By Obi Nwakanma

On the eve of Saturday’s no-show presidential elections, the Chief of Staff to the President, and by many accounts, the the one described as de-facto president of Nigeria, Mr. Abba Kyari, penned a rare opinion piece in the newspaper Thisday, which made something of a nationalist appeal to the Nigerian electorate. I did say rare, because Mr. Abba Kyari, in the last four years of the Buhari administration was not in the habit of addressing Nigerians directly. Nor was the President, Buhari himself, who also on Thursday availed himself the presidential privilege of a National broadcast, in which he spoke to Nigerians directly, a most unusual thing really, uncharacteristic of the president, who basically ignored Nigerians these past four years in all their rants.

The president used his privilege not to cast the wide shadow of a statesman, but to appropriate the narrow, partisan opportunity to seek the vote of Nigerians, and cast his key opponent in dark lights. It was desperate. But we shall come to that. For the moment let us return to Abba Kyari’s rare disquisition, and the claims it makes of that moment, and his fervent appeals to Nigerian nationalism, and sense of patriotism going into yesterday’s election.

On another occasion, Abba Kyari’s summons to Nigerians would have rang apt and true, except that he is part of an administration that has questionable credentials with regards to that call to nationalism and patriotism. Samuel Johnsons axiom about patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels comes to mind. But one must acknowledge a few facts, the first being that Mr. Abba Kyari is certainly an interesting figure of the Buhari regime, given his broad, cosmopolitan credentials: Trained as a Sociologist at Warwick with a Law degree from Cambridge, and Business Management training at Lausanne and Harvard, Abba Kyari worked in the Law Chambers of Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo in his early pupillage, before swinging off to government service as Commissioner in Borno state, and later on to high finance as a one-time Executive Director of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), and later Managing Director of the Bank.

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He comes thus with a solid past of experience, and should, without question be a strategic asset to anyone to whom he ministers in government, no questions. It has in fact been suggested that it was he, Abba Kyari, who nominated Mr. GJK Onyeama (Sometimes, I have wondered if his father, the honorable Judge Charles Daddy Onyeama gave him names with the “GJK” in honor of his own friend, and Government College Umuahia classmate, GJK Amachree, of Buguma; but that is another story), as Foreign Minister to Buhari. That should suggest that Abba Kyari may have a far more worldly view than his president. But no matter. What is crucial is that Abba Kyari is Chief of Staff to a president with the narrowest, most provincial, and most ethnocentric and bigoted worldview of any Nigerian leader to serve as President, and is therefore clearly complicit in the egregious policy that discriminates against, and alienates a very wide, and critical swath of the Nigerian population.

The Buhari administration going into this election remains a revanchist government. It was characterized by serial acts of lawlessness. The imbalance in appointments that has skewered the reserves of the nation to a one-sided ethnic, regional, and religious authority has left Nigeria broken and divided against dangerous faultlines as never before. That was not the change Nigerians voted for in 2015. The South of Nigeria, particularly the South East and the South-South regions have no interest in the survival of Nigeria as it is currently structured and shaped, nor are the minorities of the Middle belt who are currently under siege by armed herdsmen. Just on Friday, sixty people were reported killed in Southern Kaduna. Abba Kyari’s appeal to Nigerian nationalism, and to a defence of Nigeria’s common interest against purported foreign interests calculating to harm it falls therefore on skeptical ears for good reason.

Because the question for the folks in this election is, “Buhari’s Nigeria, what is in it for me?” There was no common cause. And because there was no sense of a common interest, because a section of the country have felt since 2015 that President Buhari has assumed the mandate to effect an internal colonization of other groups in Nigeria using the formal authority of the Nigerian state, the Nigerian state therefore is no worse than the “foreign interests” whom Abba Kyari warns them against. The threat to Nigerian sovereignty is already within. It is in the natural inclination of those who feel themselves unrepresented in the nation to subvert the conditions of tyranny that isolates and marginalizes them. It is shortsighted to isolate and alienate a wide swath of Nigerians and hope to make progress.

