The conventional wisdom is that the result of the last presidential election was simply a matter of an unpopular president Goodluck Jonathan losing to a more popular candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Well, it’s not really as simple as that. Over three years ago – indeed, shortly after his election in 2011 – I had done a-3-part series, which eerily predicted the outcome of Jonathan’s administration and his eventual electoral fate.
I am reproducing the article here for you, dear readers, to see for yourself how history often repeats itself. And how right I was three years ago…. The series began last month
President Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence was as we would say in football lingo, against the run of play. It is only the brinksmanship of an Obasanjo, with his prodigious strength of character, that would have made a President Jonathan a credible possibility. But the lesson of Nigeria’s history is that it is one thing to attain power and quite another thing to exercise power effectively.
Part of the unsavoury consequences of the civil war is the irrelevance of the former Eastern region in Nigeria’s power equation. Since the end of the civil war, the areas consisting of the old Eastern region have been almost excluded from the inner caucus of power in the country. So they have been unable to develop the structures which underpin political power at the centre.
As a result, Jonathan emerged President on a very weak footing. His weaknesses were immediately apparent. His initial step of reaching out to Rtd. General T.Y. Danjuma was an act of desperation, signaling his helplessness. Danjuma was to be his stabilizing force. Since then of course, he has made a few appointments especially within the military and intelligence circles to reinforce his position and anchor his power more firmly.
But is that enough? Is he now strongly entrenched enough to exercise power and authority firmly as Executive President, in the manner of his predecessors? Is he able to project authority in the way the constitution envisaged or is he going to be a cipher, a titular head who would reign while others rule? Given the wide spread angst against his presidency within certain section of the North; is there a possibility, no matter how remote, of a repeat of the July 1966 crisis? More importantly, does Jonathan realize the historic significance of his presidency and its symbolic importance to millions of Nigerians, especially in the South East and South South? Does it matter to him that over 90% of eligible voters in these regions voted for him? Did he get the message they were trying to send? And if he did, how does he intend to respond?
In order to resolve these posers satisfactorily, we would identify the several indices of power and determine how President Jonathan weighs against each.
From the outbreak of the war to the emergence of Jonathan as President, the military and security services were dominated by the North and the South West. Indeed, Northern dominance of the Nigerian Armed Forces started with the civil war and continued thereafter. Before the war, the Armed Forces and Security services were more diffused with very significant Eastern region presence. The first Chief of Army Staff, the late Maj.-General J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi who later became the first Military Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was an Easterner. There were several other ranking Eastern region officers in the various arms of the Armed Forces. But the civil war affected the make-up of the armed forces fundamentally.
The Federal Forces consisted mostly of Northern and South Western officers. So by the end of the war, the Nigerian army effectively became the army of two regions; North and South West, with the former being the dominant group. Sir Ahmadu Bello’s prescience in promoting Northern influence in the armed forces, paid off handsomely. Thus in an era when Nigeria was ruled by the military, the country became a defacto government of the Northern army.
The Northern influence in the Nigerian military was so permissive that Hausa language became the unofficial lingua franca of the military. This columnist has it on good authority that even during meetings of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, AFRC, the Hausa language was often freely used. Apart from Obasanjo who became Commander-In-Chief by virtue of the death of Gen. Murtala Mohammed, the only other non-Northerner to head the Army was Lt.-General Alani Akinrinade (rtd). Before him, no other Southern officer rose to the rank of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) considered to be the most strategic appointment in the military. It was Obasanjo who tapped him for the office at the eve of his exit. However, Akinrinade’s tenure was cut short by the first civilian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari who brought in a Northerner to replace him not too long after his assumption of office. His replacement resumed a long tradition of Northern dominance of the position. Interestingly, it was the same Obasanjo who appointed another Southerner, General Azazi to be the second Southerner to head the Armed Forces after Akinrinade, in post-war Nigeria. It is noteworthy that Yar’Adua brought in a Northerner to replace Azazi during his tenure.
