■ The powers behind the scene
By CHIDI OBINECHE
they are military generals who among them put up a cumulative 20 years ruling the country with one of them returning as civilian president. They are bound by groveling military ethos of esprit de corps, united by an unswerving spirit of Nigerianism.
They are Generals Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, OBJ, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, IBB and Abdulsalami Abubakar. Together they have worked in silicon as guardian angels, elemental greats and bowling giants in the leadership path of the nation. As red hot cookies, they have slithered up to the levers, and once coiled around it have been stretching and twirling around it, in excess of two decades on end. They take the form of the “the thing around your neck,” the epic work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which defines a condition where characters are often unable to articulate and overcome their burdens and the ‘thing’ around their neck(s). They are the powers behind the thrones, the musketeers in Alexander Dumas’ Les Trois Mousquetaires, the cricket in the crevice, and the greenery in the lush garden. Last Tuesday, they found yet another clear opportunity to come round in the far reaches of the top hill mansion of one of them to deliberate on the health challenges of President Muhammadu Buhari. And the seeming yawning leadership vacuum it is breeding. Separated by layers of years in active service and the cobwebs of seniority, they have taken refuge in reticent senior citizenship, moulding bricks of relative statesmanship. Out of their warts and waxed indecencies, their interventions at critical junctures of the national enterprise have saved much, watered seeming unity and broken the crusts and cleavages that have held the fragile hinges of Nigeria. At the Tuesday meeting, they were said to have explored all constitutional options available to the country in the face of the inability of President Buhari “to effectively function as President.” President Buhari has been unable in the last few weeks to work optimally owing to an apparent deterioration in his state of health. It was learnt that the trio agreed to ‘continue to closely watch the situation’ and ‘will speak out’ at the appropriate time.
In time and space, supermen abound to steer the course of their nation’s history. In 1998, when the ship of the Nigerian state rocked in turmoil following the June 12, 1993 inconclusive presidential elections attenuated by a most devious dictatorship by the late Gen Sani Abacha, everything came to a head as the presumed winner of the election, Chief MKO Abiola and Abacha were dramatically taken out. Details and circumstances of this epic are yet to be fully unfolded. Abubakar, who inherited their unceremonious sudden exit and returned the country to participatory democracy, has kept a sealed lip. He hurriedly brought out Obasanjo from prison where he was quarantined by the late Abacha and was immediately primed to take over in nine months from Abdulsalami as democratically elected president in the shortest democratic transition period in the annals of the nation’s history. Like a script out of a movie, the trio hijacked the biggest political party at the time, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP on which platform Obasanjo coasted to victory in the 1999 presidential elections. He was said to have been sponsored by his co- supermen, hoodwinking the North that “he can be trusted” and using the cloak of appeasement and compensation for June 12 annulment as a sing- song to soothe the nerves of the South-west. It worked. Obasanjo as president neither ruffled their feathers nor broke their nails. He anointed the late Umaru Yar’Adua as president and Goodluck Jonathan as the vice president with the full backing of the duo. In the thick of the maelstrom that attended Yar’Adua’s failing health and the rise of the Aso Rock cabal, the triumvirate stood, navigated and was counted. In a somewhat co-ordinated move, the hostage- taking cabal was routed out through the famous “doctrine of necessity,” which empowered Jonathan to become president. The dusts it stirred are yet to settle down. When Jonathan fell out with Obasanjo, he fought strenuously to secure the nod of Abdulsalami and Babangida for a second term in office. Abdulsalami stood behind him like the biblical rock of Gibraltar while Babangida spoke from both sides of the mouth. Flustered but resolute on his goal, an exasperated Jonathan despite the initial bravado ate the humble pie and came calling on Obasanjo at his hill top residence in Abeokuta. Obasanjo played the game of the fox, telling him in words and deed that revenge is a dish best served cold. In the end, Jonathan waved the seat bye. Like the hard- drilled ox, the body language, association and recent comments by Obasanjo gravely indicate that he neither forgot nor forgave him.
A loose definition of a kingmaker according to Wikipedia is ‘ a person or group that has great influence in a royal or political succession, without being a viable candidate’. Kingmakers may use political, monetary, religious, and military means to influence succession. Originally, the term applied to the activities of Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick. Kingmakers even in contemporary times play god, work like a slave and command like a king. They rule by stealth. In biblical Israel, Prophet Samuel was a smashing kingmaker who oversaw the transition from Judges to Kings. He appointed King Saul and when he fell from grace he appointed another king, this time, the legendary King David, best known, among other things, for defeating the giant Goliath. In India, the political landscape of the country would look different without Sonia Gandhi. After her husband, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, she was asked to take over as Prime Minister, but she refused, preferring to work from the background. She finally joined the fray in 1997 as president of the Indian National Congress, restoring the fortunes of her husband’s party. The 2004 election pointed to her as the next prime minister, but she demurred and instead appointed Manmohan Singh. She is currently propping up her son, Rahul which may see him to the seat soon. King making at its best.
Expectedly, Nigerians have been reacting to the meeting of the three generals and the tenuous influence they exert on the nation. While some agree it is necessary, others disagree. The National Publicity Secretary of the pan- Yoruba socio- political group, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin dismissed it as “ undue influence peddling.” He said the fate of the country and president Buhari “ is for Nigerians to decide, and not for three men.” Odumakin expressed reservations about their meeting, believing it must have been on other issues and not just on the issue of Buhari’s health. The non- inclusion of other living ex- Heads of State, according to a former member of the House of Representatives Hon Uche Onyeagocha is an ominous sign that the trio have since “constituted themselves into a cabal that determines the political direction of the country. Why did they not invite Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Ernest Shonekan and Goodluck Jonathan?” he asked rhetorically obviously not yet in terms with their king making pedigree. On his part, Lagos constitutional Lawyer, legal author and human rights activist, Frank Agbedo, said “the meeting should just be a mere congregation of like minds, a meeting of friends to fraternize and engage in fellow felling. Anything outside that, like attempting to go outside the constitution to change the leadership of the country is treasonable. Fortunately, they are still holding the details of their deliberations close to their chests. At the appropriate time, when they speak as they promised, we shall digest the issues raised and react accordingly” He, however, admitted that the trio have been playing crucial roles in the nation’s political trajectory. The National Chairman of the United Progressives Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie contends that the meeting is conspiratorial and suspicious. He argued that Obasanjo and Abdulsalami have been constant visitors to the seat of power than at any other time, wondering why they are up in arms with Buhari now if not for some easily decipherable reasons. “ It is another kind of conspiracy that is yet to unfold. It was IBB and Abdulsalami that threw up the Obasanjo presidency. Ever since then, they have always conspired. They conspired to remove Jonathan from office. Any keen observer of power struggle in Nigeria will definitely look beyond their meeting. Except for IBB on health grounds, Obasanjo and Abdulsalami have been making frequent visits to Buhari more than at any other time and now that Buhari’s health is bad, it is not beyond the triumvirate to insist on visiting him,” he told Sunday Sun. He continues: “Their meeting is suspicious. Nobody can ascribe anything altruistic or beneficial to their meeting. If anything, it is another round of meeting to conspire, in case there is a leadership vacuum in the country.”
As the crisis of Buhari’s health continues, anxiety, tension build up because a teardrop on earth summons the king of heaven.