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Some Reflections on Elite Dynamics 

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By Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” – William Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 1 (1597)

Every electoral defeat comes with a backlash, within and without. Those hitherto comfortable in the corridors of power often make a last-ditch attempt not to let go by aligning with begrudged opposition elements. That is the impression one gets from the recent spate of protests in Abuja calling for an interim government in Nigeria.

 It is a metastasizing manifestation of cabal failure, “In keeping with the established internal policies of our party as we approach the convention in a few days, therefore, I wish to solicit the reciprocity and support of the governors and other stakeholders in picking my successor, who would fly the flag of our party for election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Then there is the utterly necessary but poorly thought out and awfully implemented Naira re-design policy.

The outgoing ruling clique that had wined and dined at the Villa in the last 8 years became so clueless about its exit strategy. It is therefore not surprising they’ve been serially outflanked and routed right from the ruling party’s presidential primaries to the actual polls by an obviously more pragmatic counter-elite.

2023 is not the first time in Nigeria’s political history that an incompetent cabal has been roundly outmaneuvered;

 “When Chief Abiola first showed interest in running for the Presidency, certain “IBB Boys” (including Abacha) expressed concern and approached Babangida to find some way to ban Abiola from taking part. However, based on a security report which falsely projected Babagana Kingibe as the likely winner of the SDP presidential primary convention in Jos, Babangida assured his concerned “military boys” that Abiola would not prevail and thus there was no need for fear.

 Abiola won the SDP nomination at the Jos convention, overcoming determined opposition from a motley group of SDP Governors and disgruntled former aspirants. However, security sources reported allegations of massive vote buying. Concerned officers approached Babangida to use the report as an excuse to ban Abiola and stop the process at that stage before it evolved to formal national elections.”

See details in Part 2 of Nigeria: The Palace Coup of November 17, 1993, by Dr. Nowa Omoigui

Back in 1993, it was an internal power struggle between professionally oriented career military officers and those described by Major-General Chris Mohammed Alli in his memoirs as the “army’s stock of coup merchants and artisans” with then military president IBB cut down in the crossfire.

Now, the divide is apparently between the ruling party’s mostly outgoing governors facing a bleak political future and President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) on one side while those entrenched in the other are widely believed to be sponsoring the protests in Abuja calling for “interim government” which begs the question: who demonstrate in front of Ministry of Defence (Ship House) without the prior knowledge and permission of certain insiders?

Alli’s The Federal Republic of Nigeria Army: The Siege of a Nation (2002) is a must-read because it not only gives a rare insight on the Naira re-design exercise of 1984 but chronicles many of the avoidable mistakes of outgoing President Buhari as a military head of state.

BAT is not PMB’s preferred successor. That is the oxygen that ventilates the open call for an interim government without security intervention. The ruling party is divided against itself if not who was BAT referring to when he declared at Abeokuta, “Let them increase the price of fuel, they hoarded money, they hoarded Naira; we will go and vote and we will win, even if they changed the ink on Naira notes. Whatever their plans, they will come to naught. We are going to win.”?

Outgoing Kaduna governor and a BAT stalwart have been less oblique, “I no longer believe in the circle around President Buhari and the quality of decisions and actions coming out of that leadership.”

“On 8 January 2023, following the defeat of then-president Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 Brazilian general election, his supporters attacked Brazil’s federal government buildings in the capital, Brasilia. The mob invaded and vandalized the Supreme Federal Court, the National Congress, and the Presidential Palace, seeking to violently overthrow the democratically elected president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula), who had been inaugurated on 1 January. Many rioters said their purpose was to spur military leaders to launch a coup d’état and disrupt the democratic transition of power.

 Bolsonaro’s supporters alleged that the election suffered from widespread fraud that caused Bolsonaro’s loss. They claimed electronic voting machine malfunctions and deemed some voting patterns suspicious, and mistrusted election officials. The military helped oversee the election and found no signs of fraud. Supporters of Bolsonaro used social media to spread misinformation about supposed electoral fraud, further motivating the protesters.”

In Brazil, more than a thousand arrests have been so far made including that of Colonel Fabio Agusto Vieira, commanding officer of Brasilia’s military police division, and a Bolsonaro-era Justice minister, Anderson Torres.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, a national security outfit openly identifies a clear and present danger neither naming names nor effecting any arrest.

Against the background of the outgoing Zamfara governor, Bello Matawalle who in his own words claimed his governorship election defeat was as a result of “300 truckloads of soldiers” drafted into that beleaguered state due to his opposition of the Naira re-design policy: how does the widely reported “military escort” of the CBN governor fit into this overall dynamic?

In the Samba nation, the legal option had since been thoroughly exhausted. However, in Nigeria with an ongoing judicial process it is like in chess, check but not yet checkmate.

