By Niran Adedokun
Probably unknown to him, the President, Major Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd), contributes more to the tense political atmosphere in Nigeria than any of the desperate charlatans currently parading across the country.
Ponder the congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress conducted on Saturday, October 16 and the anarchy that followed. There, you have a vivid image of what the much-awaited 2023 elections would look like. In the APC, things were so bad that nearly all the states had parallel congresses. The result is that each of these states produced two and, in one or two cases, three executive committees!
For instance, in Osun State, violence erupted when thugs allegedly attacked the venue of the congress organised by a former governor of the state and current Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola. The disruption of this event is believed to be a culmination of the festering discord between him and his successor, Gboyega Oyetola. At the end of it, at least two persons were reportedly injured at the parallel congress held in Osogbo, the state capital, by the minister’s supporters. On Monday, Aregbesola’s supporters allegedly filed a suit against the Chairman of the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Committee of the party and Governor of Yobe State, Governor Mai Mala Buni, at the Federal High Court in Osogbo over the manner the congresses were conducted. That is for a mere intra-party contest!
It is not just that. Oyetola and Aregbesola were not just political soulmates; they are apostles of the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu political family and leading APC stalwarts. So why do they seem to have no care whether night turns into the day in their struggle for power? It is understandable, though, that most of them have their children cooling off in New York, London, Dubai, and other parts of the world where leaders comprehend their obligations to their citizens and politics is not essential butter on the leader’s bread.
In neighbouring Kwara State, the shameful situation between Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, reared its ugly head. As part of the shenanigans, AbdulRazaq, to further diminish Mohammed’s integrity and qualification to be a leader of the APC in Kwara State, accused the minister of “stealing” campaign funds to the tune of N100 million. The otherwise outspoken Mohammed has since lost his voice and is unable to offer a riposte. It is an unmitigated shame.
Similar scenarios played out in Lagos, Ogun, Niger, Kano, Enugu, Abia, Imo, Enugu, and Akwa Ibom states. The exercise was postponed in Oyo, Bauchi, and Taraba states to settle recognised internal strife or fear of insecurity and violence. It was simply a harvest of executive shamelessness this last weekend.
It is possible to argue that such rivalries are not strange to party politics and that would be right. Politicians worldwide are nothing but desperate merchants who would do anything to access power, but Nigerian practitioners take the crown. While politicians in most other places show a modicum of respect for the electorate, it is daylight brigandage here without a care about anyone’s feelings. Additionally, when politicians engage in bitter contestations in most other places, they thrive on ideas and not the physical display of guns, daggers, and bottles. Politics and power should be a means to an end, which is the welfare of the people. In Nigeria, most politicians are driven by nothing but the passion for controlling the parties, and ultimately, deciding who gets what ticket. It is not about the people nor the increasingly worsening socio-economic situation in the country. Rather than embrace issues based on development and anti-poverty politics, the war last Saturday and days to come, even within the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, is nothing but politics of the stomachs of the stalwarts!
So, how does any of this concern Buhari, right? I will explain.
For the second time on May 29, 2019, Buhari took the following oath to, as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, work “always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria… not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions…” Prescribed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended, it implies that, once sworn into the office, a president is no longer the appendage of any political party, tribe, or religion but the servant of all. This document renders Buhari’s acclaimed first term swearing-in assertion of “belonging to everybody and nobody” an afterthought!
However, there are certain conducts, which suggest that the president sees himself as an agent of the APC over and above his high office, even as Nigeria moves towards this critical 2023 juncture.
Last week, he received the Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Mr Nkem Okeke, who had just defected from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to the APC in Abuja. This defection came three weeks before a highly contentious gubernatorial election, for which so much violence is ongoing in that state.
Buhari then told Okeke, who was led by Buni alongside the Chairman of APC Campaign Organisation for the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State and Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma, that his defection to the APC was timely (apparently increasing the party’s chances of winning the Anambra election). He went on to say: “So, you are welcome, and I respect your courage for taking this decision and I congratulate you for joining the APC.”
So, one is persuaded to ask what is courageous about the actions of a man who leaves the party where he has been deputy governor for years? You also wonder why the president congratulated him; what immediate personal advantage does his joining the APC confer on Okeke?
But the reception and utterance of the president are symbolic in one or two respects. Apart from suggesting that he is not as busy as he should be with state affairs, it also indicates that he endorses the reckless disposition of politicians for these party flirtations.
This party switching and the desperation that attends it, if the president does not already know, are part of why the do-or-die mindset is growing in the polity. It is also one of the reasons for some of the political violence in the country. Most importantly, his reference to how timely Okeke’s defection is, only suggests how much it would contribute to APC’s chances in the Anambra contest at a time when the president should maintain a dignified distance from partisanship and encourage fair play in the elections.
While no one is saying he cannot support his party, he should let those charged with the responsibility to run the party do their job while he stands in the presidential place of entrenching a smooth and credible system.
My take is that gestures like Okeke’s villa reception and that of Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, (a politician who had taken the APC and Buhari to the cleaners on countless occasions) a few weeks back, are a subtle endorsement of the “all is fair in war” mentality that seems to rule Nigerian politics. It boosts the confidence of politicians to seek power at all costs and pursue personal and party good over and above the people’s interest. It is tacit approval of the soulless and un-progressive politics that Nigeria does not need at any time.
And that is the point about being the president of a democratic country, especially at this troubling time in the history of Nigeria. Someone needs to advise the president that the idea of welcoming political dissidents from any party to the seat of power desecrates the office of the president and encourages delinquent political behaviour. This is more so because the party officials exist to “celebrate” such political “wins”. The president must do everything to encourage a stable polity and institute a political culture, which promotes fair contests and centres on ideas, not raw strength.