Nigeria is on the road to Babylon: a place of confusion. Three years ago, the people were convinced that they had found a messiah who will lead them to the Promised Land, and meet all their expectations. Today, everyone is speaking in different tongues; “turning and turning in the widening gyre…the falcon cannot hear the falconer… things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/The blood-doomed tide is loosed, and everywhere/the ceremony of innocence is drowned…surely, some revelation is at hand…” But just may be, there is still, no cause for despair. The good thing about democracy is that it teaches people lessons – ask them in Malaysia and the United States – and even when the people refuse stubbornly to learn – ask them in Syria, Venezuela, and Libya – the lessons exist nonetheless. But it is a very bad thing not just for democracy but the entire society when the leadership elite ignores apparent lessons and fails the people.
About 23 years ago, we did a series of editorials titled “To save Nigeria.” As our country continues on a journey towards Babylon, such editorials may again be necessary. The pity is that those who are in charge at the centre do not seem to understand this. I once wrote that persons who wield power like a whip – a dated military strategy – that is completely out of place today in a democracy, have surrounded and “captured” President Muhammadu Buhari. But as we can see, their strategy of alienation has failed. This is the biggest challenge facing this government. Each time their strategy fails them; their standard response is to say that the President is not “aware” of whatever transpired. They have been so adept in selling this line to the boss, that the President himself once declared publicly that he was not aware that his Inspector-General of Police ignored, perhaps modified, or changed his instructions and went on a frolic of his own.
Things have not only gotten worse since then, the entire country is in a state of shock, and I won’t be surprised if a funny character shows up before this week runs out to tell us, again, that President Muhammadu Buhari is not aware that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the Chairman of the 8th Assembly has been summoned to appear before the Nigeria Police under the authority of the same Inspector-General of Police who has been having a running battle with the National Assembly and its members – first Senator Isa Misau, then Senator Dino Melaye and now Senator Bukola Saraki. It doesn’t take much intelligence to figure out the script: what has happened between the Senate and the office of the Inspector General of Police is much less about the personalities involved but a lot more about the intra-governmental and intra-party crisis that continues to pose a threat to the Buhari government.
No other government in recent times has been this divided and suicidal. I won’t be surprised anyway if some vocal, genetic trouble-makers on social media (specially made in Nigeria since 2015) argue otherwise but let the point be made that President Buhari’s problems have all been self-inflicted, and his loss of favour within and outside government and the party have been due largely to the saboteurs within.
And if indeed President Buhari is not suffering from what Nigerians call “home trouble”, let someone explain to me why the EFCC is fighting the Department of State Security and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, why the woman who sees the President first thing in the morning and last minute at night inside “the other room” is fighting a so-called cabal and has had cause to chide her husband publicly, why the legislative arm of government has been systematically sabotaging the Executive arm of government and vice versa, why the security agencies have been busy making enemies for President Buhari, and why the judiciary behaves like a frustrated arm of government, and civil servants have had to condemn the government they should serve as obedient servants. I believe that the chickens have now come home to roost with the latest attack on Senate President Bukola Saraki. The drama has reached its climax.
The Inspector-General of Police has summoned Saraki. It is pubic knowledge that this same public officer, Ibrahim Idris, publicly shunned the Senate when he was asked to appear before it. Now, exploiting the powers of his office as the country’s chief police officer, he has declared that Bukola Saraki has a case to answer at the police station in a typical my-Mercedes-is-bigger-than-yours fashion, or for the benefit of those who will remember, if you Tarka-me-I-will-Daboh-you. Senate President Bukola Saraki has been called a thief by this administration. He is now being indicted as the Godfather of Offa Armed Robbers. When a government advertises its No. 3 citizen as a thief and an armed robber, whatever happens, it is the country that loses at the end of the day. It is good news that Saraki has agreed to appear before the police to clear his name. It is also good news – coming in as I write – that someone with some grey matter has quickly intervened and introduced a face-saving measure to wit: Saraki no longer has to go the police, instead, the police will go to him and take his statement.
Before that spoilsport intervention, I was already imagining very ugly optics. Imagine: Saraki would have gone to the Police in Abuja with about two-thirds of the National Assembly of Nigeria in tow. Dino Melaye would have led the pack and organize placards. He and the dancing Senator Adeleke could have added a special dance and song to create colour and tragic melodrama. Without knowing it, the Inspector-General of Police would have created a popularity contest between Saraki and Buhari and between the Executive and Legislative arms of the Nigerian government. In the eyes of the world, that will amount to a serious crisis in Nigeria. So, how does the public disgrace of Senator Saraki help us as a country, or Buhari as President?
Somehow, despite the last minute adjustments, President Buhari’s managers have turned almost the entire National Assembly against him. The Speaker of the House of Representatives who has been so far supportive has also been alienated. The days ahead will not only be very interesting with the do-me-I-do-you tango that has been initiated at the highest levels of this government, the developments will have serious implications for the politics of the 2019 elections.
