Emergence of Two Nigerias

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

The consensus opinion that has emerged is the tremendous capacity of President Muhammadu Buhari to foster and deepen political dichotomies and divisions. Political science scholars and students would find the trend particularly amenable to classification. A classificatory template has emerged that can near perfectly predict the governance and political behaviour of the President. On account of its large scale ethno regional diversities, Nigeria is prone to divisions and dichotomies-which prompted the reasoned constitutional prescription of federalism as foundational principle of association. Federalism is the constitutional structural model that holds out the promise of achieving unity amidst diversity in which our pluralism can be harnessed as strength and not distorted into weakness and dysfunction. Democracy is the worst form of government but no better alternative has been found is the analogy of the utility of federalism for Nigeria. And in our empirical experience, the termination of federalism in 1966 has amounted to the medical status of terminal disease prognosis for Nigeria.

Perhaps the cure for the ills of federalism in Nigeria is more not less federalism in the manner that it is argued that the cure for the ills of democracy is more not less of democracy. Perhaps Nigeria would have fared best as a confederation but many of us have grown fond of the numerous lifetime social and political bonds we have forged across the cleavages of region, ethno nationalism and religion, not to keep working and wishing for a political union stronger than loose federalism. I believe myself to belong in this category of Pan Nigerians. But there is pretty little the rest of us can do in the face of determined efforts by political leaders, often in humiliating and degrading manner, to cut our dichotomies deeper and ceaselessly rub insult into our injuries. In this respect, President Buhari is in a class all his own and has instigated and aggravated, in style and in substance, all manners of schisms and dichotomies. Let me begin with some contemporaneous perspectives on his capacity to invent and foster those divisions.

“Muhammadu Buhari appears to be breaking records in the depths and severity of his divorce from quotidian reality. He seems to inhabit a universe that is completely disconnected from everyday Nigeria. In his parallel universe, he has transformed Nigeria into a Nirvana where there is a superfluity of the best imaginable nourishment for everyone and where life is pleasant, pleasurable, and perfect. In his speech at the inauguration of his ministers on August 19, Buhari said he had “secured” the country, “improved the economy” and “fought corruption” to a standstill, adding “none but the most partisan will dispute that we have made headway in all three areas. Only a person who is unmoored to reality, who is dissociated from the real world would even joke that Nigeria is secure, that the country’s economy is improved, and that corruption is being fought”.

“The objective of the Islamists (political Islam) is to supplant the constitution of Nigeria with Sharia ideology as the source of legislation in the nation. The conflict between democracy as national ideology and Sharia as a usurping ideology is responsible for the crisis unfolding in Nigeria. The nation is in the throes of Jihad. National unity must not be sacrificed on the altar of sectarian interests and biases”

Perhaps, the most consequential utility of the Presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari is the clarity he has brought to the choice before Nigerians. The only other Nigerian leader to have succeeded in tabling the choice in such a stark black and white manner was General Sani Abacha- they take no prisoners. In hindsight, the barely concealed admiration of the Buhari for Abacha increasingly makes sense. In the case of the latter, his zero sum dispositions towards power can even be extenuated by the totalitarian context of military dictatorship which by definition is an imposition that brooks no dissent and contention. Characteristic of such dictatorship, he neither sought nor received the consent of Nigerians in the choice and prosecution of his political agenda. It was his way or the highway. You may not like it but he did clarify and simplified the choice. It was up to those who will bear the brunt of his repressive zero sum offer to take him up on his balance of terror terms. As President Barack Obama rightly remarked, ‘I face the world as it is, a non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.’

With Buhari all the fundamental assumptions governing the socio political stability and cohesion of Nigeria are becoming a mockery and obeyed in breach rather than observance. Under his dispensation Nigeria has been treated to a rude awakening on how democracy and other socio-political models are prone to being subverted and diverted to serve purposes in breach of the cause they were contemplated to serve. What, for instance, was the rationale for the introduction of the federal character and geopolitical balance principle? Was it not to equitably accommodate a section of the country that would otherwise be disadvantaged by the conventional standard of educational merit criteria? Now the champion of the specific beneficiary constituency rationalises discrimination and exclusion by substituting federal character and geopolitical balance caveat with winner takes all, take it or leave it disdain.

