Mohammed Haruna, Ben Nwabueze and the ‘Invisible Government’ in Nigeria

Mohammed Haruna, Ben Nwabueze and the ‘Invisible Government’ in Nigeria

Monday, September 14, 2015 11:16 am


Babangida, Obasanjo and Buhari: "It can be seen that, no matter what happens, the Obasanjos, the IBBs, the Abdulsalamis, the TYs, the Buharis, the David Marks and a whole lot of them, including certain civilians they have absorbed, would enter one boat and roar in one direction once the Nigerian system is threatened, either from below or from the indiscretion of one of them."

Babangida, Obasanjo and Buhari:
“It can be seen that, no matter what happens, the Obasanjos, the IBBs, the Abdulsalamis, the TYs, the Buharis, the David Marks and a whole lot of them, including certain civilians they have absorbed, would enter one boat and roar in one direction once the Nigerian system is threatened, either from below or from the indiscretion of one of them.”

By Adagbo Onoja.

There is an inviting contestation on the sociology of the most coherent fraction of the Nigerian ruling class between ace columnist, Mohammed Haruna, and Professor Ben Nwabueze. Professor Nwabueze has written a number of newspaper articles in addition to an interview on the past few months of the Buhari presidency in which he, in summary, alleged an invisible government, an Islamisation agenda on Buhari’s part and a pattern of appointment as well as style of governance that is unmindful of the Nigerian Constitution. His intervention attracted a response from Haruna who pooh-poohed each of these claims, particularly the idea of an invisible government. It is an interesting exchange in which, perhaps because they did not set out to do that, both Haruna and Nwabueze did not pursue their positions on the invisible government to any greater depth. At the point they stopped, they all got it wrong: Haruna for denying the invisible government which exists and Nwabueze for misinterpreting it as a northern thing and attributing invisibility to what is completely very transparent in our politics.

In the end, both Nwabueze and Haruna ended up mystifying what Professor Bayo Adekanye has studied under the title The Retired Military as Emergent Power Factor in Nigeria. This he did by way of an empirically strong book published here in Nigeria. Joined to the study of the 1983 coup by scholars such as Terisa Turner, it can be seen that, no matter what happens, the Obasanjos, the IBBs, the Abdulsalamis, the TYs, the Buharis, the David Marks and a whole lot of them, including certain civilians they have absorbed, would enter one boat and roar in one direction once the Nigerian system is threatened, either from below or from the indiscretion of one of them. Thus when the IBB regime annulled MKO Abiola’s election and shut down the country, they came together and worked out a compromise: power shift.

That was how the 1999 election came about without any mainstream northerner as a contestant. I use mainstream in an ideological sense since the late Abubakar Rimi who did not agree with zoning did not abide by that. Even then, it was interesting that the party returned his money to him, a sophisticated manner of disqualifying him from the race. And in 2015 when this fraction also concluded that the GEJ presidency could, consciously and unconsciously, bring down the temple, they united in seeing his back and bringing in the hitherto bad guy – Buhari. He was promptly re-presented as the good guy and the entire country was mobilised to vote for him. Foreign powers certainly helped as Buhari has amply stated many times but no such help would be an initiative that did not reflect dominant domestic class consensus. Those who have been advertising Buhari’s emergence as the product of their own genius have, therefore, only been showcasing their own limited insight into the dynamics of class politics in Nigeria since the early 1980s.

There is neither nothing to deny about the existence of this fraction nor anything northern and invisible about it. It is our own dimension of the tradition of post war politics of power historically. In other words, we are talking about the distinct elite of power who took the surrender at the end of the civil war and whose power lies essentially in their own imagination of Nigeria on the basis of their experience of the civil war. It is doing what the guys who received the surrender instrument do in most other circumstances: become the most powerful players.

In the case of World War 11, the American Generals, bureaucrats, diplomats and intellectuals who anticipated and eventually superintended the surrender process went on to construct the world based on US global leadership. Every National Security Strategy of the US mentions US global leadership as a requirement for international security, whether it was written by Clinton, Bush or Obama. It is a discursive position aimed at preserving the global protectorate system in which contending and potential powers like Japan, Germany and Europe came under US security guarantee against the defunct USSR under an arrangement which some American scholars now refer to as the US playing the ‘Liberal Leviathan’ and which only the emergence of China is about to challenge and possibly displace.