It is therefore obvious that the Armed Forces is strategic and crucial in the control of political power, even in a democracy. Tunisia and Egypt provide enduring lessons on the relevance of the military. In both countries, the refusal of the military to support their beleaguered Presidents marked their downfall. On the contrary, both Maomar Ghadafi of Libya and Hafez Assad of Syria have continued in power because of the support of their military. Given the increasing security challenges in Nigeria and the growing possibility of sectarian conflicts, the importance of the armed forces cannot be overestimated. Thus for Jonathan to be firmly in office and in power, it is clear that he must be in control of the military and security forces. He has made a good start in that regards. But it is not enough to take control of the leadership of the armed forces. He has to critically examine the officer corps, the Divisional Commanders, even brigade commanders and other strategic units and intelligence arms. The struggle for power in Africa and indeed elsewhere in the world is not a tea-party. For a President to succeed in a turbulent democracy such as Nigeria’s, where the institutions of state are so weak, he has to develop a strong personality and dominate the political space. Obviously, a vulnerable President cannot dominate!
Wealth and Access to Money
Money is very central to political power, even in the United States, which many regard as the ideal democracy; money is the most crucial determinant of power. In Nigeria where wealth is usually a derivative of power, it means that since the Eastern region has been cut off from the power loom since the war, many Easterners have not been wealthy. Now I do not mean the two-bit millionaire Igbo traders. I mean the kind of wealth the Abachas, Abdulsalamis, Babangidas, Tinubus, Obasanjos, etc have accumulated. If you really want to know who and who are really rich in Nigeria, then check out the list of oil dealers; those who lift oil and those who own oil blocks. One other irony of the Nigerian state is that though the oil is located in the East, those who have benefitted mostly from it are not Easterners.
During the 2nd and 3rd republics, any Easterner who aspired to power usually went North to look for money. But for providence and Obasanjo, it would have been interesting to see how Jonathan would have gathered the resources to prosecute a presidential campaign. Now that he is in power, it will be interesting to see how Jonathan is empowering his people. During the Presidency of ShehuShagari, Northern Alhajis acquired the import licenses which they sold to Igbo traders usually at a hefty premium. Now, who are those who win the multi-billion naira contracts? Who get the oil blocks? Who win the licenses to lift crude? Who are appointed into the juicy ministries? In short, who are given the licenses to make money? Recently, this Newspaper conducted a research to determine the ten biggest players in corporate Nigeria. Of the ten names published, not even one was from the former Eastern region. An AlikoDangote, a Mike Adenuga, a Femi Otedola and a Jimoh Ibrahim is bigger than virtually any state in Jonathan’s part of town. And none of them is his kinsman! Each of these individuals was a product of a power system which created the enabling framework for them to emerge and succeed exceedingly. So, if you are wondering what is stopping Jonathan, maybe you will be comforted to know that I am wondering as well.
The Strategic Media
One of the indices of power, especially in a democracy, is ownership of the mass media. Long before this reporter wore diapers, operators in the power arena had identified the media as a crucial element in the perennial struggle to win, control and sustain power. Hitler, a consummate power player, realized the invaluable power of the mass media and so he put the famed Goebbels to effective use. Politics and power are sustained by propaganda, which is a direct product of the mass media. That is why in authoritarian states, ownership and control of the media are heavily restricted.
The aphorism that power flows from the ball-pen, still holds true, even though revisionist historians, pressured by the spectere of coups and counter-coups in the Africa of the late 21st century would rather opine that power flows from the barrel of the gun. In liberal societies, the mass media is not only a thriving industry, it is also a strong instrument of power. Indeed, the ability to influence, manipulate and control public opinion is essential in determining the control of power.
In Nigeria, mainly due to the realities of its late start in Western education, the North has lagged behind in the ownership and control of the mass media. Yet, the Northern oligarchy understood the power of the press, so it used its position in the Federal Government to support and finance the New Nigerian Newspaper, an ostensible Federal Government owned institution, which mainly promoted and defended Northern interests. In the words of a former editor of the Newspaper, Mohammed Haruna, “that was the main reason the newspaper was set up.”
During her tenure as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright famously said that “CNN was the sixth member of the United Nations Security Council.”
In Nigeria, the mass media is primarily owned, controlled and dominated by the South West. In the muted battled for the control of Nigeria, the South West took over the media while the North retained the military and political power. He who controls the media actually controls the minds of the people. In Nigeria, the media have often functioned as the alternate government. In the last fifteen years, its power and influence have grown almost exponentially, especially in the pro-June 12 struggle and its aftermath. An adjunct member of the mass media fraternity are the civic organizations, including the plethora of human rights organizations, trade unions and even increasingly, Pentecostal Christian movements.
