Atiku’s Dance, Buhari’s Song

ENGAGEMENTS: With Chidi Amuta


Shortly before the outcome of the recent PDP primaries, a video clip of Atiku Abubakar dancing in casual outfit hit the social media. It did not seem like a recent video. But it gathered traction and went even more viral once Mr. Atiku was proclaimed the presidential candidate of the opposition party. In the dance video, Mr. Atiku, in casual weekend dress down type shirt and trouser,  was dancing away, surrounded by delectable females  and a youthful party type collection. Just dancing away, with all cares cast aside. The man was obviously enjoying the gig.

The symbolism of this display of cosmopolitan freedom cannot be lost on fellow Nigerians. Mr. Atiku is a Muslim from the northern end of the Nigerian polarity. He has emerged as a serious contender in our politics of binary choice usually animated by an implicit north-south and Muslim- Christian political ping pong. Yet Mr. Atiku has consistently come across more as the urbane and cosmopolitan cosmopolitan Nigerian elite guy next door than as a proselytizing mullah or ascetic conservative. If anything, it is variously said that Atiku is held in suspicion by the northern mob for embodying too much of the worldly western values that the Muslim majority suspect in their southern compatriots.

Mr. Atiku has taken wives from all over the major zones of the country. Some of them were not even known to be Muslim women. They were just women  who appealed to him. He is a western type entrepreneur, a champion of western education and an advocate of western style modernization.

To Atiku’s credit, his political public relations has consistently focused on broad national issues rather than regional and sectarian  concerns. His belief in the potentials of the Nigerian federation is unquestionable. 

But he agrees on the imperative of strengthening our federalism through restructuring to unleash the aggressive competitiveness among states as federating units. 

In addition to the obviously contentious matter of restructuring, Mr.  Atiku had in his epic presidential quest advocated clear policy departures on various national issues ranging from education to unemployment and poverty alleviation. No one can fairly accuse Mr. Atiku of symbolizing a continuation of northern conservative hegemonist ideology of the kind that is automatically trade marked with Buhari and the motley crowd that have besieged the presidential villa in the last seven years. I reckon that a certain level of unease may have greeted the emergence of Mr. Atiku as PDP flag bearer  among the conservative northern power establishment. 

Significantly, among the southern power, business and media elite, however, the emergence of Mr. Atiku has ruffled no significant ideological or sectarian feathers. As they say, people just cool with Atiku.

Among the line up of aspirants and contenders for the presidential pedestal in recent times, Mr. Atiku is easily the most business friendly, being himself a business owner with wide ranging interests. He is associated with investments in higher education, confectionary and fast food, logistics as well as oil and gas. To that extent, Mr. Atiku is most likely to resonate with corporate Nigeria and an international business community that is becoming increasingly concerned about Nigeria’s economic prospects.

Those familiar with Mr. Atiku’s network of friends and associates will readily credit him with a wide network of friends and associates from across all the corners of the nation and internationally. In this regard, he is rated only next to former President Ibrahim Babangida whose network and expanse of affiliates remains legendary. 

 Nonetheless, Mr. Atiku’s  dance video is by no means a victory dance. It is instead an invitation to all us to relax because the road ahead is long and bumpy. The road ahead still has an APC checkpoint and hurdled counterpoints to contend with. 

Yet at the level of democratic due process, the PDP  would seem to have scored  goals in terms of its largely successful presidential primary. It was not a hitch or blemish free exercise. Troves of dollar cash may have exchanged hands. Delegates may have transacted with their votes. Regional solidarity and string of alliances  may have been activated to secure a desired outcome. All this is part of Nigeria’s murky political heritage and worrisome leadership culture. 

The successful presidential primaries are a tribute to PDP’s Internal democracy advantage. It is at least a testimony to the Party’s  long institutional memory and organizational superiority. 

