By Mohammed Adamu

IT appears anti-Buharis are redefining the concept of ‘realpolitik’. Beyond its text book meaning as ‘practical realism’ or its street-wise interpretation as ‘end justifying the means’, anti-Buharis are now proposing that to be ‘realpolitik’ is also to ‘blackmail the opponent out of contest’. They attempted it on Obasanjo in 2003, insisting he should emulate Mandela and forgo a second term.

The argument was so ‘righteously’ made you’d think it was constitutionally treasonable for an incumbent to seek a Second Term; or that it was an aberration to allow the electorate to decide. And we do this all the time: rather than strategise to win a contest through the due democratic process, we prefer always, the default mode: questioning the propriety of candidates we are afraid to lock horns with.

And now anti-Buharis, having failed to ‘kill’ him by divine invocation, have resumed their desperate call that he should not contest. And you wonder, what happens to the ‘choice-driven’ attribute of democracy’? Or the right of the people to ‘freely’ and ‘willfully’ elect or remove those that they have elected?


The term ‘realpolitik’ is Germanic for ‘realistic politics’. It was especially characteristic of 19 century German Chancellor Karl Otto Von Bismarck’s domestic and foreign policies.

Risen, they said, from Prussian ‘junker’ to Prime Minister and first Chancellor of the German Reich, Bismarck had weathered many political storms. He fought wars on many fronts, faced at home a catholic opposition (called the kulturkampf), grappled with social reforms  to “forestall the rise of socialism”, yet abroad he was able to maintain peace with enemies, alliances with friends and trade and industry with the world.

Bismarck’s ability to tend many irons in the political fireplace made him the quintessence of illustration in the definition of the term ‘realpolitik’. Thus, politicians who are adept at grappling with the elements to get what they want, are said to be realpolitik. Not cheeky ones who avoid contest.

David Robertson’s ‘Dictionary of Politics’ defines realpolitik as “politics of realism” -not allowing “wishful thinking or sentimentality to cloud one’s judgment”. It is a practical, non-illusory kind of political thinking or action, or what the ‘Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language’ defines as “an attitude based on ‘facts’ and ‘reality’ as opposed to ‘emotions’”. Philosophically, political realism as an underlay to the definition of ‘realpolitik’ is “fidelity to life” -not only “as perceived” but also as “experienced”. A ‘political realist’ is a ‘practical person’ who concerns himself “with facts as they are known to him rather than as they might be”. For example, since ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ are practical realities of politics, ‘democratic competition’ cannot be a risk-free enterprise.

It is realpolitik to know, to accept and to live with this reality. It is realpolitik also to figure out a pragmatic way of dealing with it.

It is not ‘realpolitik’ to pray that your opponent dies before election. Or to resort to blackmail and subterfuge in the hope of being awarded a walkover-victory. It is not realpolitik that to plot to benefit from a no-contest victory or to seek to determine who should or should not be your opponent.

It is realpolitik only to be ‘practically realistic’ in political thoughts and actions and to be open to all fair, reasonable and legitimate options, to achieve a political end. By the modus operandi of ‘election’ or by the modus Vivendi of ‘consensus’. Yes, it is no less political to wish, hope and pray that a strong opponent changes his mind and does not run. But it is realpolitik that you assume he will run and you plan to defeat him if and when he runs.

Faith and fact

Political illusionists ‘believe’ that things will not go ‘wrong’ simply because they ‘hope’ that things may go ‘right’. Thus, ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ –rather than ‘facts’ and ‘reality’- are the twin elements that rule the mind of the illusionist. Not of the realpolitikal. Tinubu went a notch beyond faith and hope to put together a winning coalition. He did not hope that Jonathan died, or argued that Jonathan should not contest. That was realpolitik.

‘Coalition theory’ which Robertson said developed from the concept of ‘game theory’, is a “quasi-mathematical, rational choice-tradition in political science which attempts to construct predictive theories to explain political activity”. It includes even “a coalition of school children (cooperating) against the playground bully” in a rational, realistic way to defeat a common enemy. It does not include the ‘hope’ that he dies; or that he suddenly changes his mind from being a bully. Coalition actors rationally and realistically prepare to face a defined challenged. They do not flounder in the hope or belief that there may not be a challenge. True coalition actors realpolitikal. They are like little biblical Davids: not fazed by the size or strength of a Goliath.

But beyond the traditional realist-perspective, the term ‘realpolitik’ also describes newer but even more proactive situations, such as “an over-cynical approach that allows little room even for human altruism”. Thus, it is realpolitik also to be ‘self-interestedly realistic’.

The ability to consider all options “including those that would ordinarily be perceived as un-altruistic” (or selfish) in order to achieve a political end. ‘Self-interested realism’ includes the obligation to be ‘pragmatic’, not the luxury to wallow in ‘hope’. Or to tarry in the extravagance of ‘faith’ without action.

Realpolitik includes for example paradoxical scenarios like: the readiness to grapple with ‘dirt’ in order to achieve ‘purity’; or to grapple with the ‘amoral’ to establish ‘ethics’; or to be Machiavellic- the readiness to be ‘beastly’ to overcome the ‘beast’. Which was what a ‘puritanical’ Buhari had to do –coalescing with the Tinubus- to sink the amoral ship called ‘The Jonathan’.

But in its radical transmogrification ‘realpolitik’, although it may also mean Machiavelli’s ‘end-justifies-the-MEANS’ or Malcolm X’s ‘by any MEANS necessary’, yet any political ‘MEANS’ must be ‘realistic’ ‘rational’ and ‘reasonable’. Hence ‘r-e-a-l politik’. Or ‘politics of reality’.


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