KUNLE ODEREMI and Moses Alao give an insight into the powerful interests that have continued to influence and/or control political events in the country.
“Some people that are not politicians or professionals were brought into the government. They don’t even know what we said we want and what we don’t during the campaign…Everybody knows them…I am pleading to them to have the people at heart and embrace everybody so that we can all move together… That is what I am saying, those that know they don’t have voter’s card, they should give chance to those that have, they are the ones that struggled and know what we want to do…Yes, it is surprising; nobody thought it was going to be like this. But now it is so. Sometimes when one is doing something wrong without him knowing, he/she should listen when people talk to them. Because in the future, whether he is going to contest or not, it is that same people that would vote for APC,” these words have, no doubt, become words on marble, quotes that have continued to resonate in the country.
They are revelations that have brought the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari under a new searchlight.
But these were not words of historians or great writers who, following strenuous empirical findings about the goings-on in Aso Rock Presidential Villa, put pen to paper to criticise the government, they were words from the most unlikely quarter about what has become a common feature in government across the world—the unseen hands that hold the aces in government—or what many have called the cabal—they were the words of the wife of the president, Hajia Aisha Buhari, in a recent interview she granted the BBC Hausa Service.
Though there had been several other developments, including a ferocious response from the president and several attempts to manage the situation created by the First Lady’s jibe at the powerful figures whom she literally accused of ‘hijacking power,’ there can be no doubt as to the potency of her words in cutting open the underbelly of the ‘secret rulers’ in government, leading to discourses about how power mongers are shaping the administration of Buhari and how such forces have, in the past, shaped the politics of Nigeria.
The president’s wife had pointed out how these forces, whom she agreed following the prompting of the interviewer that they were very few. According to her: “…only for us to find out that the government is being operated by a few people. Very few…”
But watchers of politics have maintained that this development is rarely strange, pointing out how a group of covert individuals with immense power and clout have always hovered around the seats of power and called the shots in most instances around the world.
From the United States of America to the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia kingdom, examples have been made of how these forces, sometimes members of the aristocratic families, sometimes powerful corporations and sometimes a group of individuals drawn together by a common interest, maintain a strong hold on governments around the world.
Generally addressed as a cabal, this group of individuals seeks to tilt the balance of power in its favour or in favour of its unseen patrons, wherever it has interest, a development that often brings untold pressure on those occupying seats of power. Therefore, with the exposé by Mrs Buhari, Nigerians have begun, again, to ask why these groups of individuals seek power, what they do with it and what “the two to three people,” according to Mrs Buhari’s statement, might do this time, given the ugly experiences the country has had in the past with powerful elements determining the happenings in government and sometimes even holding the country to ransom as it happened in the last days of the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Power and authority are critical issues in the affairs of man. And the battle to acquire power has become fiercer because of variegated interests. The aura surrounding power has equally raised the stake beyond the definition of power by some theorists as the ability to influence or control of the behaviours of people.
Though there exists different power centres in the country, the general discourse about political power in Nigeria remains bifocal. One class comprises members of the civil class, who congregate under party platforms to seek democratic power and authority. The second group consists of men of the military establishment who had undermined the laws of the land to usurp power and recruited a few members of the other category in a frantic bid to make ‘legitimate’ their illegality. In the course of all these actions crept in certain expressions that have continued to gain ascendancy in the lexicon of the Nigerian political architecture. The conduct, actions, groupings and utterances of the key actors translated into such names as Kaduna Mafia, Langtang Generals, godfathers and cabals and many similar expressions that convey the imageries of power and authority. These descriptions tend to confer awesome powers and influence on those believed to belong to the cliques. Through sheer political intrigues, members of the cliques are believed to dictate the pace of events, dominate and control the political space and corridors of power in the land. They are also perceived rightly or otherwise as constituting part of the greatest factors that determine power swing and equation and configuration as well as critical policies and programmes of government based on the doctrine of power.
In his narrative on the Kaduna Mafia, the late radical don, Dr Bala Takaya, traced the nomenclature to a political correspondent with the defunct New Nigerian newspapers. He was said to have coined the term “Kaduna Mafia” to describe a group centred on the political headquarters of the North. He had used the expression to refer to a group of Northern Nigerian power elite which was “seen as an enigmatic but invisible force” deploying intrigues to put it in good stead in the “control of sensitive positions in the nation’s key institutions like the military, parastatals agencies, government limited liability companies and ministerial organisations.”
Dr Takaya, had, in a book, on Kaduna Mafia, wrote that at least six discernible contextual forces gave rise to the birth of the Kaduna Mafia, some of which were, he said, external to the Nigerian socio-political system. He said the first was the emergence and dominance of a new socialist thinking in Britain which, by the end of the Second World War, had become a political force. The second factor that culminated in the birth of the Kaduna Mafia, according to Takaya, had to do with “global forces towards self-determination following the declaration of the “Atlantic Charter.”