Clearly, the response of the ruling APC has been embarrassingly tardy. As at the time the PDP delegates gathered in Abuja to elect their flag bearer, no coherent position was forthcoming from the APC. The decision of the INEC to grant a one week extension for parties to complete their primaries has justifiably been read as an act in deference to the tardiness of the ruling party.  This speaks volumes about the competence of a party that has virtually run Nigeria aground in the last seven years.

In the count down to its rescheduled presidential primary convention starting tomorrow, the nation heard disturbing news from president Buhari as party leader before he left for Spain. In  an address to APC governors and state party chairmen, the president asked them for support  to appoint, choose and anoint his successor. To believers in democracy and party internal democracy in particular, this is a message  from hell. The simplistic blackmail in Buhari’s appeal is the reminder to the APC governors that he as president has been sufficiently graceful to ‘allow’ them choose their respective successors.

First, it erodes the party’s democratic essence. Secondly, it undermines the competitive essence of partisan aspiration. Third, it subverts the republican essence of liberal equalitarian democracy and seeks to replace it with a pseudo monarchical absolutist arrangement.

If the APC hierarchy were to honour the president’s appeal, it would have far reaching implications for the party, the future of the presidency as an institution and indeed the political future of the country. Once a precedent of presidential preference in matters of succession is established, the open democratic essence of succession would go up in smoke. The Nigerian president would graduate into an absolute monarch who picks and chooses his successor at will to suit his whims even if the public as an electorate has decided that the outgoing president was no use.

Such a precedent could inject a far reaching political upheaval as competing rival aspirants clash in the aftermath of such an arbitrary choice of successor by the exiting president. 

Mr. Buhari’s stated option is more In line with a monarchical system. This confirms once again that Mr. Buhari has conducted himself more like a distant monarch who seeks unquestioning obedience from servile subjects than an elected president in a republic who sees himself as a fellow citizen with his compatriots.  

That the president has to resort to personal selective choice of a successor at this last minute is a searing indictment of his leadership

Of the ruling party. If indeed he had led the party well, his preference for a successor of his choice would have emerged as a consequence of his own  deft political footwork. That has not happened. The result is this recipe for party implosion and national catastrophe. 

If indeed the APC were a real conservative  party, Buhari’s quest for selective private succession would have made some limited sense even if it would still be strange and out of place.  But for a professed ‘progressive’ party , it is even more disastrous. Of course we understand the ideological anomaly of a ‘progressive’ alliance led by a militarist conservative and sectarian regionalist hegemonist. His succession proposition openly clashes with the republican essence of a progressive people -oriented party. 

In the normal process of competitive politicking, a virtual succession line up has emerged in the APC with the top four aspirants: Tinubu, Amaechi, Osinbajo and Lawan.

The challenge of the moment is to allow the mechanism of internal democracy through the primaries to produce the next president from among these front liners. 

The president has cited the need for a consensus candidate to ensure party unity and national cohesion.

In politics consensus is not just about persons as candidates for elective office.  In a political party setting, key individual party leaders are first carriers of ideas, tendencies and values.

To seek a consensus among them is usually a means of finding common ground among the contending ideas on national issues that they represent.  Consensus politics presupposes the existence of clear ideological tendencies within a party on core national issues

In the APC, however, what we have is a contest of egos, ambition, grandstanding and little or no policy or ideological differences. 

The matter of consensus can also arise if the APC contained clear positions on the current state of the national question. We can entertain a quest for consensus if the APC has clear divisions between advocates of restructuring and plain unitarists or status quo federalists. Seeking a consensus in that situation would be a clear and urgent national cause. 

Since there are no long held views and convictions on key national issues that can be attached to the key aspirants, what president Buhari seeks in his succession proposition is a blind obedience to his kingly ego and a sheepish endorsement of his personal wishes.

If the president seeks a successor to continue in his own ways, he has read the mood of the nation wrongly. The current mood of the nation desires an anti Buhari leadership template.

If he desires a perpetuation of personal loyalty, he may be right only if the presidency were a private estate.

