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No Cabal is Permanent in Nigeria

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By Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

Arguably, the best way to summarize the February 25, 2023 presidential election is through the magnificent opening of A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens;

  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Regardless of our polarized points of view, Nigeria desperately needs forward momentum. What we therefore need as a nation is progress, not perfection.

On a particular granite gravestone at Brompton cemetery in London is etched, “Founder of Nigeria” – an enduring epithet to George Taubman Goldie who had declared before his death at 79 on August 20, 1925, “The foundations of Nigeria have been fully laid, and it might be left to natural causes to raise that great structure of prosperity which I shall not see,”

Why is so little known, bespoke, or remembered about Goldie concerning Nigeria today?

It was by deliberate action that he strictly forbade anything to be written about him while alive and eventually when dead.

Reportedly, the colonial buccaneer ordered all his diaries, journals, and other personal papers concerning Nigeria burnt before he died. He even had his children, friends, and associates swear to never write anything about his activities in the “Niger area” or assist anybody in doing so.

His workers past and present back then were made to sign bonds of secrecy never to reveal anything about his role as the main promoter of the Royal Niger Company (RNC) that delineated the colonial contours of what is the present Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Goldie vehemently resisted the temptation of aggrandizement that those contours be named “Goldesia” reminiscent of how present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe were named Rhodesia after Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) indeed Congo Brazzaville after Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (1852-1905)

Goldie however accepted that a snake species named after him in 1895, “Pseudohaje goldii”, interestingly, nearly 100 years after his death, Nigeria is not only led by a president whose political cap is branded “Ouroboros”- like but seeks to by deliberate action strictly forbid his academic records to be made public by an Illinois court.

While many Nigerians are still living witnesses to how the perceived “Ijawnization” under former President Goodluck Jonathan was succeeded by what many pundits describe as the “Arewanization” during the Buhari-era: are we under the current dispensation witnessing “Lagosnization”?

The point is that Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) reminds us, “Regime changes occur when elite replaces another. The role of the ordinary people in such transformation is not that of initiators or principal actors but as followers and supporters of one elite or the other.”

The moral here is that in analyzing Nigerian politics, “Avoid the crowd. Do your thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.” – Ralph Charell

Against such background, the sceptre of the “Kaduna mafia” does not need any elaborate introduction here.

“Do they exist?” has been an age-long question in Nigeria’s political discourse particularly among those unfamiliar with the must-read book by Dr. Bala Takaya and Prof. Sonni Tyoden entitled The Kaduna Mafia: A Study in the Rise, Development and Consolidation of a Nigerian Power Elite (1987)

That cabal is no figment in political imagination as more recently albeit in retrospect described by Akin Osuntokun;

“Of all the rival power elite groups, the northern political establishment has been the most effective player of power politics in Nigeria.”

– See details in Ode to the Kaduna Mafia posted on May 24, 2012

Mahmud Jega significantly adds in his very detailed From Kaduna Mafia to Caliphate posted on October 22, 2016;

“The most successful (agenda) was to write “federal character principle” into the Constitution. Up until then, Southerners occupied most federal public service positions centered in Lagos but this was reversed within two short decades. Another successful Northern agenda was to relocate the Federal Capital from Lagos, allegedly due to congestion.

 The Far North’s attempt to enshrine a Federal Sharia Court of Appeal in the Constitution however failed due to lack of Middle Belt support. To cite another Northern gain, the Gowon regime actively promoted the annual Muslim hajj until it became a very sprawling affair.”

When President Tinubu was more than 30 years ago in 1992 conferred as Akinrogun of Lagos by Oba Adeyinka Oyekan II (1911-2003) who held sway at Iga Idunganran for 38 years from 1965 it was in the presence of Aare MKO Abiola (1937-1998) ahead of the June 12 political conundrum.

Mr. President would then assume the title of Asiwaju before acquiring its Hausanized equivalent, Jagaba from Borgu subsequently becoming the “National Leader” of an amalgamated All Progressives Congress (APC) by fiat.

While it took the Northern elite 12 difficult years of political engineering and 4 atrocious electoral cycles to install General Buhari in the Villa via NADECO stalwarts, Bola Ahmed Tinubu in turn did not become president in 2023 without benefitting from sections of the North’s “Asabiyyah” last February 25.

Interestingly, the prior circumstances of political exclusion gave life to both cabals.

In the first instance, “The Kaduna mafia is a name given to a loose group of young northern Nigerian intellectuals, civil servants, business tycoons and military officers residing or conducting business in the former northern capital city of Kaduna during the end of the First Republic. The loss of many northern leaders in the January 1966 coup prodded them to rally round and oppose the new government of General Aguiyi-Ironsi.”

Meanwhile, in the second instance, the refusal of the Northern elite to unanimously agree to a power shift to the south via Aare Abiola facilitated, “The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) on 15 May 1994 by a broad coalition of Nigerian democrats, who called on the military government of General Sani Abacha to step down in favor of the winner of the 12 June 1993 election, Chief M.K.O. Abiola.”