In the Nigerian context, the intellectuals, bureaucrats and Generals who superintended the surrender constructed no protectorate system. Rather than that, they not only made the strategic declaration of ‘no victor, no vanquished’, a successful technocrat of Igbo origin in the person of Dr Alex Ekwueme was to emerge as the Vice President in less than a decade after the war. Considering, for example, that US troops are still in Germany, the Nigerian surrender takers have been extremely careful and sensitive. The gap between their sensitivity and the reality of Igbo marginalisation is though what is a bit difficult to explain.

But their existence as a fraction is both good and bad news. The good news about it is that the most ascendant fraction of the Nigerian establishment is one that has decided that Nigeria remains one, notwithstanding their own internal differences, quarrels and battles. That’s fantastic because it is by that we have, so far, been saved from the cultural embarrassment of Nigerians forming the majority of refugees in the world arising from badly managed but mostly mindless elite struggle for power that we see in other parts of the continent. The bad news, however, is that this fraction is more imaginative in problem solving than in transformative leadership.

In 2011, this fraction brought GEJ to power. It was not a consensus among them but the more grounded among them asserted themselves and had their way in installing GEJ. Instead of publicly setting a governance task for GEJ, they stepped back. As GEJ came in contact with individual rather than the collective agenda of the fraction, he began to discover himself, relying more and more on the name ‘Goodluck’. Both GEJ and his managers began to believe in the trees rather than their tap roots in assessing the Nigerian political forest. Before he knew it, the grandmaster behind his ascendancy departed him. Though massively empowered, those who stayed back had not mastered the game sufficiently as to help his cause in terms of successfully replicating Obasanjo in rank breaking in 2003. Obasanjo could do that and sustain it because he was one of them, not in the sense of being an agent of the Caliphate as a Femi Fani-Kayode would write but in the sense that he is a member of that fraction glued together by a picture of Nigeria common to them as an elite of power. Without the symbol called Nigeria, they would become bystanders in world affairs, a fate they cannot imagine. Perhaps, it is difficult to understand the dynamics of their politics if one hasn’t read Adekanye’s book. The long and short of it all is GEJ’s loss of power to Buhari.

But, after enthroning Buhari, do we hear of such a clear agenda for him, well spelt out as for everyone to know this is the game? One would have thought that certain recent events in the country would compel members of this fraction to assert, for example, that Buhari has a singular task: commence a process of rapid industrialisation of the country, no matter what the situation might be. This is for the reason that Nigeria’s industrial status up to this moment is now both an economic and cultural embarrassment. It doesn’t connect with the very promising assessments of Nigeria as done by the Jim O’Neills of this world reminding, demanding and shaming the Nigerian elite of the historical challenge imposed on the country by our demographic status, among others.

Adagbo Onoja: “It ought not to have come from anybody who knows Nigeria as Nwabueze does to pose such an intellectually embarrassing argumentation because what obtains today is that even if Buhari has it in mind, he would find it impossible to Islamise the North, not to talk of adding the rest of Nigeria.”

Adagbo Onoja:
“It ought not to have come from anybody who knows Nigeria as Nwabueze does to pose such an intellectually embarrassing argumentation because what obtains today is that even if Buhari has it in mind, he would find it impossible to Islamise the North, not to talk of adding the rest of Nigeria.”

In the absence of such a constitutive agenda, everyone waits for the president. In Obasanjo’s case, he kept no one waiting. As formidable as the PDP was then, he virtually instructed the late Solomon Lar who was the Chairperson to inform Atiku Abubakar that he was the chosen one for the Vice President’s slot. If Dr Alex Ekwueme were one of today’s generation of politicians, Obasanjo would have verbally awarded him the Senate Presidency before even the party contemplated it. These are things Nwabueze could have brought together towards making a more helpful generalisation about the way members of this fraction exercise power. Professor Isawa Elaigu calls Obasanjo’s residual militarism just as some people call Buhari’s messianic diagnosis. If we stretch it farther beyond the current republic, we go into the Maradonic reflex of the ‘evil genius’ himself. Abacha referred to the military as protectors and guardians of the national interest. Given his pronouncement of preparedness to check out if Obasanjo did not get the presidency in 1999, TY Danjuma would not have been fundamentally different if he had accepted to take power earlier or after 1999. Are we blind not to see a messianic central tendency peculiar to the ‘Men on horseback’ in all these? And that this central tendency is not even as heavy in ethno-regional foundationalism as it is in class politics of power?

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