The last few years have seen the emergence of a number of power groups, whose influence has been exceedingly awesome. One of them is that of former Nigerian presidents and Heads of State. Their activities and actions constitute a compelling attraction for most Nigerians, especially during critical moments or issues in the political arena. Their regular meetings command rapt attention just as whatever decisions they take at such forums. They form the arrowhead of a coalition or movement that consistently influence the establishment through representations, consultations and resolutions at the platform for all former Nigerian leaders with incumbent as chairman. It will be recalled that the role some of these leaders played in the return of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the corridors of power through the ballot box in May 29, 1999. Liaising with some power brokers belonging to different shades and levels of power groups, the former leaders were able to negotiate freedom for Obasanjo from prison to walk into the presidential Villa, thus becoming the first to have achieved the feat of serving as both a military and civilian leader of the country. Suffice to say the staying power of the power bloc of the former Nigerian leaders is not necessarily about their status as former president or heads of state. It is more about their professional background, especially military background and es spirit de corp. Paradoxically, the walls of such unity and camaraderie have often collapsed in the face of sharp disagreements, sometimes on issues bordering on governance, transparency accountability. For instance, the June 12 brouhaha split the ranks of the clique while the incapacitation of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, while in office became a major issue among the past leaders.
Beginning from the Second Republic, state governors have become another Political Mafia. Governors of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Nigerian Peoples (NPP) formed the most critical power blocs. In the former, they engaged in an intense political battle with super ministers in the administration of NPN at the centre, because some of the ministers wanted to control or hijack the political space in the states. In NPP, the governors were indeed the alter ego of the party, as they made sure that the alliance between NPP and the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) to confront the behemoth called NPN at the 1983 presidential election towards ending the rule of a clique that held the nation by the jugular did not work.
Since that era, state governors have sustained their desire to become a sort of mafia in the political arena, forming such blocs as Under-50 politicians, Forum of regional governors and the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). In the PDP, for instance, they became the powerful bloc to determine who picks the presidential ticket of the party, such as the situation that threw up a number of former governors as presidential contenders in 2007. That was before Obasanjo had his way in anointing the former governor of Katsina State (Yar’Adua) as the standard bearer of PDP. However lately, the quest for power within and beyond the precinct of NGF has become an encumberance towards asserting its hitherto awesome powers in the polity. The schism in the body has led to the emergence of factions along party affiliations with dire consequences on the NGF structures.
Two former military officers: Colonel Gabriel Ajayi and Colonel Tony Nyam said they acknowledge the existence of cabal in the country but it is not inimical to the Nigerian state. Nyam said: “There is always a cabal of recycled people.” He traced the existence to the Fist Republic and that except for President Muhammadu Buhari, most past Nigerian leaders owed their emergence to the political intrigues of some powerful forces. He said a lot of them had become politicians in military uniform and have continued to wield awesome influence after leaving service. He claimed that such powerful elements made sure that they dictated the pace of events during the era of Interim national Government (ING), following the June 12 debacle.
Colonel Ajayi gave more graphic details on the rise of the Kaduna Mafia and Langtang Generals. He traced the popularity of the Kaduna group to the activities of the political elite, intelligentsias and top functionaries of northern extraction in the federal and regional civil service following the first adventure of the military into political power. He recalled that the members felt it was imperative to protect the interest of the North. He said though the Kaduna group was a loose organisation, the members had a close-knit relation as per how to meet, forge a common front on critical issues and communicate its position to other stakeholders of northern extraction. According to him, it became a convenient vehicle to galvanise the people for the collective interest of the region.
On the grouping called Langtang Generals, Ajayi explained that it was a coalition of forces in Plateau with a preponderance of military officers as core members. Their mission was to protect and promote the interest of the group.
June 12 debacle
The use of the terminology cabal became most pronounced during the public outcry against the injustice meted to the Nigerian electorate by the military government of the day. Critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project backed their verbal assault on the military establishment for insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians through prolonged and sustained street protests demanding the reversal of the annulment of the election. But a clique, which was famously ascribed as a cabal by the protagonists of June 12 and consistently blamed for the annulment, became a subject of vicious verbal attack and recrimination. While the June 12 apostles insisted on the sanctity of the poll, the powerful members of a clique in the military establishment worked out a counter operation, which included recruitment of members of the ‘fifth column’ among the civilian political class. These elements included notable politicians, businessmen, and professionals, some of whom rose to become ministers under military regimes in the course of the struggle.
The close-knit counter moves of the establishment were also targeted at the under belly of the military structure. The innermost caucus launched an internal battle against some officers perceived to be loyal and sympathetic to the June 12 campaigners. Eventually, those categories of officers were eased out of the power, especially as the military prepared ground for an Interim National Government (ING). The major hurricane swept through the system 10 days after there was a change of guard at the corridors of power in Aso Rock. No fewer than 17 military officers considered as loyalists of the preceding military leader ended their career abruptly.
No doubt, the greatest victim of the syndrome of power play or the cyclic cabal seems to be the military. It has witnessed a huge turnover of retired or fired officers because of the frequent incursion into political power. The recurring issue of new leadership threw up new crop of power brokers, political godfathers and loyalists, an aspect that was fully interrogated by Colonel Ajayi. He observed that intra-cabal power play, especially after successful putsch often came with a lot of career uncertainties because each situation threw up a new cabal, which soon fizzled out once there was a new leadership calculus emerged. In his words, “Many of the members will constitute a new super force. They are circumstantial in birth; they are not permanent; some call them ad-hoc cabals. They constitute a circumstantial mafia; no permanent belief but permanent interest, unlike in the United States where you have the Black Caucus or in Europe or Russia where they are altruistic.”
However, whereas he claimed that a semblance of a cabal dominates and controls the political space in the South-Western part of the country at the moment, that it will fizzle out, because it was not based on pragmatic and enduring state policies and programmes, that have direct impact on the lives of the citizens.