The State of Play (A Nation in Ruins)

By Dr Anthony Chuka Konwea, PE
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In roughly six weeks, Nigerians will be heading to the polls to elect the next crop of executive and legislative leaders for the 2019 – 2023 Class of Government. I cannot exactly put my hands on it, but something does not feel quite right. Something appears to beamiss. There is no buzz of excitement usually associated with previous Nigerian elections. An eerie pall of gloom, doom and resignation has descended upon the nation. For those who can read the signs, you get the sense that something major is about to happen.

Those who stay long inside a jungle, sort of get used to the background noise. They get accustomed to the constant chirping of crickets, the whining of mosquitos, the buzzing of bees, the croaking of frogs, the chattering of monkeys, the squawking of parrots and the screeching of bats. Jungle experts advise that one should be very concerned, wary and alert when all jungle noises suddenly cease. Invariably there is danger afoot such as the presence of a big cat stalking you, ready to pounce in a flash or an impending earthquake.

Animals with their ultra-developed senses, see and perceive danger long before human beings. Human beings are often so absorbed in their daily grinds and routines that they pay less than adequate attention to their immediate surroundings or future. People were wining and dining on the Titanic just hours before it sank. The first-class passengers on the Titanic ate an epic dinner before the disaster. They were later serenaded by light orchestral and popular music up till 11.00 pm. The ship struck an ice-berg at 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912 and sank thereafter.

We are now in the home-stretch before crucial elections in a country pummeled by the pangs of poverty.Where is the country headed? What is the current balance of forces and fortunes between the major players?What is the topographic disposition of the political battlespace? How have offensive and defensive political assets been arrayed-in-theatre? What is the current state of play? We shall touch on a few of these issues shortly.

INEC:The body charged with organizing elections in Nigeria is the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Every Nigerian however knows that INEC is nowhere near independent. The current INEC under Professor Mahmoud Yakubu appears to have been subdued, compromised and subsumed as a decorativefacadeof the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency.

In a charged political atmosphere, it is difficult for sure to please all the major contestants. But the mandate of an electoral arbiter is not to please anybody but to ensure that all identified loopholes for electoral abuse and malpractice are not only blocked but seen by all to be truly blocked. An independent, impartial electoral referee, should be ready to go the extra mileto prove its preparedness in ensuringthe accurate capture of voters’ electoral choices.

Not only must an impartial electoral arbiter ensure that each legitimate vote counts, they must alsoensure that denial of voting rights for legitimate voters, underage voting, voter impersonation,vote-rigging or numerical manipulation of electoral results is made extremely difficult if not outright impossible. There should be multiple in-built redundancies along the chain of collation and transmission of results to capture malpractice. Even with that anything or anyone that suffers the slightest hint of taint or bias no matter how highly placed or connected should not be seen anywhere near the transmission, collation or announcement of election results.

For an independent observer, you get the sense from the pre-election activities of INEC that assurances have been sought and received that INEC must deliver pre-ordained electoral results. You get the sense that the numerical surgery of electoral votes (a.k.a. vote rigging) is already in progress and is in the ‘anesthetic’ stage six weeks before Nigeria’s General Elections.

Recall that INEC prepared a 2019 elections budget of 143 billion naira. It will be a gigantic swindle, a heinous act of corruption and a perfidy worthy of the gallows to expend a humongous amount of money for an election and then have imaginary votes grafted by a few ‘numerical surgeons’ presented and passed-of as authentic results. A word is enough for the wise. We leave it at that for now.

NPF, NA and EFCC: These are the respective acronyms of the Nigerian Police Force, the Nigerian Army and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. All these state institutions have been crudely weaponized by the Buhari Presidency and transformed into overt partisan agents simultaneously working to aid and abet electoral fraud and injustice. For sure just like the INEC, this is not the first time these state institutions have been weaponized for partisan purposes. Variouspast PDP governments were guilty of this crime to a much lesser degree. But the brazenness and desperation adopted by the Buhari Presidency in corrupting these state institutions and transforming them respectively into partisan facilitators of electoral corruption (for the NPF), intimidators of the public (NA) and tools of harassment of political opponents (EFCC) is unparalleled in the history of Nigeria. Their crude use more than anything else exposes the hypocrisy of the Buhari Administration which ran for office in 2015 on a so-called “Change Agenda”. Frankly things indeed changed in Nigeriaunder President Buhari – but in almost all cases for the worse.

