Buhari vs. elites

President Buhari had while on a visit to Katsina on January 20, accused Nigerian elites of harassing his person and administration without taking into consideration the serious crisis of nation-building he inherited in 2015 and his heroic efforts at addressing them these past five years. Before this, he had on December 12, 2020 during the graduation ceremony of 78 participants of the Senior Executive Course 42 of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), blamed the elite for the nation’s intractable social-political problems.

Playing the victim, the president wondered why the elite would not acknowledge his efforts at rehabilitating our collapsed infrastructures including roads, rail lines health facilities and providing monies to the states to clear backlog of unpaid salaries by states piled up by his predecessors at a time the nation was selling a barrel of crude oil for over $100. If they were not impressed by that, how about his government plan to lift 100million out of poverty in 10 years which took off with N30,000 grants for taxi, bus, okada, Keke Napep, Uber, Bolt drivers, and cart pushers across the country?

I don’t think the president needs to lose sleep over elites’ opposition to his government. A journey through memory will clearly show the elites, because of their greed, intrigue and conspiracy against Nigeria, have always been the scourge of the nation. The bitterness that accompanied their struggle for elective position in the 1920s was what probably forced Oliver Stanley to conclude that “through the greater part of the colonial empire, it is the British presence alone that has prevented a disastrous disintegration and the British withdrawal today would mean for millions, a descent into turmoil of warring sects”.

Many of the nationalists were also believed to have been driven not by altruism but by personal ambition and were prepared to set Nigerian ethnic nationalities against each other in other in the pursuit of power. It was also perhaps for this reason Hugh Clifford, the then Nigerian Governor-general in an address to the Nigerian Council on December 1920 articulated a British policy designed to produce a ‘regional government that secures for each separate people, the right to maintain its identity, its individuality and its nationality and its own chosen form of government which have been evolved for it by the wisdom and by the accumulated experiences of generation of its forbearers’.

On his part, Chief Obafemi Awolowo observed as far back as 1945 that “given an option to choose between our educated elite, the traditional rulers and the colonial masters, Nigerians would choose in reverse order”.

The constitutional success the nation achieved between 1914 and 1958 was therefore in spite of the Nigerian educated elite for whom democracy was just a means to an end. It was therefore not a surprise the new value system collapsed in less than five years of independence.

And little lesson was learnt as the elite regrouped in the fourth republic under what John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria described as, a “cartel with no ideological or programmatic basis but as essentially a club of elite for sharing oil rents and political spoils” who in the name of election, between 1999 and 2015, reduced Nigerians to periodic participants in a selection ritual of those a British court also described as “thieves in state houses’.

It was the same elite who according to BPE’s one-time chairman, Nasir El Rufai, that presided over the sale of Unipetrol, AP/National oil, Ashaka Cement, WAPCO, CCNN, BCC, Calabar Cement, Capital Hotel, Abuja Sheraton, and FESTAC 77. Others include Ikoyi residential houses, Tafawa Balewa Square, Ikoyi Federal Secretariat, 1004 residential flats, Abuja legislators’ residential quarters, vice president’s guest houses, senate president’s residence, etc. to their cronies who had access to state resources at 0.5% of $100b government invested on these public enterprises between 1970 -1979. Lawan, the committee chairman, speaking on the killing of Daily Times which he said was ‘one bad example of privatization” concluded that “In most cases, most of our enterprises were dashed out”.

Unfortunately, President Buhari still does not realize that it was because of elite betrayal Nigerians saw a messiah in him; that the northern poor (talakawas) massively voted for him in spite of his de-marketing by the northern establishment who said he was not ‘pure Fulani’ and the southwest that led a crusade to remove him from office because of his human right abuses during his first coming as a military head of state also supported him believing he was better placed to resolve our political problems.

The Southwest was not alone. Late Maitama Yusuf Sule, two-time minister and former Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nations also shared those sentiments. At the head of the northern leaders delegation to congratulate him on his victory in 2015, he had described him as “a great Nigerian nationalistic compatriot…It is the same Buhari that gave Nigeria a sense of direction when he was a military leader, this time around I’m sure Allah has brought him to correct the ills of the past, to reform”.

In power, President Buhari who listens only to himself also pretends he knows what Nigerians want without asking them. He is committed to rehabilitation of roads even when motorists for fear of kidnappers dare not drive through them.

What Nigerians, who understand very clearly that lack of elite consensus, corruption and infrastructural decays are but symptoms of a dysfunctional political system want is solution to their political problems made intractable by political, economic and military elite, the main beneficiaries of the nation’s nightmare. As Kwame Nkrumah put it “first seek the kingdom of politics, every other thing will follow.

Majority of federating nationalities want state and community policing to protect themselves from rampaging herders. The polluted oil producing Niger Delta that can no more support fishing or farming and whose resources are being used to build bridges over land in Abuja want justice. Lagos with the same population as Kano and Jigawa that whimsically allocated over 80 LGAs as against her own 20 wants justice. The Kogi and Kwara Yoruba which constitute about four per cent of the northern population want to join their kith and kin in the southwest.

In an age of competitive federalism driven by market forces, while it is perfectly normal for Lagos, the fifth biggest economy in Africa to attract immigrant from even across West Africa, the state must be able to take control of those who live within her territory including thousands of non-Nigerian okada riders

Justice is the foundation of peace. Justice rather than guns, bombings and other forms of violence has better prospect of ending banditry, kidnapping and insurgency.

The late Nigeria elder statesman, Maitama Yusuf Sule believed resolution of our political crisis through institutionalization of justice is a task not beyond President Buhari. “With justice”, he had told him, “you can rule Nigeria well, justice is the key. “If you are going to judge between two people, do justice irrespective of the tribe, religion or even political inclination. Justice must be done to whosoever deserves it.”

President Buhari still has two years to decide whether he wants to be remembered as a statesman or as an ethnic irredentist.

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