ENGAGEMENT With Chidi Amuta
Unlike the rest of us who are shivering about the prevalent insecurity and uncertainty over the future of the country, I doubt that President Buhari and his inner core of strategists have cause to lose much sleep. They have no cause to share our fears. They have always known something that we did not. The reason is simple. The president deployed and has been presiding over a hegemonic power template that I believe was deliberately considered, carefully crafted, fully calibrated over time and rolled out from May 29th 2015.
All the existential troubles that Nigeria faces today are the consequences of a deliberate deployment of a template of power hegemony. The precise pattern of the current insecurity and the noises about separatism that we now hear so loudly may in fact be the intended consequences of the brand of power calculus that was deliberately rolled out in the last six years. It is my further contention that the present state of the country, the widespread insecurity, the general fear and uncertainty, the division along ethnic, religious and regional lines could have been factored into the architecture of the current power hegemony. The consequences may be unintended but they were clearly foreseeable.
Even now, as the nation pressures the administration to find solutions to current problems, the possible descent into a garrison state are all intended consequences of the hegemonic power template. Because the nation will give anything in exchange for better security, the calculation may be that erosions of human rights and shrinking of the bounds of freedom may be tolerated in the name of national security. We have been here before. People may be detained. Some may disappear. Arbitrary arrests may follow. Curtailment of freedoms of speech may happen. The media has been under sporadic assault from the periphery. Kangaroo trials presided over by transactional judges may follow if judiciary workers do manage to return to work from a long strike. In this impending drama, random erosions and dislocations of the democratic order will fall into place as the intended consequences of an illiberal and ‘totalitarian’ clannish power concept. For the nation to go into a succession election season with curtailed freedoms in the name of security may be an advancement of the hegemonic project.
Most of the things that have added up to the current atmosphere of fear, insecurity and imminent nation collapse were, I daresay, consequential outcomes of the choice of a power hegemony template. The massive infiltration of all corners of the nation by armed herdsmen is a creation of the last six years and could not have been accidental. If the literal nationwide invasion of armed herdsmen was accidental, how come the state followed that invasion with a planned RUGA cattle colonies project? When the cattle colony idea ran into a storm, how come federal might was deployed to institute some national livestock programme in some states with the dispersed herdsmen as target beneficiaries? How come a National Water Resources Bill with a clear domestic imperialist roadmap was floated and sponsored at the National Assembly?
The recent overrun of some states by bandits and anti-state militants does not look accidental either. Some of the governors of the overrun states have been in the forefront of agitations that the bandits be granted amnesty and paid handsome ransoms in order to free their states for normal governance. The mass migration of armed young militants and homeless children to states far far away from theirs looks programmed. Why not retain the children wherever they came from for better social welfare attention? The mass influx and proliferation of small and light arms all over the country could not be accidental in a country that has border customs checks and a huge standing army. The elevation of Sheikhs, Mullahs, Bishops and all hues of prophets into middlemen and intermediaries between the state and bandits could only be an anticipated outcome of a hegemonic deployment of religion as an instrument of division of the polity and society.
Those of us who have been shouting about bad governance as the source of the present nasty state of affairs may have missed the point. The game on display was not about good governance and a meritocratic state apparatus as a first step. Mr. Buhari knows the meaning of good and orderly governance. When he was presiding over the nation from 1983 to 1985, he could define order and responsible governance even if his autocratic streak was clearly evident.
The current confusion is not about equitable distribution of power and positions either. Buhari and his strategists know what is written in the constitution and understand clearly that they have merely circumnavigated the provisions. Nor is it about justice and the rule of law or the other niceties that we parrot to decorate discourse about our pretensions to a liberal democratic status as a nation. Those of us who have kept insisting on these niceties were merely imposing our values on this presidency. We are the ones who are ignorant about Buhari’s concept of power and unadulterated hegemonic road map.