Aisha Buhari:Once restrained by her husband President Buhari’s hypocritical stance of being ascetic and uninterested in the spoils of office, Aisha has always been chomping at the bits ready to break loose. Aisha was until very recently envious ofand frustrated by the ease with which members of the Buhari cabal were carving up fiscal zones of influence, warehousing physical resources and amassing personal fortunes under Buhari’s nose while her own material instincts were stifled by his pretentious determination to maintain a saintly facade. But now no more.

Aisha who was once publiclydismissed by Buhari as having nopolitical consequence other than merely serving as the occupant of his ‘other room’, has by brilliant tactical play picked the locks and liberated herself permanently from that other room.After all, once squeezed out, who can push the contents of a paste-tube back inside it? Aisha’s shrewd adoption of ‘siddon-look’(feigned disinterest) tactics in her husband’spolitical fortunes coupled with a threat to squeal and ‘spill the beans’ about goings-on under the Buhari Presidency (of which she has ring-side view), has earned her an invitation to the high table erstwhile reservedfor members of the Buhari Cabal.

Indeed, Aisha has ‘made her bones’ and become a Buhari cabalist in her own rights. She has successfully carved out her own zone of influence and patronage asthe officially recognized Leader of the APC ‘Women and Youths’ Campaign Organization. Do not be deceived by the inconsequential sounding ‘Women and Youths’ bit. Aisha is in a very powerful position as the regular APC apparatchik and party big-wigs will soon find out.

For one the beautiful and elegant Aisha can now present her own self-estimated campaign budget to the main Buhari Campaign team which has since been hijacked by the Cabal. Who can dare to deny her, her proposed budget no matter how outrageous? Secondly with unlimited funds at her disposal to dispose of as she wishes, Aisha can now build up a formidable network of youths and women across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

Third while giving President Buhari a personalized feedback of her campaign activities in the other room, Aisha can now report to him, who among his regular appointees is working hard for the cause or not. Fourthly since Buhari for reasons of age and ill-health cannot campaign so hard, Aisha will soon become the ‘Face of Buhari’ seen on the campaign ground, while the original Buhari is resting in the other room. In short, the tables are now turned, and Aisha has the Presidency and the Cabal by the balls.

Code-named the ‘suicide-bomber’ by Buhari cabalists, Aisha has lived up to that reputation. It can indeed be said that she adopted suicide tactics and bombed President Buhari and his cabal into submission. As the mother of his beloved children, there is little Buhari can now doabout Aisha. In deed I expect Aisha with her new found official position to build up a formidable financial war-chest. I also expect her to reimburse her younger brother (who was allegedly rigged out of his gubernatorial aspirations in Adamawa State) of all his campaign expenses with a substantial profit. To Adams Oshiomhole (the current APC Chairman), I say watch your back bro.

Aisha is now a proud apostle of the ‘4+4’ (four years first term plus four years second term) movement. The old fashioned, and ultra-conservative President Buhari who hypocritically projects himself as ‘progressive’ would have been squirming in his seat while regarding the flashy way Aisha decorated her fingers and palm to market the ‘4+4’ movement recently.As an aside, I have an unconfirmed suspicion that the ‘4+4’ concept may in fact be an original Aisha brain child. It is without doubt a more effective and somewhat less ominous sounding campaign slogan than the “Next Level’ payoff formally adopted by the Buhari Campaign organization.

With no time to lose and with an eye on making up for ground so painfully lost while she was caged in the other room, the capable and ambitious Aisha has hit the ground running, teaching the APC old men how it is done. Less than 48 hours after she was officially inaugurated into her position, and even before her slow-coach husband could inaugurate his Presidential Campaign Council, Aisha was already campaigning in Kano. I expect Aisha to visit all the states of the Federation in the very near future, spreading the goodies and mobilizing women and youths. Atiku Abubakar watch out too!