Nonetheless, barring any landmark judicial pronouncement to the contrary the February 25 presidential election has been won and lost. Even if a rerun is ordered by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, there are lingering doubts if our fractured opposition would prevail. When the Supreme Court of Kenya nullified the 2017 presidential election the ruling party still won the ordered rerun. Nigeria is however not Kenya.

Admittedly, many political pundits and opposition elements including this writer completely misread the tea leaves ahead of the February 25 polls.

Right under our presumptuous political noses BAT effectively mobilized the ruling party’s counter-elite rallying them around his deep pockets and putting up appearances of political helplessness displaying maximum obeisance to the oracle of Daura, “Like Janus, the double-faced Roman deity and guardian of all gates and doorways, power requires the ability to play with appearances.” – 48 Laws of Power

By doing so BAT is no doubt a good student of history that has immensely benefitted from the political mistakes of Chief MKO Abiola in 1993. The late Aare Ona Kakanfo failed to effectively rally the professionally minded military officer corps against the coup practitioners among them for his political benefit.

The moral in the attached picture is on the need to have a clear objective and a far-reaching plan to achieve it. For instance, BAT used the negative profiling of his health status to maximum advantage, as a political smokescreen. It fueled speculation of an early power shift back to the North in a worst-case scenario. No doubt, it was a classic flanking maneuver that bought him quantum political mileage in the vote-rich core North. He neatly pulled off a civilian equivalent of a coup.

The import of the attached photograph struck me when after BAT after Daura stormed Iga Idunganran to present his INEC “certificate of return” to Oba Rilwan Akiolu whose immediate predecessor Oba Adeyinka Oyekan II (1911-2003) had conferred on the President-elect the Asiwaju title in the presence of Chief MKO Abiola as can be clearly seen back in the day.

Perhaps there would be no monarch in Nigeria that would have been prouder of BAT like Oba Oyekan of the Olugun Kutere ruling house who vehemently stood up against all odds from the South West during the June 12 imbroglio as chronicled in the pages of Awujale: The Autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba SK Adetona, Ogbagba (2010)

BAT’s next port of call was the Minna hilltop.

Why has President Buhari exercised lame political will on his preferred candidate ahead of the ruling party’s presidential primaries despite his unrequited plea for “reciprocity and support”?

Whatever the answer is the outgoing leader desperately wanted that privilege extended to him as earlier noted. That disconnect is the chief cause of the ongoing intra-elite/intra-state power struggle playing out on the streets of Abuja calling for an interim government.

Interestingly, his self-defeatist inertia is not at all new as recalled by his erstwhile chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Hannaniya, Suleiman and I concluded among ourselves that Babangida was merely going to use the post (of army chief) as a launching pad to the presidency. So, if we knew that early, Buhari too must have known, yet he watched passively.”

 Domkat Yah Bali (1940-2020) who retired as a 4-star general in 1990 was referring to his reflections with already retired Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (1942-2023) and then still serving Major-General Haladu Anthony Hannaniya on pages 140-141 of Domkat: A Biography (1993)

Bali claimed he even specifically warned Buhari about the pending coup masterminded by Babangida. He, “nonchalantly replied that he had confidence in his (brigade of) guards’ ability to do their job.”

Similarly, President Buhari had the utmost confidence that “the governors and other stakeholders” would commit political hara-kiri to grant his request. They did not because politics abhors the leader that watches “passively”.

So, here we are precariously wobbling towards May 29 amidst panicked last-ditch calls for an interim government very probably from within.

During the early hours of August 27, 1985, when it became obvious that Babangida had precariously crossed the Rubicon at Dodan Barracks, Buhari suddenly came out of his passiveness by dispatching his Guards commander, Sabo Aliyu and ADC, Al Mustapha Jokolo to Ikeja to rally loyal troops. Too little, too late because the plotters had anticipated such a move ahead of time. In fact, the formidable duo was deliberately lured away under that ruse.

Nigeria’s nearest equivalent of Janus, the double-faced Roman deity asserts, “To be able to stage a coup you have to be close to somebody. I was a very good friend of Buhari, there’s no doubt about it.” –  Details on p.61 of This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria (2000) by Karl Maier

Which serving general and commander-in-chief with all the accouterments of the military at his whim gets so easily cornered and arrested by a handful of middle-ranking officers?

Which serving executive president with all the vast instruments of government at his disposal can’t get his preferred successor democratically elected into office?

According to Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) – “The first method of estimating the intelligence of a leader is by looking at the men he has around him.”

BAT completely blindsided the men around the outgoing chief tenant of the Villa. Whether or not he would ultimately prevail and get sworn into office remains to be seen.

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