ENGAGEMENTS by Chidi Amuta
In his final days, Joseph Stalin was adjudged somewhat unhinged by the public and his close lieutenants. But he insisted that he was acting rationally and in the best interests of the nation. The periodic weekend garden party was part of his routine to which he usually invited his close lieutenants, friends and associates. On this occasion towards the end of his turbulent career, he noticed that the attendance was unusually scanty. His usual collection of friends and associates had thinned out to a mere handful.
When he made his usual grand entrance, he asked aloud: ‘Where have all my friends gone?’ An aide leaned over and whispered into his ears: ‘All gone, all purged…’ Unknown to Stalin, his sweeping purges of anti revolutionary elements had also wiped out majority of his friends and allies. Close to six million had perished on Stalin’s orders. They included party faithful, political allies, security king pins and many ordinary folk on whose behalf the revolution was ostensibly launched.
But for Stalin, mass murder and unparalleled human suffering among the masses meant little. As he famously said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. But the death of many is statistics…”
The lesson? When a leader unleashes a wild change, it sometimes consumes unintended victims including his acolytes, power devotees and the crowd of hapless citizens. The leader’s curious reward as his career tapers off is usually loneliness, the loneliness of the change maker, the man at the top at the twilight hour between fading incumbency and the exit door of power. The majority of men of power head towards the horizon of powerlessness as lonely miserable figures.
For Buhari and his Nigerian compatriots, the much anticipated 2023 presidential election has come and gone. As the nation anxiously awaits an outcome, Mr. Buhari must be trying to come to terms with his lonely trek back towards the dusty anonymity of Daura. It does not matter now which way the election turns out. It does not matter who wins or loses. One reality stares Mr. Buhari in the face. It is the imminence of his lonely stretch into the horizon. The preparation came in droves just before the presidential election.
Though imbued with the habitual quiescence of a Fulani chieftain, Buhari may not find words to describe the stampede among his devotees and party colleagues on the eve of the election. In direct response to the Naira crisis that he deliberately initiated, the reality of political self -interest overwhelmed presidential supremacy. A populace that was eagerly preparing for elections was also caught in the grips of a severe and unanticipated cash scarcity.
My friend and brother Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State fired the opening political salvo. El-Rufai, long known to support the president in most situations, suggested that the resident power cabal in Aso Villa had taken over the mechanics of Buhari’s power transition. He alleged that the dark knights of the Villa were opposed to the emergence of Bola Tinubu as Buhari’s success.
Mrs. Aisha Buhari quickly endorsed El-Rufai’s contention through a social media share. The clear and unmistakable message was that Mr. Buhari had lost control not only of his presidency but also the choice of his successor. He had also effectively lost control of his ruling party, the APC.
Soon afterwards, a chaotic stampede over the raging Central Bank Naira re-coating exercise generated even more discordant voices within the President’s camp. By choosing to change the higher denominations of the Naira on the eve of yesterday’s presidential election, Buhari had scorched the political rattle snakes in his camp. A cacophony of voices from inside his political household could be heard loudly.
El-Rufai has accused the Villa of using the Naira crisis to foment trouble in order to scuttle the election that just took place and pave the way for some interim government. Governor Ganduje of Kano joined that toxic narrative. El Rufai had all along been mistaken for an avid Buhari devotee. But he was now an avid Tinubu supporter.
Overnight, the entire APC governors in one way or the other joined the legal rebellion against the FG and the CBN over the continuing legal tender of the old N500 and N1000 denominations. A few of the governors insisted publicly that the N500 and N1000 denominations withdrawn by the Central Bank on Presidential orders would remain legal tender in their states. Of course wise people chose to mostly obey the supreme sovereign of the land.
Festus Keyamo, Buhari’s junior minister for labour insisted in several media interviews that Buhari was ill advised on his ban on the legal tender of the old N500 and N1000 Naira bills. Typically, Mr. Keyamo tried to spin the Naira controversy in Buhari’s favour while openly revealing that the APC presidential campaign had been injured by the new Naira policy. Hard as he tried, Keyamo ended up with a blistering critique of the president. A spokesman of a ruling party virtually ended up deepening the crisis within the party by dividing the party in power from its leader.
He did not stop there, he waded into the murky zone of the Supreme Court’s interim order on the Naira crisis by suggesting that the President may have disobeyed the apex court by exempting the N200 bill from the ban on old large denomination notes.
That contentious intervention attracted an equally weighty counter attack. Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Buhari’s Minister of Works and himself a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, disagreed with Keyamo. Fashola argued that the president did not necessarily undermine or disobeyed the Supreme Court. Two senior lawyers in the same cabinet, the same party, the same cabinet with diametrically opposed views.
But Mr. Keyamo had yanked his pound of flesh. As the spokesperson of the Bola Tinubu campaign, Keyamo knows where the butter of his political future is buttered. He openly chose to defend the APC presidential candidate over the party and the lame duck president. Yet, he remains a minister in Buhari’s rump cabinet! In an earlier maneuver, he had preferred to don his lawyer’s Whig and Gown and rush to court to press charges against Mr. Atiku Abubakar over a purely political propaganda disagreement over political money movements.
In a similar vein, Buhari’s Information Commissar, Lai Mohammed, deepened the confusion and pandemonium within the president’s political enclave. He saw no reason why the president of a ruling party should initiate a hostile policy such as the Naira swap crisis on the eve of a general election. Worse still, he saw no reason why Bola Tinubu as APC presidential candidate should be critical of Buhari since he is a candidate of the incumbent party presided over by Mr. Buhari.
For him, quite rightly, Mr. Tinubu ought to have been running on the performance record of the party under Buhari in the last eight years in power. Lai Mohammed reminded Tinubu that he is not an independent candidate but a ruling party flag bearer.