With our elite democratic obsessions, we may have elected an executive president to preside over a modern constitutional republic with a diverse population. No one bothered to do a psychoanalytical assessment of candidate Buhari even based on his 24 months in power. But the incumbent president had no illusions about his concept of power, why he kept seeking a come back and the values he required to survive in power. Even now, I doubt that Buhari has illusions about his desired legacy or the definition of what he considers his constituency. Those who have concluded that the man hardly cares a hoot about the feelings and mood of the public may need to better understand the president’s concept of power.
Mr. Buhari’s definition of national sovereignty may in fact be more restricted than what the rest of us desire of our president. I have a fear that the man’s basic mindset may be primarily clannish and nativist in a primordial village sense. In that mould, the man of power can only feel secure and confident when surrounded by his kith and kin, friends, in-laws and persons whose loyalty, language and culture are rooted in a familiar landscape of primordial loyalty to the clan, its chief and their sense of common interest. In Buhari’s brand of clan authoritarianism, therefore, the native chief can only trust his kinsmen to protect him, defend the estate, and generally tell him the state of the nation as a Medieval manor or fiefdom. The concept of the nation state as a shared space among citizens with equal stake may in fact be too distant to devotees of this clan concept of power. The farther the clan chieftain goes from his home base and comfort zone, the more insecure he becomes and feels. Those who can’t understand why the president hardly travels outside Abuja to meet the people in their places of pain and pleasure need to understand this! During the camapigns, he could go to far away places because he was in a desperate quest for power and the throne. Otherwise, he cannot trust ‘strangers’ no matter what the constitution says about federal character and national spread.
Thus, though the outer format of power outlined by the constitution prescribes a balanced federal power structure, this president and his strategists have copiously dredged and mined the constitution to find the elbow room and weak points to prop up a power architecture that serves their narrow clannish design and immediate convenience but still appears suitable to our larger cosmetic desires and nationalistic aspirations.
Therefore, the lopsidedness in strategic appointments that we are complaining about is part of the original hegemonic power architecture. It can only keep deepening because the hegemony requires it to survive. That strategy is an elementary tool of clannish autocrats and is only a necessary first step of state take over. It is routinely accompanied by a far more insidious but progressive institutional take over. For instance, in each of the strategic ministries that president Buhari has cornered for his clan(Petroleum, Power, Water Resources, Communications and Digital Economy, Finance, Defence, National Security, Defence intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Agency, Department of State Security, Police Affairs, Police IG, Justice-AG, Chief Justice, Army, Navy, Customs, Immigration, Internal Revenue, NNPC, NPA, Aviation etc. etc.}, for instance, you only need to look at the hierarchy of the component parastatals to find out the next five personnel in the line of succession.
The concentration of power around this preconceived concentric formation is most effective when it proceeds from the armed and security services to the key revenue centres of government. When you enter a strange country, first ask who controls the guns and holds the money of the state and you will be better equipped. Thus, while the rest of us shiver in fear, the main drivers of the hierarchy of state power remain confident and unperturbed in their control of the commanding heights of state power.
In order to ensure that the rest of the nation does not coalesce into a unified opposition to the hegemonic scheme, conscious divisive measures are injected into the polity and society to ensure that the polity is maximally divided and the hegemony proceeds undisturbed. Random terror attacks on places of worship, clandestine official support for ethnic based special interests (Miyetti Allah) and their elevation to legitimate partakers in national dialogue. In a factionalized ethnic based society, the greatest instrument for instilling fear among defenseless people is to arm one faction by deliberate official oversight. Enter the armed herdsmen, the squads of bandits and other bad people now roaming freely in the forests of the South East, North East, North West and now North Central and even the South West. The agents of insecurity seem to be armed with a compass that aims at the complete conquest and overrun of the entire national sovereign space. Whoever initiated and allowed the arming of roving herdsmen and other organized criminals as a feature of our landscape must accept responsibility for the nasty outcomes that now stare us all in the face.
