Are we misreading Buhari? Asks Adagbo Onoja

Posted by News Express | 11 September 2015 | 4,112 times

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Nothing would justify lopsided appointments in favour of any ethnic, religious, regional, class, generational or gender group but it is also worth pondering whether Buhari is confronting the problem with the practice of the presidential system in plural societies, particularly in the case of Nigeria where no ethno-regional group is strong enough to go it alone. The point about this piece is that there are lessons to draw from problematising phenomena such as the trajectory of appointments under Buhari’s second coming so far and the way it connects with similar exercises in the past. But we tend to drive away such lessons by cheaply invoking the ethno-regional frame of analysis and losing such lessons vis-à-vis the corrective measures. Yet, it yields more interesting posers to ponder if one puts some of these developments under some different analytical gaze.

Is it possible that Buhari wants to avoid the other extreme – the GEJ model? Under GEJ, presidential authority was de-centred: GEJ was the president quite alright but there were other centres of power in Madam Patience Jonathan and her coterie of escort; Ngozi-Iweala and her District Officers; the National Security Adviser and the senior militants led by Godsday Orubebe running their own show. There were alternate presidents like David Mark or elder Edwin Clark.

It was a sharp contrast to OBJ who appointed his tight friends and dedicated loyalists to key positions although, in his case, those appointees were so dispersed that people didn’t take note of that fact. Aliyu Gusau, the NSA then; Abdullahi Mohammed, the Chief of Staff, T.Y Danjuma, the Defence Chief were certainly closer to OBJ than Babachir and Kyari could be to Buhari. Their own closeness combined the personal with the professional lineage. After OBJ came the late Yar’Adua whose own SGF, Babagana Kingibe, had ties with the Yar’Adua family, Kingibe and the equally late General Musa Yar’Adua having been political pals much earlier. Kingibe’s versatility and national connection were probably why nobody bothered. GEJ started his presidential career with a tribesman as the NSA and a kinsman as the SGF.

In other words, except the later part of GEJ, every other president since 1999 encountered and dealt with this issue of appointing key staff of the government in virtually the same way. If that is the case, might Buhari, therefore, be dealing with a phenomenon peculiar to the presidential system in societies where there is no dominant identity in power terms? The logic of the presidential system is the concentration of power in one office(r) which automatically carries with it or privileges those whom the president can work with. The phrase ‘those the president can work with’ implies that there are those the president cannot work with. In a multi-cultural and multi-religious entity such as Nigeria, the idea of those the president cannot work with is too dangerous to contemplate but it does not annul the thrust of presidential democracy. It must have been in anticipation of this that the wise-men (there were no women there) who framed the 1979 Nigerian Constitution which is basically what we are still using specified that each state must have one, in the case of appointment of ministers. In that way, the constitution ties the hands of a president who might be tempted to overwrite Nigeria’s complexity by invoking or over-relying on the logic of the presidential system.

Unfortunately, that does not solve the ‘problem’ at the level of the president’s most key appointments which are much fewer but relatively more powerful than ministers. In our recent history, no president has appointed a ‘stranger’ as his SGF or COS. One recalls Segun Adeniyi writing long op-ed in response to allegations of northernisation of power under Umaru Yar’Adua. Under GEJ, people complained of South-Southernisation of power. And now we are back to the issue under Buhari with the possibility of Femi Adesina or Garba Shehu coming upon us with long op-ed on why there is no marginalisation.

The interesting question that really arises might rather be: why did Shagari who inaugurated the presidential system escape this but not the subsequent presidents and ruling parties? Under Shagari, Shehu Musa, the SGF was a Muslim northerner but not a personal friend of Shagari as such while Mike Prest, the Chief of Staff, came from the old Bendel State. Could that have anything to do with the organisational coherence of the NPN in relation to subsequent parties? I talk about organisational superiority and coherence of the NPN to the extent of its ideological clarity as conceptualised in one academic work that says the party was a movement from primitive accumulation of power to primitive accumulation of capital.

