By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, the title of my epistle to you this week is an adaptation of the title of a sitcom which was produced and directed by the legendary Amaka Igwe of blessed memory. No other title better describes and encapsulates the total confusion, chaos and conflagration ongoing in the powerhouse of Aso Rock in Nigeria right now. I swear, it won’t be an exaggeration to say I have never witnessed such rivalry combined with ribaldry, and tomfoolery before.
Let me paint a picture of this ugly scenario as best as I can as a compulsive storyteller. Major General Muhammadu Buhari was Nigeria’s military Head of State from the last day of 1983 to sometime in August 1985. His military rule was hinged on a purported war against indiscipline which seemed to leave certain privileged persons unscathed but ensured that life was more than tough for the usual recalcitrant fellows who were unlucky not to find favour with the government. The administration did not last too long, but it left its indelible mark, for better or for worse, depending on which side of the divide you belonged.
The Babangida coup that guillotined and torpedoed Buhari’s regime wasted no time in hounding Buhari and hauling him into detention. Many would have thought it was the very end for Buhari in the game of politics, but man proposes, and God disposes. Buhari kept a few years in confinement before he was eventually released. And we all thought that any ambition he nursed to return to power was over. Buhari was known to be introverted, a man of few words. He returned home quietly.
The military handed over to a full-fledged civilian administration after the botched “Third Republic” and suddenly soldiers and other military personnel came out of the woodwork in civilian toga to contest elections with their civilian counterparts. It was a mismatch. The military men had more guile, gusto and guts. They also had esprit de corps which they used to their overwhelming advantage. Then suddenly, words reached us that almost from the blues, Buhari was seriously considering coming back from retirement to contest for the post of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, a real reincarnation. He was instantly dismissed by many Nigerians as embarking on an impossible mission. And this proved to be the case. He contested first in 2003 but lost to another retired General and former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo. It was difficult to tell if theirs was a relay race and an exchange of baton. But predictably Buhari lost.
In 2007, Buhari contested again, this time against Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He lost. And cried foul but the judicial umpire ruled otherwise. Buhari did not relent. Indeed, his failures and woes seemed to goad him on. In 2011, he came back to contest against the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan. I was part of this particular race as a Presidential candidate myself, but I flunked and was trounced mercilessly. That’s another story for another day, except that I would say that I learnt the lesson that if you are not a member of a mainstream party you are wasting your time contesting the highest office in the land. Your popularity and good works count for nought. Buhari was palpably frustrated because he felt he had a good chance and there were newspaper headlines which claimed he wept and that he had vowed never to contest again.
However, things were soon to change. The 2015 election season came around. Unexpectedly and surprisingly, given the events of the 2011 election and the aftermath of the results, Buhari’s name was being bandied about as a possible Presidential aspirant of an all-inclusive new opposition group. One thing led to another and Buhari was suddenly considered not just as a potential aspirant but a promising candidate that was capable of dismantling the PDP monopoly and dislodging President Goodluck Jonathan from power. In my view, as a minor participant in the events that culminated in sending PDP packing, Buhari was in the right place at the right time. The lines simply fell into place for him. The stars aligned and his number came up. The Nigerian public was simply fed up with Jonathan and the gross ineptitude and unbridled corruption that characterised his PDP government. This was what catapulted Buhari back into reckoning. Let me put it succinctly, the opposition politicians coalesced in their desperation for power and settled for Buhari’s candidacy despite the many misgivings about him based on what was felt to be his inglorious past. There was hardly any politician or critic of the time who had not said unkind words to and about Buhari on tape and on paper.
But their permutations were as selfish followers who seemed too eager to come in from the bitterly cold wilderness of opposition politics. They based their support for Buhari on the following matters:
One, bring Buhari as a Mandela option, more of a ceremonial figure, to help destroy PDP and serve in the interim, probably for only four years. He himself had said at his age he would serve only one term of four years. His supporters found that attractive because they can then ride on his back to power in four years, almost effortlessly. There was obvious concern that the man would become the scourge and Frankenstein that had been unleashed in his first coming, but the lure of power was too much for the power-hungry supporters. It is noteworthy that at this stage in the planning, there was no cabal, or any of those who would form its core, in sight.
Two, they needed to repackage Buhari as a reformed leader and born-again Democrat because many had raised questions about his dictatorial past. The packagers even toyed with dropping his biggest achievement on earth, the title of Major General, out of fear of a possible backlash about his past. They reassured themselves that Buhari was not really the one in charge of affairs in his first outing as a military Head of State and that his fame or notoriety for delegation of authority would mean that he could be checkmated. So, the theory was that his Vice President, this time again, will do the bulk of the work. This was the reason the job of Vice President, which used to be that of a glorified errand boy, suddenly became popular and competitive and everyone wanted it. Still no one took the invisible cabal into consideration.
