Atiku in Washington, Buhari in Asaba

AIdES of President Muhammadu Buhari were caught on live TV catching their falling boss with his immaculate white babariga in Lokoja on Wednesday last week. A day after, the boss was all over the media handing over his party’s “flag of honour” to “the presidential candidate” of his party in Asaba, Delta State. He also decked the governorship candidate in an undersize senatorial ‘up and down’ kaftan and followed it up with the neologism of ‘governortorial’ candidacy. Were you horrified at the near automatic sequence of the slip of the feet in Lokoja and the slip of the tongue in Asaba? And same time, same day, opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, sneaked out of Nigeria to seek Nigerian presidency abroad. Atiku entered the United States with the noise of a yokel storming the city for the first time. The celebration home and abroad of Atiku’s US visit could be matched probably only by the euphoria of Lazarus coming back from the dead.

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All the signs are here. In war, “when there is much running about and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has come,” Sun Tzu declares in The Art of War. Less than 30 days to the presidential election, we are beginning to see vibrations that suggest the country is in the cusp of a major convulsion. It would appear that what we have is not just a new year but also a critical point in the contest for power – and in the contestation for “the transmission belt” of Nigeria.

Yet, we must see clearly what is coming. A presidential candidate in an all-white apparel tripped in the physical presence of enemies and friends. A storm of gasps from allies, and derisive giggles from foes followed the fall. One short day after, the same person horrified his marketers with a tragic announcement, live on national television, that he was handing over a “flag of honour” to “the presidential candidate” of his party. Did he know at all what took him hundreds of kilometers to Asaba that day? Should one overlook the poetic symbolism of the first fall in the second slip, and, even wrap both as a metaphor for what is to come? And will the weak bones, the loose bolts and nuts of a president be enough to yank him off his high horse?

Edward Luttwak, in the 2016 edition of his unusual book, Coup d’etat: A Practical Handbook, interrogates the difficulties and risks in seeking the sack of governments anywhere. “The government,” he argues, “will not only be protected by the professional defences of the state —the armed forces, the police, and the security services—but it will also be supported by a whole range of political forces.” Luttwak adds that in a sophisticated and democratic society, these forces would include “political parties, sectional interests, and regional, ethnic, and religious groupings.”

For the opposition to succeed in upstaging a sitting government, he posits, it must be prepared to force the political and other forces behind it “into passivity.” Neutralising those forces that give a tap root to Buhari’s politics, despite his embarrassing failings, is the task before Atiku, and the reason he seeks a broad coalition of special political forces home and abroad. That exactly, was what Goodluck Jonathan suffered in 2015 which downed his plane. It is what Buhari’s titanic is being confronted with this moment. If there is some reluctance in the political sea boiling over, it is because Buhari’s own underbelly is not exactly as soft as Jonathan’s. But the method and machinery for both wars are the same – coalition at home, bombardments from abroad. The reactions from the incumbents are also the same — self-righteous arrogance and bloated sense of self-invincibility. It will take a miracle for the results not to be the same.

Why would Buhari choose to do hurricane rallies in the north instead of talking to all Nigerians in a presidential debate? It is because he needs his huge crowds to intimidate the lords abroad into coming back to back him. Why would Atiku meet Americans abroad and decline a debate at home? It is because he needs the muscle of the international community as body armour against very apparent foul plays from the incumbent. Both, really, know they do not need a debate to get what they want. The northern and the southern Almajiri chanting “Sai Baba” and the granite-minded “atikulators” are all decided where their votes will go on February 16 — if the date stands. The X-factor in the contest is the unseen ace voter abroad which Atiku hankered after and which Buhari attempted to scare off him. They both know that the political charity of Nigeria begins abroad.

Luttwak, in the preface to his coup book earlier cited, said the tragedy of sub-Saharan African countries is their lack of what he called “genuine political community.” Unprepared countries of Africa, he notes, got hasty independence and soon got stuck in the traffic of civil and military dictatorship —and corruption. Although these countries have managed to limp out of the mire of coups and military totalitarianism, they cower and barter away their flag independence for regime endorsement abroad every election cycle. For the Nigerian democracy, fierce diaspora contests have been a key component of elections and electoral wars since 1999. The contests are for endorsement by the real kingmakers sunbathing in Washington and London. Jonathan had it against the designs of Yar’Adua’s cabal. Buhari had it in 2015. Atiku appears having it now.

We delude ourselves thinking that we choose our leaders. If we count at all, Buhari won’t be too busy to debate and interface with us. If we are the deciding factor, Atiku won’t walk away from the debate giving Buhari as an excuse. We complained loudly on Saturday that the big guys refused to debate. But power seekers know where what they seek is – and they go for it. It is not in debates, not in talking to us. They know. We all know. It is the reason Buhari has had only one live media chat (held on December 30, 2015)– only one in a four-year tenure! Our president does not talk to us and he feels good by it. We are cool with the presidential disdain and disgust for popular communication and with the obvious lack of capacity for governance. It is the reason we can’t be taller than the pygmies we are.

Our political parties seek our votes in daytime but they know that the master-votes are cast in America and Britain. Buhari cultivated that field and harvested bountifully from its soil in 2015. Atiku is there now. The power-seeking politicians also are savvy enough to note that the lords abroad have never failed in seating their choices in our palace since this democratic journey started 20 years ago. The calabash of power they find difficult to open, they smash into smithereens. Their records here are very impressive. That was why the All Progressives Congress (APC) got the Obama administration to unleash a blitzkrieg on Jonathan and his regime and both caved in. It was the same reason APC panicked and organized street protests in Abuja late last year against the prospect of a US visa for Atiku. It also explains why Atiku and his people regarded his entry into the American space last Thursday as a landing on the Moon, deserving huge celebrations.

The die is cast. Buhari at a town hall meeting last week refused to say that he would go if he loses the February election. Losing is an impossibility, he affirmed. While Atiku was moving from office to office in Washington, going through political and security scanners, the American and European diplomatic community in Nigeria massed in the Abuja headquarters of our INEC issuing warnings. The day Atiku landed in Washington, western envoys loudly told our federal government to back off from its high intensity war against other arms of government, particularly the judiciary. They also tasked our INEC on the imperative of free and fair elections this year. The cards couldn’t have been better placed on the table. And it isn’t an accident that the synced monsoon in Abuja and Washington has engendered an imminent political downpour. There will be a hurricane and both the broom and the umbrella will be helpless. The prognosis is not benign.

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