by Akin Osuntokun
I join President Goodluck Jonathan and other well-wishers to thank God that General Muhammadu Buhari came to no harm in the attack on his convoy two days ago. The bad news is that scores of lesser known mortals lost their lives in the twin bomb attacks in Kaduna. For the record I have just been informed by Dangiwa Umar of how, a while ago, he got President Jonathan to boost the security around Buhari – which he did – with, among other reinforcements, the provision of armoured vehicles for his personal use. Only God knows the role played by these appurtenances in the survival of the general.
In a manner of speaking, this incident was presaged by the relapse of Buhari into the characteristic mould of issuing volatile and inciting statements – itself a culmination of an earlier one by another national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since the outcome of the Ekiti State governorship election, the party appears to have gone into a state of acute paranoia and panic. Contrived or inadvertent, the intensified momentum towards anarchic breakdown of society is an ill wind that will blow nobody any good.
Ironically, a lot of the sabre rattling is really a twisted cry and supplication to Jonathan to help in salvaging the APC from itself-imploring the president to use his good offices to intervene in saving APC governors from being impeached; to pull PDP back from the massive tailwind it gathered from Ekiti State. You have to ask yourself whether this escalation would have materialised if APC had won the election in Ekiti State, if Osun State is not at play, if Nyako had not been impeached, in short if the party is not collapsing on itself.
The way some APC partisans have latched on to the Buhari attack to rope in the president would have been comical were it not so tragic. If anybody should talk of conspiracy theories, the finger pointing may actually be more plausibly directed near home. The instant scapegoating of Jonathan – pointedly precluding Boko Haram as likely suspect – is in itself cause for suspicion. General Buhari had better watch his back against those who would rapidly concoct diversionary excuses for his potential assassination.
Even if Jonathan were to be incredibly naïve politically, he would at least know that Buhari is more useful to him alive than dead. Nothing solidifies support for Jonathan’s candidature better than the personality and potential candidacy of a divisive and polarising Buhari. So why eliminate such a rough and ready mobilisation tool? My thinking is that Buhari is a problem not for Jonathan but for the APC.
Contrariwise and for the same reason of his utility for his political opponent, Buhari has become like a fishbone caught in the throat of the APC. He is the central dilemma figure of the party. He is their most popular candidate, yet, constrained by the exclusive sectarian lop-sidedness of his popularity, he, most likely, would never be a winning bet for the Nigerian presidency.
The most charitable view of the insinuations and allegations being bandied around by people like Nasir el-Rufai is that it is a poor imitation of the wild and scurrilous allegations accusing Jonathan of waging genocide against the north by Murtala Nyako. This not being the case let us hope that this dastardly act is not an indication that some people are just too much in a hurry in the race to succeed Buhari.
SWANSONG FOR REGIONALISM
I’m loath to admit it but regionalism was dead on arrival at the national conference. And the curious revelation was that the agenda would not even have carried the day among the states comprising any of the tentative regions, the zones for instance. The intellectual leadership for regionalism is rooted in the South-west and one would never have imagined that majority of the political elite in the zone would be opposed to it, mooted though the opposition is. The naked reality of the astonishing divergence between the intellectual and political elite on regionalism was an unseemly site to behold. We all share the culpability but I will begin with the most consequential.
Prior to the formation of the APC, the five states comprising the APC in the South-west were at the vanguard of the campaign for the regional integration of the zone. To this end, the intellectual wing of the party, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) in collaboration with other Yoruba groups launched the much heralded Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN). At the approach of the national conference, a 58-page regionalist agenda masterpiece was put together and was promoted as the irreducible minimum for the Yoruba people.
Simultaneously, the APC merger was progressing at a furious pace and it was opposed to the national conference and its agenda including a negotiation for regionalism. Perhaps the opposition made sense because the potential regional core of the party – as represented in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Peoples Democratic People (PDP) splinter group – had never hidden its antagonism to decentralisation and devolution of powers in charting the way forward. In opposing the conference, they hid behind the ostensible reason that the messenger namely President Jonathan had irredeemably contaminated the message.