In summary, then, the current crisis of internal security across the nation is the direct result of the booby traps that lie within the template of power hegemony. The easiest road to stability and security in Nigeria is to uphold the balance of diversity that is the bedrock of the nation. In our national history, the most stable administrations have been those that respected the diversity of the nation in key appointments and the apportionment of patronage and distribution of federal benefits. Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan ran easily the most balanced administrations. In the post civil war era, these administrations have witnessed the most secure and peaceful periods in national life except for politically induced localized crises.
Clearly, the hegemonic agenda has run into a ditch of its own making. A hegemonic political agenda is ordinarily a rather sophisticated project. It requires a leadership that has the intelligence, sophistication, savvy and dexterity to usurp the critical high points of state power while running a humane and efficient state. In the hands of a grossly incompetent, incoherent and weak political leadership, a hegemonic agenda is bound to unravel because it will threaten the very survival of the nation it seeks to overrun and overwhelm. That is sadly where Mr. Buhari has led present day Nigeria. The historic question of our time is simply this: How do we retreat from this precarious cliff?
Other nationalities have heard the message of domination and become sensitized to the scheme. They are reacting as they see and deem fit. The divisive and separatist currents blowing across the nation are all reactions to the unhidden and reckless implementation of the original hegemonic agenda. The South West saw the unkind presence of armed herdsmen in their forests and neighbourhoods and quickly took steps. Amotekun was a prompt effective antidote. The South South has a battle tested instrument of resistance located in the soft underbelly of the hydro carbon life belt of the nation. The South East, repeatedly hurt and scarred by Nigerian history, has resorted to the weapons that only a sad memory can furnish. IPOB and ESN are one side of an unfortunate survival kit against a familiar adversarial overlord. Ebube Agu is the other face of a collective injury borne for too long. Larger formations along regional lines are transcending narrow ethnic boundaries to insist that the nation be restructured for equity, productivity and more effective governance delivery. People want to protect their own backyards by themselves. The federal might national order instituted at the end of the Civil War in January 1970 is on its way home. Ironically, the federal guarantor of security and national unity has been weakened by the sectional ambition of hegemonists led by one of the generals produced by the war of unity.
The hegemonic agenda is the highest stage in the consolidation of the entitlement state. The Nigerian entitlement state guaranteed states a mandatory oil and gas revenue cheque every month irrespective of locally generated revenue or productivity. Buhari’s elevation of his hegemonic agenda to a state policy is the greatest disservice to the idea of one Nigeria for which many died. Now I hear the advocates of re-structuring are poised to overturn the pot of the entitlement state once and for all.
What started as Nigerian politics as usual may have come to a pointed head last week in Asaba. When the 17 Southern State Governors met in the historic city of Asaba, they reached three most significant accords. First, they agreed that cattle imperialism must end by banning open grazing in their states. That resolution would end the reign of the cattle as a symbol of national division and crisis. Second, they resolved that the Nigerian federation be restructured for better equity, productivity and fairness in line with the best traditions of federalism. Most importantly, the governors resolved to call on the federal government to institute a national dialogue to discuss Nigeria’s problems and amicably resolve them through open exchange and compromise.
The ancient politics of hegemonic ruse and violence has come full circle. The empire that was targeted for domination is about to collapse. The components of our commonwealth have recognized the hidden hand. The Federal Republic of Nigeria with all its beauty and promise is mortally threatened with dissolution in direct response to the anarchy inaugurated by the hegemonic agenda. Mr. Buhari is the carrier of this unfortunate historic burden and tragic eventuality. He has to decide whether his entire career as a civil war general and political leader should be summarized in the dissolution of Nigeria.
For the rest of us, I think we should reject the logic of anger and the politics of anarchy. Let us resolve to save and fix Nigeria for ourselves and our posterity. The unifying slogan is a simple one: SAVE AND FIX. Come May 29th 2023, democratic progression must consign the pontiffs of hegemony to the thrash heap of national history. This house must not fall.