DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA By Akin Osuntokun
Responding to the raid on his homestead the other day, I was quite taken aback at the extent to which the vocabulary of terrorist kingpin Belo Turji sought to normalise and legitimise his criminal enterprise. Quite astounding was the assumption of diplomatic equivalence he drew between his empire and the Nigerian government. He contended “There have not been any attacks in the last five months since we reached a truce with the government but now that the military has attacked our home, we feel betrayed especially after the death of vulnerable people in the airstrikes..For the past five months, we didn’t attack or kill anyone around Shinkafi. As a result, farming and other business activities were flourishing without any hitches..I feel embarrassed when my name is mentioned after attacks by other bandits and terrorists. Apart from my house that they destroyed, many other buildings belonging to innocent citizens in the forest, were also affected. Peace is priceless and I am ready to be a peace advocate unless the government wants him to be a warmonger. I am ready for either peace or war. Whatever the government wants, we can give them a multitude.”.
Exasperated at being serially teased with the assessment that he lacks the national political infrastructural network commensurate with his escalating political profile, Peter Obi responded with the counter punch that he would rather have nothing to do with those kind of structures. “those structures are the structures of criminality and we want them dismantled now. We want to ensure that the next election is based on character, capacity, competence,
commitment to do the right thing. Nigeria is, not just in a fiscal mess, it is at the last stage to collapse”.
What is generally understood as constituting these structures in which Obi is found lacking can be extrapolated from those contenders to whom such lack is not ascribable. The identification of this lack in Obi (within the context of Nigerian politics) is relative to the capacity of other contenders to possess this ‘asset’ in abundance. Beyond this anecdotal citation, there remains the question of how to adequately characterise the definition of Nigeria as a structure of political criminality and dysfunction. The ascription of the criminal enterprise of Bello Turji as a structure of criminality is obvious enough. Not so similarly obvious are its institutional parallels that have self-legitimised as the organising principles of the Nigerian state. This is why Nigeria merits being cited a rogue state.
This structure and infrastructure of political dysfunction and criminality consists of mutually reinforcing layers. First (proceeding from the premise that politics is a game of numbers) is the rigged population figure of the country at the level of general inflation of the census figures across the country with emphasis on the purpose of attributing to the North whatever figures it takes to perpetuate its political dominance. This is the precursor to the subsequent layer of voter registration figures which is little more than a mere extrapolation from the fraudulent population census.
The history of census in Nigeria is summed up in the following excerpt: ‘Attempts to conduct a reliable post-independence census have been mired in controversy, and only one was officially accepted. The first attempt, in mid-1962, was cancelled after much controversy and allegations of over-counting in many areas. A second attempt in 1963, which was officially accepted, also was encumbered with charges of inaccuracy and manipulation for regional and local political purposes. Indeed, the official 1963 figure of 55.6 million as total national population is inconsistent with the census of a decade earlier because it implies a virtually impossible annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent. After the civil war of 1967-70, an attempt was made to hold a census in 1973, but the results were cancelled in the face of repeated controversy. No subsequent nationwide census had been held as of 1990, although there have been various attempts to derive population estimates at a state or local level. Most official national population estimates are based on projections from the 1963 Census’
In order to sustain an original lie, you will need to keep telling subsequent lies in a manner that is consistent with the logic of the first lie. Hence, according to the London guardian newspaper “About 10 million new voters signed up between January 2018 and early 2019 – according to data released by the Independent National Electoral Commission– twice the number that signed up in the first nine months of registration, between April 2017 and January 2018. But analysis of the data for each of the country’s 36 states and its capital shows that INEC has increased the number of new registered voters by almost exactly the same percentage across all states. The correlation is a “statistical impossibility” and does not reflect Nigeria’s demographic changes, according to data analysts working with The Guardian. Additional data seen by The Guardian also shows irregularities in registration for the 2015 election, until now considered to have been free and fair.On average, voter registration in each state increased by 2.2% between April 2017 and January 2018, and by 7.7 per cent for the whole registration period ahead of Saturday’s election. Plotted on a scatter line graph, there is a 0.99 correlation across all the states, without a single outlier. According to three separate data analysts, the parity cannot be a coincidence. “Only God works that closely,” one analyst said
The other proximate layer of this reality is the party membership register and the attribution of membership figures that borders on the delusional. To give you an idea of the absurdity we are talking about, the governor of Yobe state who doubled as the caretaker chairman of the APC, Mala Mai Buni way back in January bore the testimony that “Today, APC parades over 41 million registered members, asserting our position as Africa’s largest political party and of course, Nigeria’s leading political party”. This is against the background that the total number of votes secured by the APC in the 2019 presidential election was 15m. If we accept but not concede that this number is authentic, the implication of Buni’s figure of 41m is that in the interim between 2019 and January 2022, 26m Nigerians have joined the ranks of the APC. We should be able to do a reality check and ascertain this improbable accretion when the results of the 2023 general elections are collated.