In other words, by 1978, the power elite in Nigeria had come of age as a class and that transition showed in the realisation that the regional platforms were no longer viable for accumulation. Hence, they reorganised themselves from each of the regions into a platform of national party with discourse of power signposted by its slogan: One Nation, One Destiny”. I am not mentioning the UPN or the NPP here because they never got to rule at the national level. And a claim of ruling group coherence finds evidence in NPN’s principles such as the relationship between the party and its funders. NPN never allowed its funders to control the party and appointments. Abiola was disallowed from doing so. All that Sola Saraki could get was Senate Leader. Two other funders, all from the North, could only get a minister and certain contracts respectively. Nothing more! That contrasts very sharply with the vulgar godfatherism in the later PDP whereby the godfather dictates.

It is still unravelling in the APC along with other features in exercise of power. One of such is this: Under the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, the military was told by its intellectuals that the bureaucracy had grown too powerful for the Nigerian State under Gowon and should be cut to size. That was the objective of the purge. The bureaucracy has never recovered from that assault. Under the second Buhari coming, we are witnessing what might turn out a re-centralisation of the bureaucracy and the technocratic bourgeoisie as against the traders and buccaneer capitalists. This is not necessarily a radical move but might it signpost the eve of strategically rethinking our business model at last?

Rethinking the business model ought to have been more central to Buhari than the rather inherently complicated anti-corruption war. Market forces hasn’t worked in Nigeria. Unbridled capitalism has broken down in the country simply because it has enriched too few persons at the expense of the vast majority. This was the message in the turn out for Buhari during the campaigns. Those turn outs can only be understood as popular cry against the greed, jealousy, hypocrisy, mendacity and the satanic dispositions that define politics today, reducing the entire society to the lowest level of virtue and nobility as the mundane has become superior to high mindedness and our democracy is not for development but for show. The turn-outs were in response to these material and discursive manifestations of the clever interpretation of a straight forward concept such as deregulation to mean the auctioning of State Owned Enterprises, (SOEs) instead of the welcome opening of the market for competition by all actors. Instead of that, those with agenda pushed a clever argument that the level of corruption was such that government companies could not make profit. Now, they have sold SOEs as scraps mostly to themselves or cronies but with nothing to show in terms of what we did with the proceeds.

We lost on all counts because it is not as if we gained in terms of efficiency either which is what privatisation is about. If you privatise and your goods and services are such that they cannot compete against the Chinese, for example, and you are still talking of the market economy, then what sort of political economist are you? We also lost in the utter lack of a thought for the binding roles these SOEs performed, linking different parts of the country to commonly owned assets such as NEPA, NITEL, the NNPC outlay and so on. And, in most cases, it was done shabbily, such as selling Nigeria Airways not to a Dangote but a foreign concern, something that the Americans would look left, right, left and right again before ever doing, even up to this moment. Here, we went on a flagrant violation of the constitution whose Chapter Two forbids concentration of wealth in few hands. Without even the decency of amending that provision, the share holders organised a bazaar. The result is that today, this is not an economy but wealth that is not anchored on production-speculation. Such is a calamity for any society and we can see in the emerging situation whereby even those who accumulated cannot defend themselves against movements of rage. It is becoming clear that if we do not redistribute, natural law will intervene and do it. And that could be quite unpleasant for everyone as we all experienced under Boko Haram.

So, all the problems that Buhari has prioritised: security, corruption and unemployment derive their origin and character from the business model in the last instance. And the way out might be to retouch the business model. We see the workability of such a strategy in what is going on in the banks and the financial sector just because the government has tightened control of its finances/accounts. Suddenly, the great myth of superlative capabilities bestowed on private enterprise in the past three decades in Nigeria are nowhere to be seen. Retouching the model creatively might, therefore, be what is folding. That is an attempt to reorder the economy from speculation and its associated rottenness to a more guided capitalism as is the case everywhere else in the world. For whatever reasons, the government has not been given that direction the critical celebration it deserves.

What these interesting but still unclear developments in exercise of state power show is how limited the ethnic prism can be in fruitfully analysing some of them. I must, however, stop now before someone labels me a defender of the indefensible. In our country, no one is above being seen as a defender or an attacker. Of course, we are the loser because as such, we keep encountering the same problems all the time and opportunistically shifting our position as we do. Today, we are attackers of lopsided appointments forgetting conveniently that it wasn’t much different yesterday when we were the defenders. Come on!

•Adagbo Onoja writes from Abuja. Onoja, whose photo appears alongside this piece, can be reached via

Source: News Express

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