Just Before Dawn or Dusk

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

“About a year ago, the Deputy Governor, Barnabas Bala, told me that he was going to contest the senatorial election, I was in a dilemma to get a replacement for him. At that point, and as usual of us, when we are taking serious decisions, we consult President Muhammadu Buhari, because he is the only person I know that has worked in the army, he has been governor, minister and president. So, when I told him, he said anyone older than me should be dropped. Then one name was dropped, remaining two men and two women, then he said ‘since you are interested in a woman, pick the best woman’. That was how I picked Hadiza, because she was the best. The people that have criticised me most on this are people who never voted me in the first place. So, are they not supposed to be celebrating it? In their own opinion, I have made a wrong choice. Then, why are they mourning? – Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, rationalising his preference for Muslim/Muslim governorship ticket in the forthcoming general election.

“Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that will come and intervene. They will go back in body bags because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country”- Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State.

Back to the el-Rufai outrage. The best way to understand the wherewithal of the above incendiary statements is to situate them within the framework of the political model introduced by the Presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari. The dominant political personality trait of Buhari runs the gamut of a rabble-rousing propensity for political polarisation and the deepening of extant cleavages within the Nigerian polity. He is so remorselessly wedded to chauvinism and division that you can invariably count on him to invent a cleavage where one does not exist. Within the first term (and hopefully the last) of his presidency he has demonstrated a unique capacity for infinite regression into the profile of an ethno regional bigot.

While expressing a routine disappointment with his naked display of Northern/Muslim parochialism the other day, I was quickly cautioned by a supposed beneficiary of this identity category that Buhari has rendered those of them outside the Kano/Katsina/Kazaure loop the latest victims of his penchant for parochial discrimination. This was about two years ago. If we are not there yet and given his record, there is the distinct possibility that he is ultimately headed towards converting Nigeria into a Daura dominion writ large.

As it is well known, I have a chronic allergy to Buhari’s brand of toxic politics-predicated on tribalism, hypocrisy and primitive demagoguery. I have a fundamental and longstanding opposition to his assumption of the Nigerian Presidency. My opposition is rooted in the conviction that any political leader who rose to prominence on the wings of dividing the people of this country should never be rewarded with the Presidency of Nigeria. It is a contradiction in terms to propose that a politician sworn to pseudo jihadist vision of Nigeria should be entrusted with the role of fostering an enduring Pan-Nigeria consensus and unity. He is as undeserving and incapable of rising to the occasion as Donald Trump is incapable of uniting America. The dangerously divided state of Nigeria under Buhari’s watch is a reflection of the caution that you cannot give what you do not have. Unity and national harmony are not in Buhari’s DNA and his natural instincts tend towards fractional conquest and political subjugation.

To the regret of many critical stakeholders who supported him to win the 2015 presidential election, the reasoned counsel that you cannot know Buhari more than what the man has shown of himself was discountenanced. They were blinkered by the non-strategic focus on the disappointment with the Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidency. But, again, as the saying goes, to every disappointment, there is a blessing-and that there could be a hidden utility in the costly miscalculation, afterall. Were he to be denied the presidency and remain untested Buhari would have gone down in the history of Nigeria as a martyr of messianic proportions and handily break the record of the contemplative status of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the best President Nigeria never had.

Yet if only the unwary had exercised greater caution and listen more carefully to the rhythm blowing in the air they would have detected the premonition of his romance with the dollarised rogue governor from the North, in the blind exoneration that ‘Abacha did not steal any money’. They would have made the inference of misplacement of belief in his capacity to secure Nigeria from the antecedence of being swept away like a forlorn obdurate child by the Ibrahim Babangida coup of 1985. The speculation that he was not in charge of the mandate entrusted to him by the Nigerian electorate was ultimately confirmed by his wife. This is also an echo from his past incumbency as military head of state where it was common knowledge that it was his deputy, Babatunde Idiagbon, who was the indispensable power behind the throne. It certainly was no coincidence that his removal from office was timed to coincide with the absence of Idiagbon in the country.

