Rotimi Fasan

By Rotimi Fasan

The first major obstacle that any politician who aspires to transform Nigeria in any real sense would encounter and that would immediately hobble rather than enhance their performance pertains to the structure of Nigeria. Ours is a unitary system that disguises as federal.

It is a system that robs Peter to pay Paul, a legacy of the military’s incursion into politics that has over the years deformed and rendered useless the tradition of healthy rivalry among the country’s constituent units and politicians right before independence in 1960, and was to be entrenched by the Constitution of 1963.

But beginning from 1966 under the Aguiyi Ironsi military government that stood in the gap created by the failed putschists of January 1966, the country’s federal structure that was made up of semi-autonomous regions suffered incalculable and so far, irreparable damage. The farther we have travelled as a political entity from that period, the worse it has been to manage Nigeria without the chaos attendant to a failed state. 

 This structural deformity from the military that was first transferred into the military-midwifed Constitution of 1979 is the obstacle that has been confronted and will be confronted by every Nigerian leader in the post-military era with any slight awareness of what has to be done to right the historic wrong that was introduced into the country’s politics by the military in 1966.

It was a political problem that is today also a constitutional crisis. You can only take charge of and change for good a problem you know exists. Peter Obi’s rhetoric has clearly glossed over this fundamental aspect of the Nigerian crisis and demonstrated no awareness of it, to say nothing of him proffering any solution to it. It is the political elephant or, perhaps more appropriately, the leviathan in the room that Peter Obi and his obedient partisans have failed to acknowledge. 

 It is the failure or inability to either acknowledge or address the challenges posed by this structural conundrum by past and present leaders that is at the base of the identarian crisis that has frayed the country’s social fabric, tested its political unity and made its transition merely from a state to a nation a perennial challenge.

No past or any other politician of the present times for that matter, including Peter Obi, stands the chance of making any impact on the calloused skin of the country’s divisive nationalisms as long as they choose to ride against the headwinds of this problem. Until Peter Obi is able to offer a road map around and away from the treacherous slopes of this roadblock, his prognosis of the Nigerian crisis will always remain a poetic flight of fancy than a realist take of our political situation. 

While Peter Obi’s starry-eyed postulations concerning how Nigeria was railroaded into its present situation would appear to carry the seeds of the solution to the problems of governance he has identified, only a clear and detailed elaboration of HOW we can get out of it should count.

Thus, rather than the WHAT of the situation, it is the HOW (to get out) of it that matters. In other words, what should be of moment is what he has to say in unvarnished truth of how Nigeria can get out of the corner it has been painted into by the incompetence, misgovernance and corruption of some past leaders (all issues that have been accentuated by the structural problem identified above). 

This aspect of Obi’s and the so-called Obidients’ apprehension of the HOW of the matter is in clear deficit. I am taking seriously the focus on Obi because he is that one of the three leading presidential candidates that has said he, and we have been told to accept, has the touch to transform Nigeria in a manner no other candidate can or has.

But where and in what way will or can this transformation take place given the structural imbalance that has humbled both the potentially capable if not great leader and the manifestly incompetent politician in post-military Nigeria?

How can Peter Obi navigate the course differently from others who have showed an awareness of the problem, the original sin that has informed such demands as the calls for a sovereign national conference, the fashioning of a new constitution, the restructuring or, in more extreme cases, outright dismemberment of the country along ethnic or religious lines? 

While the likes of Olusegun Obasanjo chose to ignore any call for correcting the structural challenges and Muhammadu Buhari and his APC promised but have failed to do something in that regard, no serious politician (Umar Yar’Adua tried his bit during his short presidency in his admission of the flawed process that brought him to power and constituted the Muhammed Uwais Panel) has ignored the challenge the way Obi appears to be doing while waxing lyrical on what is amiss with governance.

Even as “clueless” as Goodluck Jonathan was supposed to be, he was aware of this problem and constituted a National Conference to address it in 2014. The recommendations from that conference although not implemented are in some respects unimpeachable. What does Peter Obi have to say about this? Where does he stand on the matter for this is fundamental to anything else he hopes to achieve? 

Away from the structural challenges, Peter Obi and his Obidient train still have to work out how they can muster enough votes to win the presidency (with 25% of ballots across two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT) with nothing more than the abrasive enthusiasm of urban-based supporters. This may be theoretically possible (if his assumed supporters choose to vote irrespective of party affiliation), but how practicable is this?

How much can be achieved with the road walks or “million-man” marches of supporters? How financially mobilised are these foot soldiers, home and abroad? Although Nigeria has no cap on campaign funding, how much can donors or international remittances do in the face of the financial war chest of the APC and the PDP? Yes, Peter Obi may be richer than the average Nigerian or politician but will he run his campaign on personal funds? 

At the moment, his campaign nationwide is largely anchored on his PDP connections aside from the support that his APGA ancestry will provide in the Igbo-speaking states. The politicians he courts are also mostly from the PDP, a likely pointer to where he has his base and from where he could expect to draw votes outside APGA.

Could this explain his Obidients’ constantly savage attack on Bola Tinubu, the potential beneficiary of the split votes of the PDP?  Given the way Obi’s supporters attack Tinubu any cursory observer could be excused to think he is the sole aspirant to the office of president aside Peter Obi himself. 

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