervasive and widespread scenes of popular revolt. Confronted with such massive and overwhelming rejection, the reality must have dawned on the hero turned villain that the days of reckoning had arrived. It has turned out a tragic sunset and anticlimax of an otherwise illustrious political career. In the unfolding drama and cast of political actors Mugabe featured as the villain being vanquished by the heroic exertions of the Zimbabwe generals.

The puzzle remains, that in situations like this, why is it invariably the case that behind every political villain is the dark shadow of a devious and manipulative consort? Given the over four decades age differential between Robert and Grace Mugabe, the union had looked somewhat incongruous right from the onset of the office romance-that was consummated on the ashes of the first marriage of the power besotted lady. It is apposite that the couple’s hold on power was ultimately truncated by a power play directed at crowning her the successor to the Mugabe dynasty.

‘Grace Mugabe was called “Gucci Grace” in Zimbabwe for her lavish spending. The former secretary, who married the president in 1996, recently bought millions of dollars’ worth of property and luxury cars in South Africa. Her eldest son, 25-year-old Bellarmine Chatunga, recently enraged Zimbabweans by posting a clip on social media taken in a well-known Johannesburg nightclub showing him pouring a £200 bottle of champagne over a £45,000 watch on a night out in South Africa, boasting that “daddy runs the whole country”.

We can sum up the totality of the military intervention in Zimbabwe as, in effect, nothing more than a palace coup but it is no less heroic for that. The fine-tuned orchestration, choreography and the ultimate transfer of power to Vice President Emerson Managawa is a class act in political self-containment. It was an outcome that served as a conflict resolution mechanism in which the winner did not win all and the loser did not lose all. Nonetheless, the intervention raises the problematic specter of the legitimacy of military coup arbitration in constitutional democracies.

In content and substance it is beyond contention that Mugabe had long crossed the threshold of constitutional democracy into the realms of unaccountable dictatorship but who makes this determination and assigns responsibility for the resolution of the problem? Zimbabwe courts have retroactively answered this question by ruling the intervention a constitutional takeover. In light of the de facto, fait accompli nature of the popular revolt (tantamount to a referendum), any other judicial pronouncement would have amounted to an academic exercise anyway. The uniqueness of the interventionist Zimbabwe statecraft is however liable to exaggeration.

Hence the extravagant claim that ‘No military in human history has managed to ensure the facilitation of the removal of an incumbent President without any spill of blood, whilst respecting all democratic processes and institutions. General Constantino Chiwenga, the man at the helm of this operation, holds the following qualifications: He holds the following qualifications-B.Sc. Defense and Security Studies, University of Zimbabwe; M.Sc. Security Studies, Oxford University; and Ph.D. Cyber Security, UNISA. This demonstrates that when you have educated and experienced people in critical positions, they can manage chaos better than uneducated cadres’.

It is of course not true that there is no historical precedent for the Zimbabwe style intervention and restoration of constitutional rule. There is the widely heralded precedent of Turkey where, until 2001, the military interventionist role was an institutionalized feature of the constitution. ‘The military has deep roots in society, and its influence predates the founding of the republic. But rather than hinder democratization, Turkey’s military remains an important component in the checks and balances that protect Turkish democracy’

In Nigeria, the story has been about the long mooted departure of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from the All Progressives Congress, APC. The perennial pursuit of his presidential ambition is replete with uniquely positive and negative attributes. There is the attribute of a happy go lucky longevity to his political career (going now on three decades)-which attained a climax with his election as vice president 18 years ago. There is the quality of the liberal broadminded cosmopolitan disposition to his social and political personality and he has played a significant role in bridging the North/South; Old breed/ New breed cleavages of Nigerian politics. He has been instrumental to the cultivation and deepening of constitutional democracy in Nigeria. But he is also crucially flawed in the propensity to take one step forward only to reverse his advance with two steps backward.

He seems to have ignited the vicious cycle again and significant headwinds await him on the horizon. Arising from the notorious pedigree of relentless cross carpeting from one party to another, his latest revolving door entry and exit from the APC was always guaranteed to further damage his dented reputation. Yet he could still have contrived a better managed exit than employ the services of a hostile witness (with whom he has a cold case history of bad relationship) to make his case-and thereby lay himself open to a predictable backlash. He ventured ‘Only last year, a governor produced by the party wrote a secret memorandum to the president which ended up being leaked.

In that memo, he admitted that the All Progressives Congress had “not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance.” Of the party itself, that same governor said “Mr. President, Sir Your relationship with the national leadership of the party, both the formal (NWC) and informal (Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso), and former Governors of ANPP, PDP (that joined us) and ACN, is perceived by most observers to be at best frosty. Many of them are aggrieved due to what they consider a total absence of consultations with them on your part and those you have assigned such duties.”

Beyond speculation, I cannot presume to know the intended purpose of the controversial memo much less fathom whether such purpose was achieved. I am hard put to see how the said memo, a hard hitting takedown of the APC government, could serve the cause of chummy relationship between the author, Governor Nasir El Rufai and his mentor, President Mohammadu Buhari. The rekindling of this albatross, least of all by a conspicuous political foe was a left handed salute to El Rufai. On being thus incriminated, the pugilist governor responded with the ferocity of a wounded lion and went for Abubakar’s jugular.

And this tendency of thinking himself smart while shooting himself in the foot, of not appreciating the cautionary note of making haste slowly, of being wired to the belief that conspiracy can supplant the boon of providence, that muscular financial wherewithal renders perseverance and forbearance irrelevant, has remained the Achilles’ heel of Abubakar’s political career. This is the story of the mismanagement of the best opportunity he had to fulfill his legitimate ambition of becoming President. It is the story of a proclivity towards the illusion of grandeur, of self-abnegating inability to appreciate and manage his principal who rode roughshod over party caucuses and pressure groups, to personally seek him out, of playing the victim whilst waging a covert and overt campaign of subversion and humiliation of his benefactor.

If at all President Olusegun Obasanjo entertained a third term agenda, it was certainly not the cause of the estrangement between Abubakar and the former President-as the former would have the world believe. Abubakar had long before shattered their bond of goodwill and mutual confidence. It would require more than the hostility of Obasanjo or any other escapism to explain a disabling character trait of inconstancy and lack of reliability. Under what pressure, for instance, did he abandon the defunct Action Congress, AC, and scurried back to the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP?-only for him to jump ship and clambered aboard the APC train?

Introspection and hindsight would reveal how his lack of perseverance and opportunistic restiveness turned his potential asset of PDP and AC into liabilities. His journey through PDP, AC and APC, has, thus mostly amounted to the misadventure of incurring the formidable spoiler opposition of game changers like Obasanjo, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and whatever remains of Buhari and the APC. The overriding lesson he should learn from this rich and eventful repertoire is the limitation of human contrivance in the realization of destiny. In the drama of our earthly existence, the simple admonition that man proposes and God disposes holds true eternally. He may yet not realize his burning ambition but to the extent that the step he has taken will energize the opposition platform, the net effect of his gambit is good for Nigerian democracy.