After a short interlude from its near implosion over the choice of its legislative leadership, the APC should be back on its road to disintegration this month with the choice of Buhari’s ministers. That choice has been delayed for over 100 days under the guise that the president was being punctilious in ensuring only men of proven integrity would make the list.
But the truth of the matter is that the choice of ministers is fraught with great danger for Buhari and the future of the APC.
APC is not really a political party; it is a coalition of political parties. That coalition includes Tinubu’s ACN, Buhari’s CPC, the ANPP, Rochas Okorocha’s wing of APGA and the defecting members of the PDP – the nPDP. The problem of the APC lies in the very nature of its motley crew. The party is a coalition of strange and unlikely bedfellows united only by one common cause – the desire to come out of the cold and attain political power. Having now achieved that agenda by capturing the presidency, APC stalwarts have nothing left in common.
The task at hand pertains to sharing the spoils of electoral success among the constituent parts of the coalition, and this has been done with daggers drawn. In the process, the APC has effectively lost the legislature that it won on the battlefield of the election. The legislature is now controlled by the nPDP wing of the party, which quickly formed a treacherous alliance with its old allies in the PDP. This is payback for what the APC did in the heydays of PDP supremacy when Tambuwal became Speaker against the wishes of his party but in treacherous coalition with the opposition.
Buhari has not helped matters by his double-standards. He preached the gospel of party supremacy to little effect when it came to the choice of leaders of the legislature. But when it was time to make his appointments, he ignored the party and only chose men loyal to him. Moreover, Buhari went back to his roots of ethnocentrism. He became a champion of Northern supremacy and filled critical posts with his Northern acolytes, largely ignoring the South.
With the party ignored, the ACN wing lost out because it controls the main organs of the party. The vice-presidency is hardly its consolation prize because everybody knows the post is only as powerful or as inconsequential as the president makes it. All the signs show that Osinbajo will be an inconsequential vice-president. He is a man without political muscle who was not even allowed to attend a national security briefing on spurious grounds.
Therefore, if Bola Tinubu does not become the Chairman of the APC Board of Trustees, the ACN wing of the party is likely to go shopping for new partnerships. Needless to say, there are many in the fractured APC, especially from the North, who are nevertheless determined that Tinubu should be given the post.
For the time-being, the battle royal is over the choice of ministers. This really should not be too difficult a task because each state is constitutionally entitled to a ministerial portfolio. However, the APC is caught on the horns of a dilemma, for the simple reason that it campaigned for the election on the basis of a lie. It campaigned as an anti-corruption party. But in reality, it is a so-called anti-corruption party comprising mostly corrupt politicians.
APC politicians are not interested in anti-corruption. Anti-corruption was a means to an end – the attainment of political power. Now in power, APC politicians would rather quietly forget about anti-corruption the same way they have denied major parts of their campaign promises, except that Buhari keeps making an issue of it. This is because, as we have now discovered from his first 100 days in office, Buhari has no other political agenda than anti-corruption.
As a result, the APC is now caught in its own anti-corruption rhetoric. Buhari has been confronted with the difficulty of constituting an anti-corruption cabinet from his corrupt APC colleagues. His dilemma is that the people who put him in power are not the saints suggested by APC campaign rhetoric. Therefore, he has been unable, in over 100 days, to find a few good men among his party faithful; 36 to be exact. Moreover, the long time it has taken him has only worsened matters for him and his party by narrowing his choices.
When you take that long to come up with 36 names out of 170 million Nigerians, ostensibly on the grounds that you are determined to choose only saints and not sinners, you cannot then end up with the chieftains of the APC without having to answer the question why it took you so long to choose known quantities. Moreover, when you fight an election shouting “change,” the people expect a change of personnel. But how can Buhari bring that about without betraying those who toiled for him to attain the presidency?
In the “politricking” that has attended the president’s indecisiveness in choosing his cabinet, the reputations of the APC men of ‘timber and caliber’ have been dented. Allegations of corruption have been levelled against a number of them, including Amaechi, Fashola and Kwankwaso. These allegations have not come from opposition PDP elements. They have come primarily from fellow APC members, determined to ensure that certain people are not included in the president’s cabinet.
Buhari’s dilemma in sorting this out will be played out in the coming weeks now that he has finally declared that his long-awaited ministerial list will be publicised before the end of September. The question that arises is this. Will the president reward those who toiled to put him in power, even though they no longer meet his halo of sainthood, if in fact they ever did? Or will he ignore them and go for untried and untested saints who shed no blood and tears for his election? Either way, there is going to be trouble ahead.
If Buhari’s cabinet does not reward the likes of Tinubu, Amaechi, Fashola, and other known APC political work-horses, this might accelerate the disintegration of the APC – a disintegration which began, as observed, with the choice of the leaders of the legislature and gathered pace with Buhari’s lopsided Northern appointments. The losers in the coming ministerial sweepstakes are likely to engineer a new coalition with the PDP to frustrate Buhari’s government. If, on the other hand, Buhari uses his ministerial appointments to pay back his political debts, he can bid goodbye to all pretensions about his change and anti-corruption agenda.
