In the words of Franklyn Delano Roosevelt; a former President of the USA, politics is not the domain of theoretical imagination but that of accurate perception of reality. This is perhaps where the game of politics aligns with the logic of the Darwinian survival of the fittest; i.e. survival favours the specie that is most adoptable to its environment. This also accounts for why the dynamics of the game is permanent interest more than any other consideration.
It is only by the exigencies of political expediency that old foes could find a common ground even if such co-operation would be temporal. The recent post-humus national honours which President Buhari conferred on Chief M.K.O. Abiola; the presumed winner of the annulled Presidential Election of June 12, 1993, and Chief Gani Fawehwemi; a celebrated legal/human rights activist strongly bespeaks of this fact of political expediency in the face of President’s dire need of political survival strategies for his re-election bid come 2019.
We are very familiar with this strategy in our national politics. Shortly after Independence in 1960, the political antagonism between the political leaders of the ruling Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the main opposition; the Action Group (AG) paved the way for the collapse of the first republic, and the country’s eventual relapse into a bloody civil war. The two political parties were fundamentally regional parties with their support base resting on the traditional socio-cultural cleavages of their respective regions.
In the ruling party’s determination to decimate the Action Group and its outstanding opposition, different strategies were deployed. The Mid-Western Region was carved out from the Western Region with a view to reducing Action Group and Chief Awolowo’s sphere of influence. Chief Ladoke Akintola was supported against Chief Awolowo’ s leadership of the Action Group and eventually Chief Obafemi Awolowo was arraigned and sentenced to prison on the charges of treason and treasonable felony. All these were in the face of the main opposition leader’s cult followership in the West, and his rising influence among progressive elements in the North most especially in the Middle Belt as well as an emerging hope of a better co-operation between the sage and Dr. Michael Okpara led National Council of Nigerian citizens (NCNC) under the United Progressive Grand Alliance forged by the two regional political heavyweights with the participation of two northern allies; the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC).
While the convulsive political mutual antagonism between the Northern and Western political leaders lasted, the East and the Mid-West were the buffer zones. The calculations were altered by the political climate engendered by the military coup and counter coup of January and July 1966. The January coup was dubbed a conspiracy of the East against the North and the NPC led Federal Government, and this accusation inspired a bloody counter coup against the new Federal Military Government led by General Agwuiyi Ironsi; an army officer from the Eastern Region. This accusation also motivated ethnic cleansing targeted at the Igbo speaking people of Nigeria with the active and shameful complicity of the apparatus of State powers under the watch of General Yakubu Gowon. This situation pushed the country into a thirty months civil war.
It must be acknowledged that masters of the game of politics never undermine the strength and capacity of their opponents. Such virtues are constantly kept in view so as to be properly checkmated when interests are irreconcilable and adequately harnessed when the situation transforms and interests converge paving the way for co-operation rather than competition.
As Nigeria boiled in the face of her self-inflicted civil war, political permutations transmuted and coalesced, new alliances became expedient in strategic response to the new lines of thinking, permutations and the realization of new targets. This was how the same class and political bloc that presented and jailed Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a mischievous felon became the ones that released him from Calabar Prison, granted him State Pardon and celebrated him with a guard of honour mounted at the Ikeja Airport to welcome him home. He was later appointed the Vice Chairman of the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Minister for Finance. It was all about securing the co-operation of the West against the East and dealing with Col. Emeke Ojukwu’s belligerent and intransigent disposition towards Federal Government under General Gowon’s leadership. Chief Awolowo delivered and the calculation paid off for Gowon and his masters. Whatever became of this alliance of strange bed-fellows at the end of the civil war, your guess should be as good as mine.
