A president’s asewo politics
General Olusegun Obasanjo asked in the Foreword to ‘Shehu Musa Yar’Adua: A Life of Service’ which between “’military war’ and ‘political war’ is more challenging?” He didn’t wait for anyone to guess an answer before he provided one. And it is apt: “What I can tell you is that for a man to face bullets and survive in the battlefield only to become a victim of political war, we don’t have to look too far to know that political war can be more dangerous than military war.” It was Obasanjo’s deep summation of the destructive properties of politics. The hazards of politics are horrendous. Many who were valiant war heroes tragically ventured into politics and lost all.
In politics, General Muhammadu Buhari may be old, frail and fading, but he appears solid with old soldiers’ tricks. In his twenty-something years military service, I am sure he did not use half of the tricks he has deployed in his three years, eight months as president of Nigeria. He chooses and masters the political high ground to survive. He deploys ‘confusion’ – even treacherous fidelity- to maintain his position while pushing forward. He keeps his distance, says too little very often to mask his deficiency and chips away at the enemy. He has been using all he learnt in military service to fight his political wars. And they appear working for him. He has ambushed and counter-ambushed friends and foes. Very wily and foxy, he has swum the waves so far with all the dexterity of military deceit – actively promoting what he calls his integrity while simultaneously allowing talks about his non-awareness, non-involvement and non- participation in all ugly actions of his government. The decoy has worked so well that many believe he is a dove, incapable of firing any missile again and that he is far past his years of unfading memory and energy. I thought such people were right until Buhari started running this 2019 campaigns as a military campaign. Remember, he announced that Bola Tinubu would do the campaigns for him. Remember again that he, almost immediately, took control of the steering wheel and left the Lagos warlord, now his bus conductor, to wonder what really was happening.
In fighting and living to fight again, civilians count very little in a soldier’s calculation. That is what I could glean from the opaque persona of politician Buhari who won’t ever be there for anyone in his party apart from himself. He acts like a party leader who has a very scant regard for party, party men and even party politics. In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, Buhari gave a timely warning- particularly to anyone or political party who thought they owned him. He said he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody. That was as dark and deep and obscure as Wole Soyinka’s poems. Maybe one day, he will tell us who inserted that obscurantist sentence in his speech or he did it himself. If he did, then all of us who think he is old, distant, faded, jaded, senile and detached from his work as president had better start thinking right.
The president is playing a game in Ogun and Imo states — and everywhere. He allowed Adams Oshiomhole to overrun the governors who had relied on their closeness and loyalty to his Villa. Then the two aggrieved governors started backing governorship candidates of parties other than the president’s. And the president is not bothered at all. He, in fact, deploys a body language that encourages such politics of promiscuity. He sees no sin in this harlotry as long as the proceeds of the dingy outing pours into the vaults of his second term ambition. The other time he received Chief Segun Osoba of Ogun State All Progressives Congress (APC) with the party’s governorship candidate in the Villa. He was warm and hospitable. He endorsed and raised a hand of the candidate and posed for photographs. Days after, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State breezed into the Villa with the governorship candidate of the APM. Our president, with both hands, embraced them, faced the camera with the candidate and Amosun – and with happiness – did the Four-by-Four ritual. Then last week, it was time to take his asewo politics to the NextLevel in Owerri, Imo State capital. He asked the people to vote for him and let “their conscience” determine who else deserved their votes for other posts.
Buhari told his fans in Owerri to “vote for anyone of your choice.” He suggested to his audience of APC and Action Alliance (AA) members that any party could win other elections apart from his own. The AA hordes cheered while the APC members got shocked, bewildered. Why would the presidential candidate of the APC throw open the other posts (particularly the governorship) to all parties? Why? Was the president being selfish? He would go down in history as the first party leader to openly belch such an anti-party statement and keep a straight face. Governor Rochas Okorocha — APC presidential, AA governorship- heard his president, cheered up and clapped. Adams Oshiomhole, standing by Buhari’s right mechanically clapped, then stopped, looking dazed. Buhari clearly knows what he wants and how to get it using flavoured poison. Old soldiers may be truly old and fading away but they are eternally very alert people. General Buhari got the warning, early enough, from his host, Owelle Okorocha, and behaved very true to type. Rochas told him: “Mr President, here in Imo State, we are in charge. And anyone that is here saying anything to the contrary is either hired or not from this state. No sane person in Imo State would hear my voice and won’t stand still for it. As it is now, a lot of corrections must be made, Mr President…I do not advise that baggages of other people should be bestowed on you…” Then the president responded and set his crowd free like caged hens and famished chicks. He said they were free, after his own election, to vote for any party of their choice. Everyone who heard or read this knew that Buhari had scored a real first here.
But why? The president later spoke of his consciousness of the “obviously-mixed crowd” at the stadium. He said that was the reason he did not speak about support for only his party’s candidates but also why he “encouraged the people to vote according to their consciences.” That explanation was as dubious as last Thursday’s ‘innocent until proven guilty’ excuse for Saint Buhari’s shoulder-to-shoulder romance with the babandollar governor of Kano State. Was that how other sinners outside Buhari’s seminary were treated? When did we start talking about presumption of innocence for sinners in Buhari’s Nigeria? The only answer is that that ‘governortorial’ sinner has electoral values and he should, therefore, not suffer the punishment of the uninitiated. His lot was to be dipped in the baptismal waters of Buhari’s innocence which was done on Thursday.
Nothing has changed and nothing will ever change. Everything in politics is about the next election. Politicians are the same. Even this one with all the ostentatious moral finickiness is no different. All gods are made of clay. Buhari may be old, but he consciously belongs to himself. He is no man’s mugu, follows no one, serves no one. If he submits to a cabal, it must be because members of that cabal serve him and fill a void for him. If they use him, it would be because he uses them on a grander scale. Whenever it pays our president to play dumb, he acts it and fools friends and foes. His brother, Ibrahim Babangida was easily read as Maradona. My generation had no problem connecting with that imagery of the master dribbler. If our millennials had experienced IBB, they would etch on his forehead a hybrid of Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo with all their awesome assets. IBB was that lethal. But Buhari has no time for the unnecessary hard work of a Messi. Energy-sapping runs around the field and feeding the ball to others are not his portion. He is the political version of Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). He poaches. He plays offside. He lurks; he collects and connects passes from sweating mates; he feigns injury sometimes to pounce on the ball. He scores and stacks honours – and insists it is his efforts, his skills, his integrity and his luck that give him the epaulets.
Buhari loves Buhari. He also loves ‘his people.’ It does not matter whether these ‘his people’ are Nigerians or Chadians or Nigeriens. Every other person outside this circle appears to him an expendable bullet. That should explain Imo and Ogun — and even Lagos. But how long can Buhari go with this cheeky stratagem? I already hear some APC leaders shout in hushed tones about selfishness in the presidential aloofness to the aspiration of others. Many in the president’s party fear what would happen to ambitions and interests in their states after the presidential election. Politics is about interests. It is also about ambitions. Why would Buhari pretend not knowing that everyone in his campaign has a personal reason for being there? When the other person realizes that his own ambition and interest matter not to the leader, he slows down and thinks of the safe way out. Loyalty does not travel linear on a one-way road. It grows muscles and bones when it is reciprocated. A loyal follower deserves a loyal leader. Betrayal gets deregulated when a general thinks only of his own safety, comfort and success.