Having attained the presidency on the back of the APC coalition, a feat he could not achieve on his own within his party (CPC) on three previous attempts, Buhari now seems inclined to rule without the party in the name of anti-corruption. Having boxed himself into a corner with the anti-corruption rhetoric, he is now struggling to choose anti-corruption ministers. However, the people who helped him to attain the presidency are not anti-corruption. The money that financed his campaign was not anti-corruption. The people who rigged the polls for him were not anti-corruption. The underage children who voted for him in large numbers were not anti-corruption. What this means is that Buhari’s anti-corruption stance spells doom for the APC.
Why would an APC man want to be a minister in Buhari’s government if he is not going to be allowed to enrich himself? If money cannot be made from political office, it will lose all its attraction to the current crop of APC politicians, most of who have no interest whatsoever in anti-corruption. My guess is that some people would not even want to be considered for public office under the present dispensation, without the guarantee that it will be business as usual. Why become a minister under Buhari if you might end up in jail doing what Nigerian politicians have always done? Who goes into politics in Nigeria if not to make money?
Anti-corruption means Buhari is going to end up fighting his allies in the APC. Anti-corruption means Buhari cannot reward his APC allies with juicy jobs. Anti-corruption means Buhari cannot tell his allies: “come and chop.” Anti-corruption means Buhari is going to betray his allies. One thing is certain, they are not going to take this lying down. They are going to fight him. If possible, they can even end up by looking for an excuse to get rid of him. In the first-coming of Buhari, he was overthrown by his allies. If he does not play his cards right, his second-coming may be no different from his first.
Return on investment
Imagine a situation where an opposition APC politician has spent the last 16 years in the political wilderness, watching while his PDP colleagues made a killing. In the last election, he spent his fortune buying votes and is finally elected into office. Now that he has been elected, it is time to recoup his losses in the usual manner by cornering government funds. But then he is confronted by Buhari’s anti-corruption rhetoric. This tells him to accept salary cuts and perquisite cuts. It tells him to toe the straight and narrow of accountability and anti-corruption.
What do you expect him to do? Do you expect him to become a disciple of anti-corruption? If he does, he gets no return on the investments he made in order to get into office. Or do you expect him to say: “If Buhari does not want to make money; that is his business. I am in politics to make money.” Already, APC governors have made the president understand that, while he chose to declare his assets publicly, after a fashion that did not entail the disclosure of exactly how much his assets are worth; they have no intention of disclosing their own assets to Nigerians.
That is a message to Buhari that he should keep up the anti-corruption façade but should not expect them to join him in that lost cause. The reality is that APC politicians fought the PDP on the anti-corruption platform because it was a convenient strategy for them. But having attained power, don’t expect them to be anti-corruption. Anti-corruption was a means to an end. Anti-corruption cannot be the end. However, anti-corruption is the only thing Buhari has going for him. Therefore, I predict that Buhari is in for a fight; and it is a fight I don’t think he is likely to win even though the Nigerian public is on his side.
Saints and sinners
In effect, Buhari’s ministerial list is likely to create a new APC. This new APC might well be men and women of integrity. They may well be men and women of impeachable character. But they will have one major impediment: they will not be known politicians, and they will have no political muscle. They will not come from the main fabric of the APC. They will not be those who laboured to put him in power. They will not be those who have the financial muscle to keep him in power. They will be seen by those in the APC as men and women who have come to reap where they did not sow. The answer to this debacle by APC timber and caliber will be: “To your tents, O Israel. We have no part in Buhari.”
The first problem will be to get these Buhari “saints” approved by the “sinners” in the legislature. There is likely to be a lot of argy-bargy if, as is being speculated, the president’s team comprises the Pat Utomis and Femi Falanas; men not known to be APC foot-soldiers. Men not even card-carrying members of the APC. Giving ministerial posts to the non-APC men and women while sending the APC faithful into ambassadorial exile is unlikely to inspire party loyalty or commitment. In the final analysis, it might ensure that Buhari can only be a one-term president; replaced by a more politically astute Northerner in 2019.
And then, there will come the challenge of requiring these Buhari “saints” to be answerable to the “sinners” of the legislature, according to the Nigerian Constitution. Will the “saints” not have to become “sinners” if they are to get things done? How will they get their budgets approved without the usual inducements that have been the trademark of our legislative process? That is likely to be another of the challenges of Buhari’s “changi” for the simple reason that Nigerians bought the rhetoric but failed to elect anti-corruption politicians.
Nigeria desperately needs an anti-corruption government. However, that government cannot be provided by the APC as presently constituted, and it cannot be provided by Buhari. Buhari is not the leader of an anti-corruption movement. Such a movement does not yet exist in Nigeria. An anti-corruption government cannot result from the kind of flawed election we had this year. It cannot emanate from the current crop of politicians, whether APC or PDP.
Buhari preaches the gospel of anti-corruption but surrounds himself with and is indebted to corrupt APC politicians. He preaches against the corruption of the PDP but overlooks the corruption of the APC. He preaches anti-corruption, but he was elected with corrupt funds. He claims a determination to probe the Jonathan administration, but says he will not probe the Yar’Adua or Obasanjo administrations. Buhari’s insistence on anti-corruption in spite of the contradictions of the APC is likely to open a Pandora’s Box. This can of worms might remove the Teflon currently surrounding Buhari himself.
Femi Aribisala is a scholar and international affairs expert. He is currently an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria. He tweets from@FemiAribisala.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.