There is no doubt the chemistry of a godfather/godson relationship has bonded Buhari and El Rufai. Shortly after the Kaduna State governor drove a bulldozer to demolish the residence of a political foe in Kaduna he paid a visit to Buhari in Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Upon sighting him, the choleric president broke into a wide smile and approvingly hailed his protégé ‘the bulldozer governor’ or something to that effect. It is not exactly clear how the characteristic low scale intensity of the interminable violence that has bedeviled Kaduna escalated into genocidal proportions but the degeneration coincided with the assumption of office by both men in Abuja and Kaduna in 2015.

The fact that el-Rufai saw nothing wrong and was in fact spitefully gloating over the joint Muslim/Muslim governorship ticket in a state that is defined by religious dichotomy and conflict is an indication of a mental indisposition to seek a meaningful amelioration and healing of the fraught religious divisiveness that has predisposed the state to perennial violent upheaval. What is more chilling is the precise information provided on the guardian angel role of President Buhari in deliberately aiding and abetting the institutionalisation of a formula he knows will encourage rather than discourage the deepening of the divisive volatility in the state. Is a winner takes all formula the best instrument of fostering the spirit of consensus, cooperation and harmony among contending pluralistic groups? Would the governor and president have similarly found nothing wrong in the orchestration of a joint Christian/Christian ticket? How does this decision promote confidence building among the warring communities? Take note that this was a decision taken in the thick of the rampaging genocidal bloodletting in the Middle Belt provoked by a similar fractious and callous identity politics.

And then as if intent on reminding Nigerians and the international community of a Nigerian potential to relapse into the international pariah status fostered by the Sani Abacha military dictatorship era, el-Rufai launched a seemingly mindless attack on the international community. The million naira question is what does he know that we don’t? Was this what President Olusegun Obasanjo was warning us about? Are these people preparing for a free and credible elections or large scale brigandage? Was the siege on the National Assembly a while ago an isolated incident and a sole lunatic overreach of a rogue security chief? Is there no sequential logic tying this development to the orchestrated subversion of the judiciary via the subterfuge of scapegoating a light fingered Chief Justice? Why all this desperation and impotent rage? Haven’t Obasanjo and Jonathan proven that there is life after power?

And just when you think it cannot get any worse, Buhari springs a new trick on you. Given to stretching and breaching the delicate thread that ties Nigeria together he is always to be found in the laboratory experimenting with fissiparous tendencies. He was neither the Sultan nor the Grand Khadi yet it was him who became the chief missioner for renewed Sharia agitation once he spotted the negative potential to rally the Muslim North against the Obasanjo government and the rest of Nigeria- “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country”. As we were made to believe, he was neither the founder nor leader of Boko Haram, yet he was the one nominated as the group’s representative in an abortive mediation proposal. The backdrop to the recognition was his divisive and inciting demonisation of his predecessor’s military engagement with the terrorist group ‘as tantamount to injustice against the North’.

Now our president has become the first Nigerian leader to invite leaders of another country for political mobilisation against his fellow nationals. “Tomorrow, it will be officials from Togo or Benin or even Equatorial Guinea dictating to us. Indeed, international intelligence agencies recently confirmed heightened influx of tonnes of persons into Nigeria from Niger. Everyday thousands are entering Kano, Katsina and Jigawa axis. What is going on?” laments a concerned Nigerian.

What a way to reciprocate the statesmanship of his predecessor who rose to the occasion in 2015 in a rare African display of enlightenment and adult comportment. Were the potential winner of the election not a personality who shares the same ethno-regional identity with the incumbent only God knows the extent to which Buhari would have exploited the attendant cleavages to drive Nigeria to the precipice. At the end of the town hall meeting (featuring Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi) hosted by Kadaria Ahmed in conjunction with NTA, I received the following message from a senior colleague “I am thrilled by Atiku’s superlative performance. Northern youths are elated that Atiku has redeemed the image of the North”. Why do people like Buhari and his cabal always give the North a bad name?