Extrapolating from the shortcomings of the first republic, the philosophy behind the switch from the Parliamentary Westminster model to the Presidential system was to legislate and inspire a Pan Nigeria mandate and vision for potential Presidents of Nigeria. The architects and framers of the 1979 Constitution especially in the aspect of the Presidential model would thus have been confounded to see how nationally skewed and lopsided was the result of the election in which the President was recently elected. It contradicts the intended symbol and role of the President as the preeminent facilitator of national unity and integration. More confounding still would they find his prevailing definition and understanding of the electoral mandate as one in which those who gave three percent voter support should not be expected to be treated with the same generosity as those who gave ninety seven percent.

As the Buhari momentum gathers pace-with the unveiling of his new cabinet whose significance resides in the cynical disdain for standards and equity, the trend that is gradually emerging can be captured as the metaphor of two Nigerias. It is an illustration of how Nigerians are becoming mutually incomprehensible in their conflicting apprehension and perception of what the President has done and is doing to Nigeria. Conventionally and functionally it should have been but this division of course has nothing to do with the make believe division between the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the trivia of Nigeria’s political party system. These tweedledum and tweedledee Parties are little more than Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) cobbled together for contesting elections. The metaphorical division we identify refers to the division on fundamental priorities and notion of Nigerian nationhood. It is a division between emphasis on governance delivery and a divergent emphasis on power politics. It is a division between crude hegemony politics and opposing vision of egalitarian Nigeria.

The latest case study of the inequitable, non-inclusive and discriminatory trademark bordered on the recent composition and distribution of cabinet portfolios. In comparison to his first term in office, the composition, this time around, has turned out a scriptural figure of speech-from those who do not have, more will be taken and to those who have, more will be added. On account of the loaded triple heritage portfolio of Babatunde Fashola and the key finance portfolio of Kemi Adeosun, the trumpeted power sharing presumption was that the South-west was thus the locus of economic power within the Buhari cabinet. How the two functionaries have fared within the context of their ministerial odyssey is quite illustrative of the metaphor of two Nigerias-the division between emphasis on governance delivery and a divergent emphasis on power politics. In this instance the two Nigerias consist of those rooting for appropriate administrative sanction against Adeosun for her conspicuous misdemeanor on one hand; and those who saw in her plight and consequent exit an opportunity for power grab and aggrandisement on another. As it transpired, the President craftily utilised the opportunity to double down on his fabled nepotism. Hence, the junior minister in the allied Ministry of Budget and Planning was promptly assigned to fill the Adeosun vacuum (and has conveniently retained the Finance portfolio in the new cabinet). Was this course of action a superior logic to the option of promoting the substantive budget and planning minister, Udo Udoma to fill the vacuum left by Adeosun? Not if you are mindful that Udoma is Ibibio from Akwa Ibom State and his subordinate minister is Fulani from Kaduna State.

Bundling the three large Ministries of Power, Works and Housing in an unwieldy infrastructure holding trust never made a lot of sense in the first place and predictably ended up a whooper. This is a common assessment but in making amends, the priority of the two Nigerias again diverge, conforming, as before, with division between emphasis on governance delivery and a divergent emphasis on power politics. One was looking at the unbundling of the clumsy ministerial conglomerate from the standpoint of efficient and effective governance delivery while the other was waiting in the wings to harvest another layer of power and patronage. Is it a coincidence that as in the case of the finance ministry displacement the inheritor of the power portfolio is of the same favoured Buhari constituency? What is the compelling pedigree and competence of the new Minister of Power?

How would it look, for instance, were Obasanjo to replicate what Buhari did with the distribution of cabinet portfolios- in other words, to allocate the following substantive portfolios to the South-west

(1) Petroleum, Katsina (2) Water Resources, Jigawa (3) Defence, Kano (4) Agriculture, Kano (5) Aviation, Katsina (6) Finance, Kaduna (7) Environment, Kaduna (8) Humanitarian Affairs, Zamfara (9) Police Affairs, Sokoto (10) Justice, Kebbi.