Just before the presidential election, injured politicians and political court messengers were up in arms. A major party man, Adams Oshiomhole, did not want to be left out of the fray. Mr. Oshiomhole had been Edo State governor on an APC ticket and was later the party’s National chairman. But he is also a known Bola Tinubu acolyte. He added his voice to the political quarrels over the Naira crisis. He sided with Mr. Tinubu and others in criticizing the president and the Central Bank for a policy which he saw as clearly targeted at Mr. Tinubu and money pot politics.
Regard for the president’s glorified toga seemed to have evaporated matter little. Party loyalty and solidarity also counted for little. In any case, a ruling party not bound by any common belief is no better than a conclave of thieves. When the common bond of power incumbency becomes shaky, the party degenerates into a free for all. Everyman to himself and the devil to us all! Inside the APC on the eve of the presidential election, support for and opposition to Tinubu’s presidential ambition seemed to have swamped devotion to the lame duck Buhari. Why?
The flight of APC and other governors towards Tinubu is a natural political migration of convenience. The ongoing desertion of Buhari will accelerate. It is a consequence of his lack of his fading relevance as his tenure wanes. For the avoidance of doubt, Buhari has always been a political merchandise with an expiration date. The date is on hand and is irreversible.
The political hawks used him and his mythology to come to federal power as APC. He has largely expired. His moment of supremacy is nearly over. A party that stood for nothing tangible other than an evanescent Buhari myth cannot outlast the life span of that mascot. That hour has come. We can see the beginnings in the cacophony of voices among the APC governors.
The President’s northern solidarity and cult followership is also about to end as ordinary northerners come to terms with their massive deficits of the last eight years, Violence, massive school shut downs, banditry, deserted farms, unemployment, deepened poverty would seem to summarize the Buhari presidency. From the loud shouts of ‘Sai Baba!’, the youth are now hurling stones at him.
It has taken the Naira crisis just before the presidential election to bring Mr. Buhari face to face with the clear and present danger of an unraveling party. Perhaps he needed the Naira crisis to come to a full realization of the true nature of political self-interest among Nigerian politicians. It is for him a sneak preview of his own imminent loneliness in power.
Politics and big money travel together. Take away money from political actors at election time and all hell is let loose. The fangs and red teeth of the political jackals is exposed. The Nigerian politician, starved of money to buy votes, bribe enablers and corrupt the political process, the red claws of the politician cones out.
Therefore, beneath the rage of leading political actors over the Naira crisis is the outrage of threatened political fortunes. State governors are destabilized that they cannot deploy their huge cash holdings to influence the outcome of the elections in their domains. Their anger with the Central Bank and the President is principally on this score. Of course, given the widespread hardship and economic dislocation that the Naira re-issue has created all over the country, it is convenient for infuriated state governors to override their own interests with the larger concern for the welfare of the populace. In the run up to a crucial election, the appeal to a ready popular outrage over scarcity of cash becomes a political weapon in the hands of a president that is seen as a serial traducer of the political class irrespective of partisan affiliation.
But the damage of the Naira crisis to the APC is by far the most consequential. President Buhari remains the major cohesive force that was instrumental to the formation of the APC. His leadership, effete as it has been, remained the cohesive force that held the coat of many colours together as a party in power. Power incumbency remained the lifeblood of the party for the last eight years.
With no substantial idea to hold on to, the APC could only survive as a party for as long as it remains in power. Once the president collaborated with the Central Bank of Nigeria to unleash the Naira ambush at a last critical moment before the election, the president had vicariously parted company politically with his party. The contraption was doomed to unravel unless it produces the next president. That hypothesis should be tested in the next couple of days or hours.
Yet the gravity of the immediate pre-election stampede in the APC will outlast this transition period. Since the results of the presidential election are still awaited, we can only hazard a guess as to the immensity of Buhari’s looming loneliness on his way home. If Mr. Bola Tinubu of the APC emerges the winner of this election, he would have scored that victory in spite of the clear financial obstacles placed in his way by an incumbent president of his own party. A victorious Tinubu is not likely to assume the most friendly stance towards Mr. Buhari after May 29th. But even at that, Buhari cannot expect to control the party once he is out of the Villa.
If, on the contrary, Mr. Tinubu loses the election to any of the other contestants, we may have seen the end of APC as a party. A Tinubu loss in this election will also be the end of APC. The factions in the party will seek to take control of whatever remains of the party. There will be nothing seriously at stake to compel a survival of the party.
Mr. Tinubu will head home to lick his wounds after a predictable period of post election trouble making. The APC governors who survive politically either in enthroning their own successors or winning elections into the Senate are likely to fly the APC flag for as long as it takes for a new majority party to gain control of power at the center. The gale of decampment will follow as alignments and re-alignments among politicians take over the stage.
Mr. Buhari will go home into a deserved retirement and bear the burden of being the man who torpedoed his own party from power at the moment of succession. But privately, he will have had a definitive say on who ‘ does not succeed him”. If it turns out that the election is adjudged free and fair by local and international observers and opinion drivers, then Mr. Buhari will have scored his definitive legacy. He will go down as the president who presided over a free and fair election to ensure a succession that did not necessarily sustain his party’s hold on power. Privately, whatever personal grievance the president may have had against the conduct and outcome of the APC presidential primaries in May 2022 will have been assuaged.
Let us hope that in the next couple of hours, the Nigerian electorate will have decided the fate of the contending parties, especially the APC. Interestingly, the APC also confronts us with an answer to an interesting question of political theory and the nature of democracy. Will an electorate reward a political party which has punished the people with every known calamity in the last eight years? That is the crux of the verdict that we are all anxiously waiting for.