To the previously identified layers can be added the generation of slush funds for party activities and operations especially the general elections. I shall resist the temptation to employ contemporary presidential contenders as a most appropriate illustration of what we now call the subversive monetization of Nigerian politics. Nonetheless (and this is not coming from me)-to the question he raised of where will the Tinubu, Atiku and Obi’s multi billion naira campaign funds come from? Festus Adedayo provided this response “It is however alleged that the bulk of his (Atiku) campaign funds will come from government money, given to him by his loyalist PDP state governors, as well as former and present occupiers of government positions. The same goes for the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu. On Friday, the Atiku Campaign Office attacked Tinubu by calling him a billionaire without a known business. This is a description similar to what Americans mean when they say, ‘we have seen the bucks, where is the shop?’ What is being alluded to is theft of the public patrimony. Till date, although the humongous wealth of Tinubu has kept tongues wagging, no one can say precisely what its source is. Like Atiku, it is said that the bulk of his campaign funds will come from state governors in charge of public money in Nigeria, especially those in his APC, and individuals who hold cash cow positions in federal and state-owned agencies and corporations. Drug monies, laundered funds and all manner of illicit funds easily find their way into election funding”.
Dr Chidi Odinkalu recently brought to the fore a little discussed dimension to the wherewithal of such slush funds. The surprise is that the revelation has not precipitated a commensurate controversy and has become captive to a conspiracy of silence. Wrote Odinkalu “Three days before Nigeria voted in the presidential election in 2019, on Wednesday, 20 February, a little known official from Saudi Arabia dropped into Abuja to visit Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, who was running for re-election. His name was Ahmed Qattan, described as the “Minister of State for African Affairs” in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His arrival was as unheralded as it was suspicious. He lingered long enough for the bowels of his corpulent aircraft to be emptied.The day after he received Sheikh Oattan, President Buhari “expressed astonishment at the huge amount of foreign currency flooding the country intended to influence the outcome of the general elections beginning on Saturday.. Yet, faced with what he acknowledged was evidence of a peril to that sovereignty in the form of possible foreign money to influence the destination of Nigeria’s presidency, General Buhari chose to become an advocacy NGO rather than live up to his oath of office. The suggestive visit of Sheikh Qattan on the eve of Nigeria’s 2019 elections touches upon the greyest of grey zones in the governance of Nigeria’s elections – the role of foreign money”.
Another layer is the mobilisation of the powers of coercion comprising the legitimate weilders (the national security forces) and its illegitimate counterpart consisting of sundry thugs, notorious crime syndicates, sorcerers and freelance muscle men. Next is the aspirational control over the media and the propaganda industry; and the emergent culture of subverting the judiciary.
You cannot build something on nothing is a popular aphorism and you cannot equally predicate truth on falsehood. The story of Nigeria is increasingly looking like the contemporary culture of collapsed multi storey buildings whose fate was foretold by flawed and faulty foundations. To break the vicious cycle within which Nigeria is ensnared requires nothing less than a disruptor, a positive shock therapy. If Peter Obi wins he would most probably serve this utility. His rivals in the APC and PDP are the candidates of the status-quo whose presidential tickets are an advertisement of all that has gone wrong with Nigeria. It is worse. With the imperative of national unity and integration in view, these tickets are provocatively and incurably defective.