The Nigerian political class is at war with itself – and that’s a very good thing

The confusion over the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is one of the most remarkable pieces of political theatre you would ever see.

This is a man nominated by the President of Nigeria for public office. The president is head of the government’s executive arm. Yet another organ of that arm, the Department of State Secretary (DSS) continues to frustrate the nomination of Magu, accusing him – through a mishmash of insinuation and innuendo – of corruption.

Based on this report the candidate is consistently rejected by the National Assembly, headed as it were by a Bukola Saraki who in public continues to insist on his loyalty to the President.

The president, his vice, and the famous law professor and Buhari friend Itse Sagay, who heads a special body aimed at sharpening the president’s anti-corruption war, insist that Magu will remain their candidate.

The DSS refuses to budge. The Senate insists it will not confirm him.

Oh, and both Senate President and President of the Republic are members of the very same party.

The same party that, out of frustration, kicked off a war of words with Sagay for his consistent attacks against the National Assembly, warning him to stop creating enemies for the president, who must sustain a positive relationship with the legislature in order to expedite his priorities.

To which Sagay replied with scornful disdain (tautology deliberate), accusing them of “just compromising with evil”.

Essentially, a close appointee of the president has chosen, with confidence, to do public battle with the president’s own party.

Meanwhile did you notice a serving Minister of the Federal Republic, Aisha Al-Hassan, of Women Affairs (a ridiculously named ministry, by the way) reportedly bringing members of the party from her state Taraba to the party’s national headquarters, to protest their marginalization by the government of the man she is presently serving? It is important to state that she later insisted the visit was only to thank the president. But the fact that the narrative even sounded plausible in the first place speaks loudly.

Confusion everywhere, it appears.

In circumstances like this, it becomes common place for observers and analysts to, as Nigerian newspapers are wont to put it, decry the sense of confusion and disorder in the nation’s leadership, reminding us that is a distraction to the art of governance citizens deserve.

To be fair, that is a reasonable critique. But it may obscure a more important reality emerging from these internecine battles for political supremacy: that what is happening may at the end of the day be a net-positive for the citizens of Nigeria.

Calm down, let’s talk through this.

The All Progressives Congress (APC), like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has never really been a party, in the sense that a party is an organ that coheres a coordinated, consistent set of views and values about society and politics place in the world.

It has not been able to communicate a firm ideology, certainly not in the way that Bola Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria was able to channel Obafemi Awolowo’s social democratic philosophy.

Instead, the APC emerged as a child of circumstance, an inevitably hurried machine put together by an aggressive section of the political class, buoyed by the desperation of a frustrated public to seize power from an obsolete ruling party.

The people in the APC didn’t come together because they believed in the same thing. The people in the APC came together because they wanted the same thing – they were united only by common disdain for the PDP and what it had become.

Some were thus motivated because they had lost out in the PDP’s battle of wills, some because they had political ambitions that could only be actualized outside the PDP, some were driven by a sense of history in opposition politics, and yet others – probably a minority – by the urgent imperative to dislodge the corrupt behemoth that the ruling party had become in its 15 years administering Nigeria’s affairs.

To this extent, the APC was a ragtag coalition of disparate forces, which is why in pieces I wrote years ago, I made the point that there is no difference between the APC and the PDP at this point in our national evolution.

The APC included forces from Abubakar Atiku’s People’s Democratic Movement, forces from Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Political Change, and forces from both the New PDP (nPDP) or the Progressive Governor’s Forum (Rotimi Amaechi and Bukonla Saraki wings). The engine underlining all of these came from the fine-tuned Bola Tinubu political machine.

On social, economic and political imperatives, none of these blocs was in alignment. They didn’t understand the same things, didn’t believe the same things, and didn’t say the same things.

While this was not an ideal state of affairs, many still decided it was a better alternative to what we had, itself a inchoate coalition that had only managed some cohesion because of the equilibrium from multiple cycles of holding on to power i.e. the PDP had managed to keep its many factions together only by distributing power and resources.

This monopoly desperately needed competition if it was not to fully cannibalize the Nigerian nation. The APC, imperfect as it was, was the only chance to break the stranglehold.

In short, Nigeria had two power blocs that looked exactly like each other. But for both of them to behave themselves, they needed to be in competition for the voters’ affection. Monopoly by any of the two could never be a good thing.

To this extent, it was always inevitable that the APC was going to descend into some form of chaos.

Either a) cannibalise itself as these factions fight for an upper hand or b) continue to do battle for a period of time, until one side of the war finally gains the upper hand.

Either ways, I am of the opinion that this is good for Nigeria.

Previously we had a ruling party with a unity of purpose and consequently an elite collision. With its absolute power, executive and legislature had ample incentive and capacity to pillage and deceive, with no fear that anyone would interfere.

Right now what we have instead is an elite that cannot trust itself, cannot find a common ground, and cannot settle on a consensus.

While the ruling party is in palpable confusion, its opposition too has descended into chaos. Even the former president, Goodluck Jonathan unable to ensure unity; his attempts at facilitating reconciliation descending into allegations that he was bribed to take a side.

Halleluyah.

Where once Nigerians were held hostage by one very powerful ruling party at the center with players more focused on grabbing power than public good, Nigeria still has the same players, but now severely weakened and splintered across narrow lines, accusing each other of corruption, publishing pay slips, attacking remuneration and uncovering secrets.

They are weakened and scattered, and so for any of them to get a competitive advantage in such a space, one thing is required – they have to turn to pleasing the people.

Since the only upper hand these players can get at this time is to win the respect, affection and then voters of the general public, that means the balance of power continues to shift to the hands of Nigerian citizens.

Is that perhaps the reason the Senate President seemed to be talking to himself in April?

“There is need for cooperation, partnership and synergy between the states and the federal government irrespective of the political parties controlling the states,” he said at an event in Rivers. “We are supposed to serve our people and we cannot do that in a situation of acrimony. We may be different in our political persuasion but we have one common goal: to make life better for our people.

“I also believe the executive and the legislature should work together. We may have our differences but we must be conscious of the impact on national cohesion and development.”

Talk about preaching to the choir.

But at least he is making the right noises. And he is making the right noises because he has other ambitions. And those ambitions, in a highly competitive political environment, need the buy-in and a particular perception by elite and mass audiences to give him credibility and viability.

This is what we voted for, ultimately.

We voted to break the strongholds and weaken the power centers, and to return the ace to the hands and wills of citizens.

So yes in the short term it makes sense to bemoan the lack rudderless-ness that seems to define governance at the centre, especially because these things have real consequences on the lives of many who live right on the edge of poverty in a country of stifled growth.

But in the long term, we should in fact celebrate the confusion in the ranks of these guys. The unity they have had since democracy’s return in 1999 dis-incentivised good behavior and led to growth that is slower than should reasonably be expected.

Competition provides this incentive. And the more they compete, the weaker they get in relation to the voter.

Let them fight and cancel themselves, fellow Nigerians. There is no conceivable scenario under which that can ever be a bad thing.

 

*Jideonwo is co-founder and managing partner of RED (www.redafrica.xyz), which brands including Y!/YNaija.com and governance consulting firm, StateCraft Inc (www.statecraftinc.com). Office of the Citizen (OOTC) is his latest essay series.