At the informal level, all these groups are led by the veteran activist, Wole Soyinka and the successive generation of activists he has spawned. Unknown to many Nigerians, a serious disquiet arose about four years ago, among the South West elite that the regain was losing its dominance of the mass media to the South South. This was in recognition of the South South growing strength in mass media ownership. Some of the more notable newspaper titles are owned by indigenes of the South South; Guardian, Thisday, Vanguard, Daily Independence. They also dominate the electronic media with Silverbird, Channels, AIT. Perhaps to underline the importance of the media, the South West moved and reclaimed the top spot with Bola Tinubu, Gbenga Daniel and Jimoh Ibrahim establishing media empires.
The lack of strong South East presence in the mass-media is indicative of the zones near irrelevance in Nigeria’s political calculus. There is hardly an Igbo perspective to national issues, whether political, economic or social. The growing impotence of the South East is underlined by its muted voice and lack of a mouthpiece. Even Orji Kalu’sSunNewspapers, successful on the newsstand as it is, is effeminate and does not pack a punch! If you probe deeply, its dilemma arises from the fact that it does not have any original perspective to advocate, which in itself epitomizes Kalu’s pathetic viscosity.
However, what is remarkable is that despite the significant South South presence in mass media ownership, the Nigerian press is still dominated by the South West. The intellectual vision and world view of the press is decidedly western in thought, in logic and in spirit. The reason for this is simple, even though it may not be immediately obvious to the un-discerning. The South South is virtually an extension of the South West. Thanks to Awo’s masterful politics, the South South states of Edo and Delta are virtually South Western in their politics and world view. That was why the AG, the UPN and the AC have all enjoyed popular following in the South South.
At any rate, there was no South South for the greater part of Nigerian history. The South South states of Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa and AkwaIbom share more features in common with the South East, with which they owe a historical, socio-economic and even cultural legacy. So in the mass media, the South South is actually Yoruba. And at any rate, whereas the South South may own the newspapers, it is the South West intellectual manpower that run them. Even more crucially, it is the South West world view that they espouse, even when such is disguised as pro-democracy, human rights and anti-corruption crusades.
The South West has used the media adroitly in the last two decades, first to act as a bulwark against Northern domination of political power and secondly to fight for South West control of political power. That campaign took different forms and shapes, from anti-military, pro-democracy to anti-corruption and human rights crusade. However, all of them conduced to one core issue — control of political power by the South West. That power was won in 1999 by OlusegunObasanjo. It also sustained him in office.
The media never went for President Obasanjo’s jugular, except during the anti-3rd term agenda which was also an internal battle. Unknown to many, it was former Lagos state Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who mobilized the media to wage that war, because he saw the 3rd term agenda as a real and imminent threat against his vested political and other strategic interests. The truth therefore, is that the mass media is a veritable tool of political power struggle and control by the South West.
I may be mistaken, but I strongly believe that when the mass media was campaigning for power shift, I am not sure that they meant an Igbo or an Ijaw as president. The reality of an Ijaw man in the presidency now has upturned the apple cart and created a new dynamic in uncharted territories. How will it play out? What will be the historic character of the Jonathan presidency? What fundamental logic will underpin its vision and world view? Who and what, will frame its logic and who and what, will make its case?
Whose Govt is it, anyway?
The hard reality of Nigerian politics, civilian and military, is that governments even though ostensibly national in outlook, are in reality; narrow, ethnic and sectional. This is perhaps understandable, since Nigeria is a young nation, struggling very hard to achieve true nationalism. The main challenges of a young nation are often the lack of well developed and structured institutions of state which are usually the main anchors of a viable nation state.
So governments in developing nations often tend to depend on ethnic support as the main pillar of their governance. Indeed, the agitation for power shift and power rotation in Nigeria often derive from this reality. In other parts of the world, the contest is usually among political parties. Because the North and South West have been in power severally in the past, they have developed the institutions that underpin governments. The East has never really had the chance. Zik was a ceremonial president, while AguiyiIronsi was virtually a passenger. His callous and brutal murder underlined in bold letters the impotence of the East. Since Ironsi’s death, and the subsequent civil war, the East has remained a spectator in the pulsating drama of Nigeria’s politics.