This is not the first time that the South-west zone or a political tendency therein has posed the dilemma of the conflict between the politics of vision and the politics of expediency. If the presidential candidacy ticket of the APC is going to comprise the far north and the South-west, the issue immediately arises as to the clash of the two conflicting regional visions – as it is conspicuously playing out at the national conference. In the pursuit of this joint venture, it is all but clear that there is no room for regionalist or decentralisation platform.
Similarly and before now, there was the internal debate within the South-west personified Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the NADECO consortium over the utility of participation in the transition to civil rule programme that birthed the Fourth Republic in 1999.
The politics of expediency/participation won over those who argued that the campaign for political restructuring should be taken to the logical conclusion as condition precedent for participation. In like manner, after the civil war, Chief Obafemi Awolowo subordinated his vision of Nigerian federalism to the pragmatic concern of his aspiration to become the president of Nigeria.
Even though I’m mostly inclined to criticise the APC, I have to admit that the remiss encompasses all. Maybe I should begin with myself. I have never felt comfortable with the notion of a one party totalitarian domination of any region especially if it is not my party.
The problem is that this attitude carries with it what Professor Osuntokun calls the negation of the ‘dialectics of irreconcilable intra-regional differences’ in which sub regional units (such as states) find their particularistic interests at odds with regionalist sublimation. The compelling example is the subsisting indisposition of the governing elite of Ondo State to a potential regional arrangement dominated by its political foes.
And I have this nagging suspicion that the followership has second guessed this dissonance. I have not asked them but I fear that the Yoruba nationalism of individuals comprising the South-west may stop short of surrendering and submitting to a regional government arrangement that is not centred in their own state. And I really do not see any state governor countenancing the supreme act of sacrifice of forgoing the prize he won in a virtual do-or-die contest. Yet make no mistake about it, there always exists a palpable sense of pan Yoruba nationalism which tends to be defined by what they don’t want than what they want.
I hold fast to the position that accusations of divisive politics levelled against President Jonathan are not borne out by evidence. I actually believe he is as status quo-bound as they come. I don’t see it in what he says or does, the problem I see is that he was not sufficiently exposed to national politics prior to assuming office as president; and that he is a victim of the inevitable vulnerability of holders of that office to getting appropriated by ethnically extended manipulators who see and contrive enemy apparitions in every nook and cranny of Aso Rock.
The prescription of 75 per cent threshold for arriving at resolutions at the national conference is a statement of intent of a power player who wishes to see and hear no evil of the status quo. More telling is the unnoticed and unremarked eye opener that Bayelsa State purposely stood out to be counted against any regionalist governance restructuring in so far as it pertains to the Niger Delta. And we all know how improbable it is for Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson and the state political elite to take a position without regard to the preferences of their most celebrated son.
The truth of course is that other than the South-west and the South-east, reversal or migration to regionalism for the other zones would prove a most fastidious task master – but then where there is the will, ways will be found. Regardless of the merits, the reality is that regionalism is not presently feasible but other variants of decentralisation and devolution of powers are.
The argument for regionalism is borne of Nigeria’s concrete historical experience which is replete with evidence of its superior utility for the socio economic advancement of Nigeria. Shorn of fleeting superficial masks, the history of Nigeria since 1966 has been one of progressive deterioration sometimes even defying our best efforts. Borne on the wings of the triple dark angels of the civil war, the oil boom (curse) and military dictatorship, Nigeria was fated to arrive at this sorry conjuncture.
If the dead could see, the undying wish of those idealistic young men who sentenced regionalism to the guillotine in the wee hours of January 15, 1966 should be to turn back the hands of the clock and reset Nigeria to the day before. In the words of Andre Gide, “Lucifer once lived in heaven and those who have not met him would not recognise an angel when they see one.”
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Akin Osuntokun/Thisday