Under the auspices of NADECO the quest for “Resource Control” entered into our political lexicon following “True Federalism” and eventually the clamor for “Restructuring” which has now taken a back seat with the ascending political trajectory of President Tinubu.

Cabals are the chief reason why Nigeria is always periodically “suffering from the frustration of a handful elite, that vent their anger whenever they become politically irrelevant.”

Anybody wondering why the agitation for “Full-blown Sharia” fizzled out with the Presidency of the now-late Umar Musa Yar’adua (1951-2010) needs not to look further.

During the reign of Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1688 to 1674 the acronym C-A-B-A-L was derived from the surnames of 5 of his top councilors: Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale.

Centuries earlier in 1377, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in his magnum opus entitled “Muqaddimah” (The Introduction) had already defined “Asabiyyah” as a concept of social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness, and a sense of shared purpose and cohesion in the dynamics of power.

The philosopher born in Tunis and died in Cairo, “widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest social scientists of the Middle Ages” argued power brokers tend to emerge on the periphery to bring about a change in leadership.

He went on, “As they establish themselves at the center they become increasingly lax, less coordinated, disciplined and watchful, and more concerned with maintaining their new power and lifestyle.”

Ibn Khaldun concluded their “Asabiyyah” then, “dissolves into factionalism and individualism, diminishing their capacity as a political unit.”

Has anybody noticed that the same military “Asabiyyah” has not only controlled but actively dominated Nigeria’s political life since 1966 to date?

The historian Max Siollun explains;

“The group of officers that brought Gowon to power In August 1966 formed the foundation of all succeeding military regimes. Although the leadership of the regimes changed, the personalities behind the coups and regimes did not.

The young non-commissioned officers and Lieutenants who blasted Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi from power in 1966 became the Colonels who ousted his successor General Gowon in 1975, and they became the Brigadiers and Major-Generals who overthrew President Shagari in 1983.

These officers included Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Muhammadu Buhari, Shehu Musa Yar’adua, Aliyu Mohammed (Gusau), Joshua Dogonyaro, Jeremiah Useni and Ibrahim Bako.”

See details in Soldiers of Fortune: Nigerian Politics from Buhari to Babangida, 1983-1993 (2013)

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in King Henry IV, Part 2 Act III Scene 1

Did the immediate outgone “Asabiyyah” willingly concede power to President Tinubu?

Mostly, yes. And partly, no. Due to diminished capacity as a political unit as Ibn Khaldun explained for posterity.

Jagaba mostly by deliberate effort seized a rare political opportunity and against all odds completely outflanked his traducers.

Surmounting many obstacles and at long last, the NADECO “Asabiyyah” members led by Asiwaju are finally sauntering the polished granite corridors of power at Aso Rock Villa.

The constant vigilance of the NADECO types on the political ball for 3 decades has eventually paid off. Hugely;

“Men do not make history as they please, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.”

 – Karl Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)

After such a hard-drawn political war with so many epic battles starting with the June 12, 1993, presidential election, anybody who thinks they can easily wrestle power away from such politically sacrificed veterans is probably living on the moon.

But as Jimmy Cliff would croon, “Hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go” on the question of legitimacy and twisting legal drama in an Illinois courtroom can best be described as seeking leverage by other means or an end-game negotiating ploy or even as former President Shehu Shagari (1925-2018) would describe “coup baiting” in page 470 of his definitive memoirs entitled Beckoned to Serve (2001)

Back then, Abiola had assiduously utilized, “His publishing empire to launch vitriolic attacks on the Shagari government to discredit it sufficiently to psychologically prepare the public for its replacement,”

Is former VP Atiku Abubakar utilizing the same modus operandi from the US?

Agreed, the former President Shagari did not specifically name the “well-known business tycoon” he held responsible for financing the ouster of Nigeria’s democracy out of political frustration, he however succeeded in making an oblique reference to Chief Abiola.

Similarly, how else would one describe a lawsuit in the US that has no judicial bearing in Nigeria?

Perhaps it is to create a moral burden and further discredit an already battered and discredited electoral process.

If so, what is the way forward?

An eventual political solution. That is what.

Every nation has its load-bearing walls which in our case are collectively referred to as “The owners of Nigeria.”

Those aging relics that largely include remnants of the 1966 generation of military officers are still the recurrent and most cohesive main issue in Nigeria.

Indeed, “Those who control the present, control the past, and those who control the past control the future.” – George Orwell (1949)

You don’t have to be a political fan of President Tinubu to fully understand the terrain he is currently navigating through. This is chiefly because;

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming,”

– Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States 1901-1909

Progress, not perfection.

As with George Taubman Goldie more than 100 years ago, “Only great men have great faults.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

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