DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA By Akin Osuntokun
What are the corollaries of either the All Progressive Congress, APC or the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP winning the 2023 presidential election? If Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu ticket wins the election, the immediate consequence is the deepening of the religious cleavage between Christian and Islam. And it will feature with particular intensity in the Middle Belt region. The potential crisis it will generate is predictable and the problem is entirely of his own making. The cynical ploy to weaponise religion as an instrument of political mobilisation echoes the wise saying that politicians look towards the next election while statesmen look at the next generation. In the short term it is guaranteed to heighten religious tension and chauvinism.
It is the sort of scenario that will embolden and promote the mentality that resulted in the savage murder of Deborah in sokoto. Equally, it is going to stoke and perpetuate the kind of fear that compelled Vice President Atiku Abubakar to withdraw his condemnation of what was objectively and clearly a despicable crime of Deborah’s murder. On Friday afternoons the country will be treated to the symbolic spectacle of the front page display of president Tinubu and vice president Kashim Shettima observing ablution at the national mosque in Abuja. Never mind that their religious posturing and that of a good chunk of the Nigerian elite are a mimicry of religious piety.
Parallel to the demonstration of this dubious religious insensitivity at the highest level will be the relentless campaign of terror and carnage of the alternative government of Nigeria aka Boko Haram, Miyetti Allah, Iswap and the fulani militia. In response to this menace, either of the two is liable to deploy a characteristic penchant to respond to political problems with what the late chief Anthony enahoro called ‘subversive generosity’. We can presently recall how the presidential primaries of the two parties practically metamorphose to financial bazaar at the behest of the two winners. If morning shows the day, Nigerians no longer need any evidence to arrive at the conclusion that fighting corruption is not likely to be the priority of these twins.
A banter that is making the rounds of late is that both of them believe that ‘what money cannot solve, more money will solve it’. A gifted raconteur of language, ‘subversive generosity’ was the apt vocabulary Enahoro deployed to characterise the vaunted reputation of president Ibrahim Babangida for buying (settling) off critics and opponents of his regime. I developed a quite close. relationship with him after his tour of duty as president and my early impression of him was that kindness and empathy come to him naturally. He has such a large heart and really doesn’t know how to say no to any request made of him.
I often wondered aloud at the paradox of how to reconcile the contemporary Babangida with the devil may care adventurous young military officer whose trademark include the personification of any successful military coup in Nigeria. I detest glorifying the civil war in any shape or manner and so I have to crave the indulgence of those who may feel offended in choosing to employ the tragedy to make a point. It was in the unique circumstances of this tragedy that Babangida typically demonstrated uncommon bravery. He got injured in the thick of battle and was consequently repatriated to the University of Lagos medical hospital. His medical attendants were confounded by his incessant harassment to be quickly discharge so he could return to the war front in quick order.
Babangida is not the subject matter of this column, I just found myself drifting into it as an irresistible behavioural analogy and latterly as a subconscious atonement to mitigate the tone deaf critical piece I did on him on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Given his general genial patriarchal disposition he deserves all the encomiums he could get on his special day regardless of a controversial past. At the end of the day, we are all human after all. The point I wanted to make was that in their penchant for “subversive generosity’ both Tinubu and Atiku are cut of the same wood with IBB. And it is a character trait that has proven decisive in their successful political careers.
If either of them ever becomes president, it is a safe bet to speculate that the first item on their menu is going to be the appeasement of sundry bandits and terrorists with tons of cash and it will work in the near term. What may prove overwhelming to the next Nigerian president is the inheritance of the buhari legacy of incipient civil war and a collapsing economy. Reinforced with escalating inflation the plunging Nigerian naira incrementally impoverish each and everyone of us.
And then when it all bottoms out with no prospect of where the next meal is coming from, the downtrodden otherwise known as the lumpen proletariat will react in the same manner they have done down the ages. In the wisecrack of late professor Sam Aluko, the rich cannot sleep because the poor are hungry. Given the magnitude of this disastrous trajectory it is a moot point whether Nigeria will even be in a position to hold any election come 2023.
And this is where the incurably defective ticket of Tinubu and Atiku will encounter their nemesis. The logic is quite simple, you cannot respond to the extant deep division of Nigerians with more divisive instrumentality -inherent in their presidential tickets. What Nigeria does not need now is the prospect of another fulani moslem successor to Buhari who had chosen to reward the pan Nigeria goodwill that brought him to office with an unprecedented and unparalleled assault on the tenuous thread holding Nigeria together. Both tickets are inherently and manifestly divisive.
Rather than assuage the Nigerian reality of ethno regional /religious cleavages they have deliberately chosen to aggravate them and worsen the North /South and Christian /muslim division in the singular pursuit of the short term goal of winning elections. There is a reason the principle of presidential rotation of power between the North and South commended itself to Nigeria in the first place. Is the underlying imperative of political stability and national integration no longer of consequence?. If the rotation of power between the North and the South is predicated on the principle of fairness and equity, is the South not bound to exercise same principles in determining which of the three zones is most deserving of the concession?
But because God is not yet done with Nigeria, he contrived the emergence of Peter Obi as a compelling presidential candidate in his own right regardless of the adjunct complement of his Igbo origin. In Nigeria today especially among the younger generation, he is easily the most unifying national symbol. There is a dimension of the prevalent political crisis that may have eluded the discernment of Nigerian commentators and observers. And that is the platform obi has created which has availed the frustrated and bitter young Nigerians an avenue to channel their pent up anger and frustrations. Were they limited to the inevitability of Atiku and Tinubu, it will be difficult to contain the accompanying despair and hopelessness. There is the allied utility and potential of Obi’s candidacy to serve as the springboard for political leadership recruitment among the younger generation.