Who knows what the future holds? With her new-found influence and stranglehold on the Presidency coupled with the ill-health of her husband, I expect Aisha to supplant the current cabal in very short order.If Buhari wins the election thanks to Aisha’s exertions, I expect to see a resurgent Aisha seizing control of the Buhari Presidency completely from the cabal and attempting to create a Buhari Dynasty. A link up of forces between Aisha (with grass roots support network among women and youths all over the Federation) and some powerful elements in the military might even lead to Aisha being groomed to succeed Buhari.

After all, the equally elegant and beautiful Grace Mugabe nearly pulled off a similar feat in Zimbabwe before the rug was pulled from under her feet by the Zimbabwean Army.A Buhari victory, traceable almost entirely to the photogenic Aisha’s hard campaigns (and not to electoral shenanigans like rigging or voter intimidation) means that Aisha would be in pole position to determine who becomes who in a new Buhari Cabinet.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo: He is a competenteven if unspectacular,pragmaticand steady-handed administrator. Osinbajo apparently valuesapparent fealty to his current boss President Buhari much more than loyalty to the truth and standing up for what is right, decent and fair at the risk of losing his current job. Like his boss he apparently enjoys his current position and looks forward with some relish to the prospect of one day becoming a substantial President in his own rights. By a recent careless and totally unnecessary comment bothering on tribalism he is now permanently saddled with a tribal backpack. More than that his Freudian slip revealed an ambitious streak which is often fatal in Nigerian politics. Although his stature has been considerably reduced by his unpreparedness to confront injustice, he remains someone to watch out for in future even though his potential presidential ambition is bound to set him up on a collision course somedaywith his godfather Bola Tinubu.

Chief Bola Tinubu: To all intents and purposes, Chief Bola Tinubu is now a spent force on the national scene having missed out twice on the Vice-Presidency. Apart from a miracle, I simply see no route for him leading up to the Nigerian Presidency. Before he aided President Muhammadu Buhari to clinch the Presidency in 2015, he was a very strong regional player with rather weak nationwide political network. Today no thanks to President Buhari’s ungrateful style of politics, he is even weaker nationally.

But more dangerously for him his hold on his regional base is now clearly being challenged. If President Buhari manages to win re-election I project that he would be forced to retire honorably from politics or else risk losing the entirety of his accumulated wealth. Even if that is not the case, he faces an uphill battle in convincing his erstwhile protégé and current Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to step down hispolitical ambition. In a nutshell, other than remaining a regional king-maker, Chief Bola Tinubu has reached a political cul-de-sac with no clear route to the Nigerian Presidency.

Peter Obi:As the nominated vice-presidential candidate of the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi’s stature has risen tremendously in Nigeria. His case is further helped by his frugality and apparent economic shrewdness. His seeming unpopularity in his South East regional base both with the political class as well as with the restless Igbo youths are really points in his favor in a country still fearful of the Igbos. His low key, humble and understated style are further points in his favor.

If he remains faithfullysupportive of his political boss the PDP Presidential Candidate Atiku Abubakar, then he would be someone to watch out for in future regardless of whether Atiku Abubakar wins the Presidency or not. On the down side there are rumors that Peter Obi has been caught telling a couple of whitelies (i.e. inconsequential) such as claiming he does not have a house outside Nigeria when it is speculated that he does indeed have one in London!

Vice President Atiku Abubakar: As the leading opposition PDP’s presidential candidate, the main challenger to President Buhari, and someone who has a very strong ambition to become President, this is probably Atiku Abubakar’s last and best chance of clinching the Presidency. Atiku Abubakar is a very shrewd and capable man with an unswerving knack for identifying talents and making money. Like his former boss President Olusegun Obasanjo and unlike President Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar is someone who takes the pains to read widely and continuously develop himself. He is ostensibly very well prepared for the job of President, which marks him out as a far-sighted strategist. Unfortunately, Atiku Abubakar does not have the strategic patience to match his long-term planning skills. For instance, his past decision to decamp from the PDP and join the APC was as much a colossal blunder for him as it has proven to be for Bola Tinubu. Both men were used and dumped by President Buhari once he became President. Unlike Tinubu, however, Atiku has one last opportunity to give Muhammadu Buhari a bloody nose electorally.