Three, the issue of religion was a controversial one hanging around Buhari’s neck like an albatross because of the perception that he’s an Islamic fundamentalist. It was that label that ultimately nullified Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s chances of becoming running mate to Buhari. Buhari himself was too scared of a Muslim/Muslim ticket as this would have provided ammunition for his enemies. Again, it was this desperation not to be tagged a religious bigot that led to picking Pastor Tunde Bakare as Vice Presidential candidate in 2011 and Pastor Yemi Osinbajo in 2015. The unseen cabal supported the choices. No problem.
Four, Buhari’s personal assets were his ascetic and frugal comportment, his supposed incorruptibility, and very strict ability to punish crime. Even his ardent critics would readily agree and admit that Buhari had been well packaged and marketed as the last saint standing in Nigeria. Till this day, Brand Buhari, is yet to be rubbished despite the ghostly rumours of a shadowy past.
Five, the insecurity in the land was another major consideration. Who else but Buhari can exterminate the nuisance terrorists and terrorism that had been constituted and seemingly consecrated in Nigeria? It was as if Buhari possessed some talismanic power to disperse Boko Haram and its likes from the forests of a thousand daemons.
To achieve all these, it was absolutely necessary to assemble the good and the bad into one huge party. The desperation to win at all cost necessitated the move to proliferate the new mega party with saints and sinners. Buhari was no longer under any illusion about the mega costs and expense of political campaigns and how the bad guys must fund it. The hidden cabal had no objection to the association of strange bedfellows. All PDP renegades were welcome. Large sums of donations and private jets came handy. Win, we must.
I’m sure, you can see I love history and telling stories by moonlight. I’m leading you somewhere, indeed to a nice crescendo, because we must never forget how we got here. We all worked in unison, there was no other way to arrive at our destination. The elections came and the coalition forces won spectacularly! The world rejoiced. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of total confusion. Major participants came forward with their plates and cutlery thinking they were partners in progress, entitled to large chunks of the fat meat they had all helped to roast. But not a few of them were soon told to calm down. Yes, there was a new Sherriff in town, but he had come complete with a hitherto unknown team which was not prepared to share the spoils with all comers. So, trouble started. Too much time was wasted in getting a simple, uninspiring cabinet together. All we had and heard were cacophonous excuses and free for all punches from every direction as to why a government in which there was invested great hope and expectation was showing crassness, ineptitude and cluelessness. Even the wife of the President, Lady Aisha Buhari, soon cried out. She became the leading critic of a government of which her husband is the head and she fingered a powerful cabal as the cause of our woes.
Anyway. The first term of four years soon evaporated as we all knew it would. Time always flies. The President sought a second term and got it, by fire and by force. A substantial credit must go to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who staked everything to promote his boss and project his party. He nearly worked himself to the point of death. Frankly speaking, his reputation suffered a collateral damage in the process of struggling to defend the indefensible. Unsuspecting, and probably suffering from political naivety, he went overboard and stepped on so many toes. Also unknown to him, the battle for 2023 had already started in earnest well before the ink had dried on the paper that the election results had been written upon. Osinbajo would soon be the fall guy and whipping boy of a group of desperate politicians intent on cornering the Nigerian conglomerate and clasping it to their bosom forever.
According to one analysis, the North is not interested in rotating any Presidential position. They want to hold on fastidiously and ceaselessly to power. Other regions can fight themselves for the remaining slots. The South believes that the principle of rotation which has unwittingly been foisted on the nation means that it is their turn. Thus, two major groups have already shown subliminal signs of wanting to contest, one in the North and one in the South, Nasir El Rufai and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, respectively. Both groups are suspicious of what they consider surreptitious and clandestine moves by friends of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to spring a surprise at the most auspicious time. He has therefore become their number one target. Since he is fair game, he is being used for target practice, but the anointed man of God knows that all power lies with God and that no evil can befall those that God has chosen. He refuses to play their game nut simply continues to smile. Indeed, that smile seems like a playful knowing smile. Time will tell.
The cabal is not left out of the shenanigans. Although El Rufai is supposedly a putative member of the larger group, the innermost core of the cabal seems to have some interest in Baba Gana Kingibe, at least for now. That is if they are not hiding a darker horse in a cave and using Baba Gana as a red herring, in typical fashion of the underhand and sinister way they have been playing their politics. There are other ambitious Governors and former Governors who are interested but perching or lying low in the grass like rattlesnakes. For now, they all have a common enemy they must crush urgently, Yemi Osinbajo. The reason is simple. The longer he stays with Buhari, the more powerful and visible he becomes. His access to state apparatus and appurtenances of office will be a major advantage to his cause and a debilitating weapon against their interests. So, they have started the elimination process. Take out Osinbajo and let’s have a level playing field is what they all seem to be agreed upon. They are dancing ‘kpalongo’ to their own music, but it is Osinbajo who seems to be dictating the tune for now, much to their chagrin.
No one knows where Buhari belongs in all these groups. Will he allow them to terminally damage his Vice President and present him a weak replacement? Will he in good conscience believe the campaigns of calumny and hate and abandon a man who gave his government some credibility? Not that it really matters who becomes their candidate ultimately but will their ever be an end to this cycle of chicanery? The world is watching and waiting to see the climax of this war, with bated breath…
For now, it is all noise and fury, a bit like some Fuji music!