In hoping, several months back, that the elections this year would lead to a change of guards at the centre, most Nigerians were responding (in part), it now seems, to the immediate problem with the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Our immediate past president’s style (or lack thereof) of political, social, and economic husbandry was as unique as it was polarising.
So bad was it that much of the domestic conversation tended to pass over the more obvious concerns with policies and their directions ― focusing instead on whether policy outcomes under President Jonathan were fortuitous or the consequence of some deliberation. Inevitably, towards the end of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration, dialogue of any sort became difficult, since mutual abuse was a whole lot easier.
Whereas it may be too early to judge the Buhari administration on most measures of governance, one aspect of it is, at least, undeniable: not only has the old “tribal spirits”, which grew up around the person of our erstwhile president, endured thus far; they do appear to have worsened. Thankfully, despite the continuing difference, at least so far, the mutual trading of ad hominem invectives, which was the hallmark of much discourse until recently has not put in an appearance.
On further enquiry, this should not surprise so much. Despite the triumphal carrying-ons of supporters of the incumbent government, the May polls spoke of a country deeply divided down several middles: ethnic; geographic; generational; religious; social; etc. The “general’s” mandate for change, despite the zeal with which his boosters make that point today was not as emphatic: more than 12 million Nigerians did not think him qualified to lead the country.
Still, President Buhari’s governance style (or the much we can make of what has been on offer so far) has been far from emollient. Ramrod aloof, where his predecessor often appeared like a bunny transfixed (at night) by the headlamps of a rapidly approaching vehicle, Buhari has invited a new genre of Aso Rock-watching competences (Abujanologists?).
This coterie worked the hardest since May, last week, trying to make sense of the president’s role in the events leading up to the emergence of the national assembly’s leadership. The machinations preceding this latter event were useful in the extent to which they reminded most who cared to pause for breath that it is not only in Russia that “oligarchs” play a less than honourable role in the organisation of the state.
Actually, in our own case, our “oligarchs” have been more effective (or rather less disruptive of social harmony) because this cohort has managed quite successfully to fly beneath the radar (often masking their depredatory instincts beneath populist veneers). Nothing is more revered in these parts than the “big man”, who, irrespective of the provenance of his wealth, gladly hands out to his less privileged neighbours at least once every month. His house (the more conspicuously opulent, the better) becomes a pilgrimage destination. And/or on account of a (large) less self-interested body of these pilgrims, we (as a people) have for too long missed the import of these “big men’s” influence and activities.
Which brings us to the paradox of the Nigerian state. Despite the roles played by the “big man” across our many spaces, redemption of this space is not described by anything that our current crop of “big men” choose to do or not do. (Interestingly, Peter Enahoro’s book on How to be a Nigerian has this sidesplitting chapter on “The Chairman” that pithily captures this relationship).
While I sympathise with those who rejoiced in the “fact” that the elections of the national assembly’s leaders left a leading oligarch discombobulated, the promise (and I use this noun both advisedly, and in its best acceptation) of the Buhari government is a “law and order” one. In which case, it really should not matter what shenanigans our oligarchs resort to next.
It is important, instead, that henceforth, every Nigerian who runs afoul of the law has the statute books thrown at him with sufficient conviction to dissuade copycats from going down the same route. Put this way, the offices that would then matter for the redemption of this space would include that of the chief justice of the federation, the attorney general and minister of justice of the federation, the inspector general of police, and the respective heads of the two anti-corruption agencies.
Reforms that make all of these institutions work better, separately, and conduce to their seamless cooperation would be no less important. Then both oligarch and citizen would have the Nigerian state transact with them without “fear or favour”.