He has of course vicariously placed matters of geo political equity in the forefront of national expectations. His lopsided appointments and skewed preference for hordes of incompetence appointees has created a need for a decisive urgent change. His apparent disdain for  intellect, elegant personal style, dignified carriage and  proximity to the people have all become issues in the Buhari succession. Modern day Nigeria is anxious to turn its back on these negatives. 

The only way Buhari’s option for a handpicked successor can minimally appeal to the nation is if his chosen successor is the direct opposite of his own dour appeal.

There is an even more urgent national imperative. The nation is badly divided along regional sand sectarianism lines. The restoration of national  stability , unity and survival demands that Buhari’s successor should be other than a northern Muslim. 

While Atiku’s emergence has not activated a north-south reaction, anyone chosen by Buhari will automatically spark off a geo political and sectarian anxiety and even fire storm.

It is quite a legitimate political enterprise for an incumbent to scheme towards a chosen successor. 

But the way to achieve that would be a combination of ruse, political engineering and long term strategic planning. None of this seems to be on display in Mr. Buhari’s open brash and archaic approach.

Instead, Buhari seems to have opted for a crude ancient  direct hand picking approach. Even a monarch would fare better. The line of royal succession would ordinarily indicate the lineage of virtual succession. 

What Buhari has instead signaled is a stealth surprise approach mostly traceable to his subversive military background. 

The secrecy surrounding his ‘chosen one ‘ proposition  smacks of a military type coup d’etat against a political party and indeed the entire democratic edifice of the nation as a constitutional democracy. Normal democratic succession dictates that leadership renewal should come from an open, competitive and transparent internal party democratic process.  You cannot opt to ‘surprise’ a whole nation by the choice of a successor you privately make simply because you are the incumbent president. Nor can you hold an entire party membership and nation in avoidable suspense as we wait for you to announce your successor. Nigeria is never a anyone’s  private estate whose leadership succession should emerge from the private chamber of one authoritarian figure. Nor was the presidency designed to be an oracle whose real wishes can only be known through divination. 

That is the height of presidential arrogance and can only be read as the deployment of presidential absolutism  and a travesty of the best traditions of democracy. It does not matter whom this selective succession gambit throws up tomorrow or next. No choice can justify the extension of impunity to the choice of a democratic succession. And once this exception  and despicable precedent is tolerated, it could become the norm in all subsequent presidential successions. By default, Nigeria will have tacitly adopted a semi feudal monarchical system without effecting the requisite constitutional change.

The omens spell doom for the party and catastrophe for the nation if not carefully handled. Already, some of the aspirants, fearing the worst, have amped up warlike rhetoric. Mr. Tinubu has gone to town with claims of how he anointed Buhari as president, Osinbajo as Vice President and Dapo Abiodun as governor of Ogun state. He has proceeded from there to claim the next presidency as a personal political entitlement. 

 If the governors and elected leaders of the APC opt to insist on the sanctity of the party’s internal democratic processes and conformity with  INEC’s stipulations on party primaries, the president will be badly bruised politically for the rest of his tenure. If a section of governors and political leaders decide to opt out, the party will be divided. If the aspirants decide to proceed with the primaries as planned, the outcome of the process may conflict with the president’s original choice and intentions. The party would then end up with a candidate without a tacit presidential stamp of approval.

It could get worse for the president. If his chosen successor happens to be a northern Muslim, Mr Buhari may be saddled with how to keep Nigeria one. If his chosen successor ignore the clamor of the South East and South South for equity and justice in the succession, the president will handed his successor a live cobra. The combinations and possibilities are full of omens.

In the best of circumstances, the party and key aspirants could, with difficulty,  go with the presidential choice. The beneficiary candidate would still carry the burden of a dubious mandate acquired through arbitrary presidential fiat. Most importantly, there is nothing in the act of Buhari’s arbitrary choice of a successor that guarantees the APC victory in 2023. Mr. Buhari’s risky choice of choosing his successor outside electoral due process could end up setting the stage for Mr. Atiku’s real victory gig. In that case, Nigerians might as well sing: Let the music play!

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