So, the bogey of depredatory imperialism invoked by Mr. Kyari, realistic as it might indeed be, is of no effect in this circumstance, because one tyranny cannot be better than another. And the last four years in the estimation of millions of Nigerians have been marked by a high disregard for the rule of law, with the onslaughts against the institutions of the legislature and the Judiciary, by executive rascality, by listlessness and blame, by a lack of transparency, by capital flight, joblessness, mind-bending poverty, injustice, discrimination, insecurity, and lies told by a haughty and distant administration that has failed to engage the people but serially lies to them. Kyari talks about the flight of corporations like Dunlop and Michelin, the decline of vibrant rural economy, the perpetuation of economic injustice that favors oligopolists over the ordinary citizens, the general decay. But what changed under the last four years of the Buhari administration? Nothing. In fact, under them the girls from Dapchi were kidnapped. Government went into massive debt and there is no visible sign of what the money is spent on.

The only achievements of the last four years is the commissioning of Railway projects started and paid for by the Jonathan administration, and “Tradermoni,” a laughable small credit program, which was no more than vote buying according to its critics. Indeed the design and operation of this Small Credit program demonstrates more than any other thing the primitive, and unimaginative capacities of the government that has governed in this last four years. And yes, the only thing worth agreeing with in Abba Kyari’s essay is his declaration that Nigeria needs “radical change.” But they did not deliver that “radical change.” And almost to prove the point, the presidential elections billed for yesterday was suddenly and inexplicably postponed. A new timetable announced by a shabby INEC puts the presidential elections now for next week, February 23rd.

The morning after, the nation is on hair-trigger, in bated breaths, uncertain about the sanctity of the coming polls and INEC’s neutrality. For Buhari, who waxed lyrical, when he was not yet president about the fair conduct of elections, yesterday’s postponement of the polls further notches up the failure of his administration. But whatever happens next week, two very crucial points must be made clearly. First, irrespective of who is elected, it will not be business as usual. Millions of Nigerians have hoped that this election will be free, and fair, and not manipulated. There will be riots if Nigerians feel themselves disenfranchised by any form of the manipulation of the ballots.

That will be the least of the problems, because the riots can be quelled forcefully. But one foresees a rapid degeneration of law and order, and an overwhelming of the security forces, and the security apparatus of the nation. The history of Nigeria suggests that we cannot take this possibility lightly because, the 1965 “Wetie” movement which began in the belly of the West of Nigeria in December 1965, crept up to Lagos by the eve of the 1966 January coup. Nigeria is once again in that feverish mood, and does not deserve another civil war as a consequence of the ambitions and the manipulations of a few power-hungry men. That is the legacy today of Goodluck Jonathan, that he chose to de-escalate the mood, and hand over peacefully, and avert bloodshed. If it comes to that, President Buhari must rise above the hawks in his administration and hand over peacefully, should the real polls indicate that he lost this election.

Secondly, it is immaterial whether Buhari wins or Atiku wins, or Moghalu wins, time has come to have an honest discussion about the architecture of this republic. In its current structure, its future is uncertain. There are many who no longer feel patriotic towards Nigeria, and who, given half the chance will subvert it. The feeling of alienation was further exacerbated by Buhari’s very ethnocentric policies, particularly with regards to key appointments to pubic office in the last four years, and the activities of Boko Haram, which with the so-called “Fulani Herdsmen,” many believe, is under this president’s active patronage.

Nigeria is fast losing the “consent” of its governed, and we must read Frederick Lugard’s note, about the sacking of Kano and the destruction of the Caliph Attahiru in Sokoto in 1903. When the British imperialists arrived, they found a most alienated public, who did not give a fiddler’s fart whether the aristocracy survived or not in an area still immersed in slaving, and the suffering and depredation of the common folk. They either welcomed, or ignored the British-led troupes, and went about their business. Many rejoiced at the death of Attahiru. When people have no common stakes in the future of a nation, or its dynamics of power, they do not hearken to the summons of patriotism or nationalism. That is the situation of Nigeria today: divided, and hated by many because of its injustice. It would take statesmen to begin to make moves to heal it. Buhari has spent the last four years proving he cannot, and the next coming years will be crucial for Nigeria’s survival. And yes – tomorrow dies, for those who have nothing to lose.


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