Jonathan’s emergence however, is a tacit recognition by Nigeria’s power structure of the South South’s growing influence. That influence has been given added impetus in recent years by the strident campaign of the Niger Delta militants. The reality is that the South South has become a potent member of Nigeria’s power class. Unknown to many, it has become the richest zone in Nigeria with a total revenue in excess of N3 trillion, which is slightly lower than the national budget. But some have argued and there is some merit in the argument, that Jonathan’s emergence was part of the alleged campaign by the Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani oligarchy to further hold down the Igbo. (The usual political equation in Nigeria is to pair up the Igbo with the Hausa/Fulani North.) But in one bold stroke, OlusegunObasanjo changed the equation and altered the trajectory of Nigeria’s political history.
One of the most significant developments of the current political dispensation is the unprecedented Igbo support Jonathan received during the presidential election. However, as with most things Igbo,that support has not been accorded its due historical importance. Without dwelling too much on the issue, the reasons are obvious. The Igbo lack the mass media outlet to celebrate the issue and others couldn’t care less. In numerical strength, the Igbo unarguably packs the biggest homogenous political punch in voting numbers, never mind the voting figures per zone. The Igbo spread offers clear advantages. So their early identification with the Jonathan bid made the latter’s candidacy viable and forced other ethnic nationalities especially the Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani, to engage with Jonathan.
However, having won power, it will be interesting to see how Jonathan interprets his presidency. The South South or his Ijaw ethnic nationality, lacks the numbers and structure to anchor his power in the usual Nigerian tradition. So what will he do, in order to secure his presidency? Will he define his office in the context of a broad South East and South South collective, in which case he would incorporate the Igbos as part of his natural constituency and so offer himself a stronger base and greater chances of not only survival in office, but also success? Or will he pursue a nebulous concept of national government that will be only beholden to the Nigerian people and anchored on the ennobling virtues of nationalism?
The former prospect offers the most pragmatic, practical and viable option. Ordinarily, it should also be the most natural. But it is not as easy as it may seem. Space constraints will not allow me to explain why, but suffice it to say that it is hobbled abinitio. It is the preference of many Igbos, but sadly for them, it is not likely to happen. Nevertheless, towards the 2015 presidential elections, especially if Jonathan is interested in a 2nd tenure, he will make some show of promoting a pan Eastern platform. But then it might be too little, too late.
Jonathan’s preference will be the latter option, the nationalist foremost characteristic, with Nigerians from different ethnic groups occupying strategic positions in his government and playing crucial roles. Already you can hear the sound bite; transformational government. But is that advisable, even if it were practical? Ideally, it would be nice to have a different approach to governance anchored on a new vision of Nigeria as one country of shared vision and common destiny. But it is a premature concept now. That day is still a long way off. The basic instinct of the Nigeria power class is still to cohere according to origin.That was why when AlhajiUmaru Musa Yar’Adua was president, he entrusted some of the most important offices to a select list of Northerners, for instance: Minister of Petroleum Resources; RilwanuLukman (Kaduna), Chief Economic Adviser; TaminuYakubuKurfi(Katsina), Minister of Finance; ShamsudeenUsman (Kano), CBN Governor; SanusiLamidoSanusi(Kano), Minister of Finance; Mansur Muhtar (Kano), National Security Adviser; Saiki Mukhtar(Kaduna).Chief of Army Staff.
A nationalist government would depend on strong institutions of state to underpin it. These are lacking in Nigeria today. So a government anchored on such is either an exercise in extreme idealism or a manifestation of political naivety. My worry, which indeed is the crux of this write up, is that the price for such naivety may be too high and even fatal. Indeed, for any government in Nigeria to anchor its survival on such premise, it has to be a decidedly revolutionary government, in the mould of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Jerry Rawlings’ Ghana and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Such a government must totally jettison the old order and usher in a new epoch that will be anchored on the people. I am not quite certain that Jonathan is in the mould of such a revolutionary.
In order to succeed and more crucially survive in office, Jonathan has to set up structures to sustain his presidency. In order words, he has to develop his own anchors and stand firmly on his own legs. Whereas it is possible to attain power on borrowed legs, sustaining same is not usually viable.
Generations of leaders have had to jettison their borrowed legs and grow their own. Every leader defines an era, but that is not usually possible if the leader is merely seen as a transitional personality, occupying a holding position. To succeed in office, he has to project power and demonstrate strength.