After the civil war and under a period of prolonged military rule, the country passed through another political transition which culminated in the return to civil rule in 1979 with the country abandoning the Parliamentary System for the American Presidential System of government. The three major political parties that stood out in this era referred to as the country’s second republic were the National party of Nigeria (NPN), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the Nigerian Peoples Party. The NPN was a regrouping of NPC elements but without Sir Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. The two great leaders were very unfortunate victims of the January 1966 failed military coup. The UPN was a reincarnation of the Action Group still under the leadership of the brilliant and politically infectious Chief Obafemi Awolowo while the NNP was a rebirth of the NCNC and still led by the oratorical Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
In 1979; history repeated itself. NPN won the Presidential Election narrowly and after a tightly fought legal battle with the UPN, and like in 1959 when the NPC won the federal election but needed to form the Government and which it found in the NCNC, the NPN had to seek and secure an alliance with NPP to have firm control of the National Assembly and the government at the centre. The alliance ceded the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives to the NPP while Chief Awolowo and his Action Group were pushed back into their position of main opposition as it was in the first republic. The political battle of 1979 was fought on the controversy of what constituted the 2/3 of 19 States.
In politics, the enemy never surrenders; he merely capitulates to buy time. So; the battle of 1979 was pushed to 1983 with new calculations and strategies. This time, the North went back to the East. President Shehu Shagari and the NPN led Federal Government had to avoid the 2/3 of 19 controversy of 1979, so the Party needed to secure more States and they had to turn to the East and the Mid-West then known as Bendel State. The master stroke for the battle for the East was unconditional pardon for Odimekwu Emeke Ojukwu who led Biafra against Nigeria. The same people who presented Ojukwu as a rebel turned around to celebrate him as a hero because they needed him as a political tool for their 1983 agenda. Ojukwu was used and dumped; even his ambition to come to the senate was blocked.
Today; another moment of national politics beckons with very confusing outlook necessitating politicians to reexamine their thoughts, permutations and preferences. President Buhari and his power bloc cannot be insensitive to the prevailing reality. They must act swiftly or loose vital grounds. The killings in the middle belt and parts of north-east will no doubt seriously jeopardize the bloc’s chances in those parts of the country in 2019. The handling of Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) by PMB was in itself a fatal political blunder. In dealing with the situation, PMB and his political associates could not comprehend that Biafra is still a phenomenon on which the solidarity of the Ibos of eastern Nigeria would be readily mobilized. Surely many in the region did not agree with Kanu’s approach but would agree with his message any day. Secondly; they ought to have come to terms with the fact that Kanu has achieved for himself, a great measure of cult followership and very dangerous street popularity. They forgot that it was this type of popularity among the northern plebeians more than any other factor that informed PMB’s choice as the standard bearer of the coalition against President Jonathan. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu christened it ‘common sense revolution’.
The South-South has remained an unwilling partner in this project and even the just introduced Adams Oshiomohle factor would not make much difference. So; the natural place to turn to is the South West. However; it is left to be seen the extent a post-humus recognition for Chief M.K.O Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehwemi would mobilize the West for PMB. My considered opinion is that the strategy is not potent enough. Recall that in the case of Pa Awolowo and Emeke Ojukwu, both actors were alive and were able to deploy their influence in furtherance of the motive force behind the geo-politics induced presidential prerogative of mercy and benevolence showered on them. It could be safely opined without much fear of contradiction that in the face of the prevailing security laxity and callus killings across the country especially by the acclaimed herdsmen, the Osborngate and other failures of national governance in the country, a Chief Gani Fawhwemi alive would have been at the fore front of opposition to the Federal Government and would have rejected any award or national honours from the same Government. For M.K.O Abiola and the fate he suffered as a result of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, Mr. President has never pretended to be a sympathizer. He has continued to canonize General Sani Abacha who sustained to death, Abiola’s agony and the rejection of the overwhelming mandate he received from Nigerians at that ill-fated Presidential election.
In peasant and ideologically puerile societies like ours where the citizens are not content driven and politics is a zero sum game because it is an instrument of rent seeking and primitive accumulation, the game is fought not just by diverse means but by any means possible and without any let or hindrance. Again; ours present a complex struggle between aristocracy and republicanism in which the will of the people is constantly supplanted by an entrenched ruling class rooted in some primordial cleavages. These forces have created a tripod of North, East and West as the fulcrum on which our national politics majorly revolves. In our national politics, emphasis is on geo-political vote targeting and not essentially on issues of the economy and other challenges of national development. The 2019 Presidential Election would surely present the same scenario of how to save or push out the President from office as it was witnessed in 2015. Mr. President knows this fact too well and must swim against the tide and is just holding on to any available lifeline.
Boney Akaeze writes from Asaba, Delta State.