The Executive arm of government, for sure, has alienated the Federal legislature; it has similarly done the same to the judiciary. The humiliation of judges and lawyers was meant to be part of the war against corruption by the Buhari administration but the selective nature of that assault on the judiciary, and the brazen disregard for the rule of law, has left the entire establishment bruised. Not even under the military were the Bar and the Bench so badly treated. It is obvious that the judiciary is beginning to take its pound of flesh especially at the appellate courts. What kind of government would go out of its way to alienate other arms of government?
The media is the fourth estate of the realm. It has not been spared either. In three years, the Buhari government has managed to intimidate, harass and frustrate the Nigerian media, including freedom of expression on the social media. The relationship between this strategic institution and the government of the day has been propelled more by fear and caution rather than respect. Those media houses that used to be very aggressive under the previous administration have gone into a sit down and look mode. I can reveal for free that although a few sections of the Nigerian media are beginning to crawl out of their shells, the prevailing attitude is rooted in the belief that the media will always have the last say, and what we have is a media establishment that is waiting for the right time to take its own pound of flesh. Obviously, nobody is thinking of President Buhari’s legacy and how it will be remembered. “Making Enemies for the President: How President Buhari Won and Wasted the Presidency” would probably be an appropriate title for a future book.
Just imagine the number of enemies that have been made, and how the number increases almost weekly. Do these guys really want a second term? In 2015, the likes of Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who had contested against President Buhari during the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ate the humble pie and supported him. Today, Atiku has left the APC. He is a leading critic of the same government and party that he helped to create and bring to power. Kwankwaso has been declared a persona non grata in the same state of Kano that he delivered to Buhari during the 2015 elections.
In 2015, President and elder statesman Olusegun Obasanjo wanted President Goodluck Jonathan out of Aso Rock by every means possible. He wrote letters, de-marketed the man locally and internationally and he told the whole world: anyone else but Jonathan. Three years later, Obasanjo is an unwanted guest at Aso Rock. The man he helped to bring to power has publicly dissed him. He has himself had cause to offer Buhari a compulsory reading lesson by referring him to a trilogy: My Watch written by him. Buhari’s attack dogs have warned Obasanjo to keep quiet or he would be dealt with. That is like asking for “double wahala” because Obasanjo is also obviously ready for a show-down. He is leading a Nigerian coalition whose ambition is to do in Nigeria what Mahathir Mohamad has done in Malaysia and if he succeeds, he has enough clout to do far more damage with his pen and mouth, than the entire Nigerian media.
So, who is left with President Buhari? Definitely not President Goodluck Jonathan the man who lost power to him in 2015, and who quietly and dutifully handed over, only to be harassed and hounded later. Not the army of Nigerian youths either who supported Buhari and the APC in the 2015 elections only to be dismissed as an idle and opportunistic lot. Definitely not the social media crowd that carried Buhari on its head as if he was a crate of eggs. Many are those who have since apologized openly to Jonathan and Nigerians for allowing themselves to be misled. And certainly not Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the man who corralled the entire South West into the APC alliance in 2015, and who has been rewarded with ingratitude, insults and marginalization.
His relevance in his own immediate political constituency has just been queried with the rejection of the results of the recent APC party congress in Lagos State on wait for it – constitutional grounds. The APC National Working Committee has the guts to tell Tinubu that he is a law-breaker, and if he is not careful, he too will get the Saraki treatment? Really? The same man who risked everything to make the APC possible? But he knows what is good for him though; he has been wisely quiet. The South East has since turned its back on the Buhari government. Rochas Okorocha, the pro-Buhari governor of Imo state has been shown the handwriting on the wall. Other Igbos having seen how their region was turned into a battle-field are quietly waiting for 2019, to use their voters cards in a more informed manner than they did in 2015.
So, really who is left with the Buhari government? Bukola Saraki, with all the humiliation he has received would have to be an “ogbologbo omo ale” (let some twitter trolls translate that for me), to deploy his political structures in support of Buhari in 2019. He won’t anyway. Already, his political group in the APC alliance- the nPDP has declared that it is no longer interested in any further dialogue with the APC Federal Government. They have opted out. As for Tinubu, he would have to be really naive to go before the Yoruba people in 2019 to ask that they should vote for Buhari again. Rotimi Amaechi who was a leading gladiator in 2015 is still hanging in there, but it would be most strange if he were to be seen acting as he did in 2015. Even up North, the APC is in deep crisis in Benue, Kogi, Bauchi, Kano, Adamawa, Kaduna, Taraba, Sokoto, Kebbi and elsewhere. Last week, in Oyo State, the APC lost the bye-election in Ibarapa East and the ones gloating are not PDP members but factional members of the APC! Where the APC and the Buhari government are right now is not a good place to be in the people’s reckoning.
One Jonathanian phoned me the other day and said this is the God of Jonathan at work! I told him: “I won’t talk like that, I mean: #se-o-mo-age-mi-ni”. But I made this point: that it is the dew that will certainly destroy a house made of spittle; as a man sows so he reaps, the laws of nature are constant and immutable and the ways of God are forever mysterious. Nobody is shaking the Buhari-APC table. They are the ones who have on their own removed the legs from their own table. I have said my own. If some herdsmen are looking for me, tell them I am currently in Abeokuta enjoying Iya Sunday’s amala and ogufe! But also tell them that some of the boys at this table are very angry that Buhari has increased the cost of beer, water, and “smoke”.
Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.