President Jonathan is not the first minority to rule Nigeria. General Yakubu Gowon holds that record. But he is the first indigene of a minority to be elected President. That election was historic in several respects. In so many ways it can be argued and correctly so, that it marked a coming of age for the Nigerian polity and its democracy. Jonathan’s basic responses to the challenges and opportunities presented by his election are very encouraging and indicative of his firm resolve to engineer a Nigerian renaissance. The appointments he has made so far underline this reality. Unlike his immediate predecessor, the late UmaruYar’Adua, who concentrated key national offices to his North West geopolitical zone, Jonathan has ensured an even spread of strategic national offices. As a result, every geo-political zone is adequately represented thereby giving every group a sense of belonging and thus reinforcing national unity.
Nevertheless, as commendable as that is, it is simply not enough. In order for Jonathan to succeed in office and achieve his vision, he has to mobilize the pan Nigerian cabinet he has formed and the Nigerian people towards the attainment of his vision of Nigeria. There is nothing like a collegiate presidency in a democracy, especially in a presidential system of government. In a presidential system, it is the President who is the top dog. As the one time USA President Harry S. Truman, famously remarked, “the buck stops on my table!” President Jonathan must ensure that it is his vision that inspires the business of government. For a president to be assertive in a democracy is not hubrisor tyranny. It simply goes with the territory. It is quite clear to all discerning observers that Nigeria needs a new beginning. President Jonathan should initiate that re-awakening by re-defining the Nigerian reality. He can and should give Nigeria a new dream and catalyse the process of attaining it. In Nigeria’s historical epoch, his presidency should represent a definite movement in a certain direction. It should not just be a mere transition.
Given Nigeria’s complex socio-political environment, it is possible that President Jonathan adopted a consensual and collegiate approach to governance in a deliberate effort to obviate friction and ensure harmony in the polity. It may also be a survival mechanism to assure his presidency. On the surface, such an approach may appear reasonable and even pragmatic. However, when you look deeper, its key virtue might only be convenience. But in power dynamics, what is virtuous may not always be expedient. Any approach that would make Jonathan merely a titular head, is not worth it. A President is either in power or he is not. The core reason some of us supported the Jonathan presidency and worked assiduously towards its realization was in order to effect the desired change in our country.
All patriots should fight to ensure that he is not held hostage by reactionary forces and that he remains true to the core ideals on whose platform he contested for the presidency and for which the Nigerian people voted for him so massively.
My deep worry and indeed anxiety, is that he would face severe challenges, many of them simulated in order to test his resilience. He lacks natural defence mechanisms given the disabilities of the Eastern region. So if he relies on the natural goodness of the Nigerian people, he may have a rude awakening. The path of wisdom is for him to establish or facilitate the establishment of such structures among his South South and South East peoples, which will act as a bulwark in his defence and the promotion of his vision. I worry that in the run-up to 2015, the South West political elite and intelligentsia will forge an alliance with the North against Jonathan.
The true nature of the new Yoruba political profile under the leadership of Ahmed Tinubu, has not been very well defined. My hot bet is that an alliance between Tinubu’s ACN and any number of Northern political parties, is a strong possibility. In order to prepare the grounds for that eventuality, I foresee heavy media attack on the Jonathan administration within a year into his presidency, profiling him as ineffectual, visionless and even incompetent. That will be relentlessly promoted in the public space as a national consensus and the administration will be inexorably tarred. Thus we could have a Jimmy Carter scenario. Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer and former Governor of Georgia, offered Americans a whiff of fresh air in his successful campaign for the presidency. But his presidency soon unraveled and he became something of a joke and he inevitably lost the presidential re-election to President Ronald Reagan in the biggest landslide in USA presidential election history.
Jonathan also appears to be staking too much faith on the North, offering so many strategic positions to Northerners, to the extent of even sharing power with the Northern power broker, SanusiLamidoSanusi, in a mind boggling arrangement totally alien to democratic governance in modern history. Well, all I say is, he should ask Ironsi. History, Santayana famously wrote, teaches us that man never learns from it. But it is the infamous admonition of Karl Marx that intrigues me, “History usually repeats itself; first as tragedy and second as farce.”
Sadly, neither Jonathan nor many other people I know, appear interested in history.