Atiku surprised many including this writer when he emerged as the Presidential Candidate of the PDP from a very crowded field of heavyweight co-contestants mostly from North. Since then his campaigns appear to be dogged by seeming indifference from many of his co-contestants as well as PDP State Governors from the South-South and South-East. The word out in the streets is that the latter set of Governors are aggrieved with Atiku for not choosing one of them to be his (i.e. Atiku’s) running mate.

The reality however is that Muhammadu Buhari is using the EFCC to harass the various PDP Governors thereby preventing them from funding Atiku’s campaign. While this is not bad, it is worthwhile remembering that Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory in 2015 was single-handedly bankrolled by the then Rivers and Lagos State Governors who are now Super Ministers in Buhari’s current administration. This is classic Buhari’s selective and nepotistic style of Administration: turning a blind eye when infractions are made by his own people or for his own benefit and moving with extreme efficiency when infractions are made by others for his opponents’ benefits, while all the time purporting to be “Mr. Integrity.”

Now there are two ways to look at Atiku’s campaign difficulties. Either he and his supporters are saving their resources for the end-game or that his campaign is truly experiencing logistical difficulties. If it is the former, then well and good. Buhari is eminently beatable at next month’s polls. If it is the latter, then Atiku is left with no other choice than to make his campaign the peoples’ movement. A campaign becomes a movement when the common people take control and use their own time and resources to campaign on your behalf.

To transform his campaign into a movement however Atiku must specifically demonstrate that he stands for fairness and justice to all regardless of ethnic or geo-political background. Secondly, he must specifically assure the people that the restructuring he would undertake in his first year in office would mean that no future Nigerian President starting from himself would ever be able to use the INEC, the Police, the Army and the EFCC to either perpetuate himself in power against the peoples’ electoral wish or harass his opponents. Thirdly he must assure the people that his administration would not tolerate indiscriminate grazing and that private ranching would be a nationwide policy. Most importantly, that all forcibly occupied tribal lands would be retrieved from Fulani expansionist herdsmen and returned to their rightful owners.

President Muhammadu Buhari: Not much can be said further about Nigeria’s current President that has not been said in the past in my previous writings. President Buhari is extremely fearful of impending defeat and has adopted crude, desperate tactics totally unbecoming of his so-called reputation as a ‘man of integrity.’ President Buhari’sdesperation to cling to power and his eager deployment of state assets to shore up his personal political fortunes confirms my early assessment of his fabled integrity as a scam.The only thing that can be said in President Buhari’s favor is that while others ‘chop’ messily and thereafter attempt to wipe their mouths clean to avoid detection, he (i.e. Buhari) hasgreatinnate abilitiesof chopping (or rather swallowing) with a clean mouth.

In summary a Buhari victory which I still see as improbable all things being equal,will be grossly tainted by not being representative of the true wishes of a plurality of Nigerians. Even at that his will be a pyrrhic victory at best, and he will probably be a lame-duck President incapable of governing right from day one. At the same time all around him would be brazen in their attempts to cash in on a Presidency without true electoral legitimacy.

Either way the greatest losers will be President Buhari’sfanatic supporters and apologists. Aisha has been settled. The cabalists have been settled. But President Buhari’s grass roots and elite supporters have not. His elite supporters will lose their credibility as the crude, dishonest and desperate tactics to remain in power adopted by Buhari their patron saint would surely drag theirremaining faculties through the mud of judgmental disrepute.

The way I see it, the only potential winners of a bitterly contested election resulting in a chaotic and illegitimate outcome unrecognized by the international community, must surely be the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), who may then subsequently get their avowed wish of an independence referendum on a platter of gold!

Anthony Chuka Konwea, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, MNSE, FNIStructE, MNICE.

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