By Chidi Amuta
In a season of sundry masks, Mr. Mamman Daura has courageously cast off his political mask. He did so in order to speak on a matter of great general public interest: the 2023 presidency. This is an act of unusual boldness for an elder who has been content with living as a shadow under his uncle’s presidential umbrella.
To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Daura holds no known political office in the Buhari administration. He is neither a minister nor special adviser. He is not acknowledged in any of the literature on personnel in the presidential villa. Although Mr. Daura has no known official designation, he has an unmistakable footprint in the power nexus around Aso Rock. His loudest footsteps have been heard in the vicinity of the Aso Rock residence where his filial exertions have reportedly fueled occasional loud intra family squabbles within the innermost chambers of the presidential court.
Outside the context of Aso Rock, Mr. Maman Daura is not a small man in Nigerian parlance. There is copious literature on the man’s obviously distinguished public service career. Even more elaborate is the extent and magnitude of his business empire and political reach in the northern half of the country. But his current claim on our attention rests ultimately on his close family ties with incumbent president Major General Muhammadu Buhari. From this vantage position, the elder statesman is reportedly credited with a myriad of interventions in aid of presidential decisions on matters ranging from strategic appointments to critical policy matters. Invariably then, Mr. Daura’s views on any matter relating to the present political dispensation ought to be weighty and very consequential. It is risky to ignore a man with such proximity to the apex of power and who has not quite disguised his interest in what happens in the abode of ultimate power.
In this regard, Mamman Daura’s recent suggestion that we migrate from the zoning formula for presidential selection to a meritocratic one. From his vantage pedestal, this proposition acquires the stature of a political encyclical. No pope issues an encyclical every time or casually. The timing of Daura’s submission is not accidental either. In spite of the president’s apparent inertness about the politics of his succession, there is obvious subterranean turmoil in the APC on the matter of Nigeria AB (After Buhari). Therefore, for a man who has close family ties with the president and whose present place of abode is within the precincts of the presidential villa, to offer an unsolicited advice on a matter so strategic is not gratuitous or accidental.
The gravity of Mr. Daura’s intervention is made heavier by the fact that he is said to function unofficially as the principal and ultimate counselor to the president on matters of private, policy and political interest.
It would also be careless to write off the popular notion that Mr. Daura presides over an unofficial ‘cabinet’ of presidential guardians which has included the late Abba Kyari, late Ismaila Funtua, Baba Gana Kingibe and a few other more innocuous shadowy characters. Together, these gentlemen are believed to constitute the infamous Aso Rock ‘cabal’ on which so much gossip and fiction has been lavished. In a nation ruled often by authentic hearsay, it would be dangerous either to believe in the endless powers of this ‘cabal’ just as it would be foolish to dismiss its existence and lethal impact on public policy and the political destiny of the Buhari presidency.
From the recesses of past Nigerian history especially in the post civil war years, there has been the existence of a conscious but shadowy political collective variously referred to as the Kaduna Mafia. As it turns out, this informal collective of influential traditional rulers, politicians, intellectuals, highly placed public servants, functionaries of the deep state and Mullahs has functioned as a protector of what is loosely referred to as the ‘northern interest’. Previous leading shadows in this formation have included such famous Nigerians as the late Umaru Dikko, Adamu Ciroma, Mamman Daura, Rilwanu Lukman, Ango Abdullahi and myriad others.
The shadowy presence of the informal collective of friends in Mr. Buhari’s Aso Villa is said to be a recrudescence of that previous template. As an instrument of power pre-eminence, there may be nothing wrong with a president assembling his friends, relations and associates to advance a political trajectory or assist in the design and driving of a desirable policy direction. Current US president Mr. Donald Trump has had friends like Steve Bannon and both his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner working actively in the White House to drive his policies and programmes. The trouble begins only when whatever interests such a group advances or articulates runs counter to established and commonly cherished national interests.
Everything in the body language and rare pronouncements of the president himself indicates the towering reach of these shadowy individuals in his presidency. When Mr. Abba Kyari passed on, Mamman Daura did not mince words in characterizing the man as easily more knowledgeable and intelligent than all of Mr. Buhari’s ministers put together. He was, as it were, the in -house philosopher and supreme policy think pad of the regime. Similarly, when my friend Ismaila Funtua passed on recently, the president himself was sufficiently moved by his sense of loss that he got the Federal Executive Council to stand up in observance of a moment of silence in honour of a man who he acknowledged had contributed so immensely to his administration. Last week, the president in his condolence letter to the Funtua family further acknowledged Mr. Funtua’s extensive contributions to his administration.
Whatever the configuration and character of the president’s chamber ‘cabinet’ or back stage cast, an inescapable logic of presidential politics is that they must take responsibility of the policy direction and key decisions of the president. In the instance of the Buhari presidency, we have a worrisome legacy in the making. There is a deliberate lopsidedness in appointments at the apex of strategic national institutions in favour of the northern half of the country. Because these appointees lead the charge in most strategic areas of national life (army, police, customs, immigration, finance, national security etc.) the prevailing general incompetence in most areas of national life cannot be passed off as part of a general national malaise. The appointees must accept responsibility for the current epidemic of lapses and epic incompetence. Similarly, the president’s advisers and handlers are vicariously liable even though the ultimate responsibility of the strengths and weaknesses of the current arrangements rest squarely at the doorstep of the president.
Tragically, the impression is prevalent out there that today’s Nigeria is easily the most divided we have had in the post civil war period. Today, we live in a polity where the concentric circles of power, influence, patronage and opportunity now flow outwards from Daura, Katsina, the North west, north east, the larger geo-ethnic north before it trickles miserably out towards the rest of the country. This unfortunate development has been attributed to the inputs of Buhari’s informal chamber cabinet of shadowy influencers and advisers. I doubt that Mr. Mamman Daura, as the perceived leader of this infamous collective, can easily extricate himself from responsibility for Mr. Buhari’s clannish and divisive presidency.
Hardly any other nation in today’s world has come under the tyranny of powerful shadows like Nigeria under Mr. Buhari. The towering figure of these powerful shadows has ended up casting frequent doubts as to who really wields ultimate presidential power in Buhari’s Aso Rock. These doubts recently rose to a deafening crescendo and led Aso Rock media spokespersons to desperately reaffirm the president’s authority in matters of governance and power. For good or for ill, none of Buhari’s predecessors ever left so much gaping doubt as to who is in charge in Aso Rock.
The problem, I dare say, is essentially one of personal style and acculturation. A rather withdrawn, quiescent and self -effacing personality may be a virtue for a distant Fulani monarch. But those traits are ill suited to the dramatic activism and feisty requirements of an executive presidential system. Add to this the rise of alternate centres of formidable power within the presidency and the explanation for the crisis of perception presently dogging Buhari’s Aso Rock falls into place .
Therefore, Mr. Daura’s recent political encyclical on the criteria for choosing the next president merits consideration. As a citizen, Mr. Daura is entitled to his views in exercise of his freedom of expression within a democratic space. Even if he were a political party faithful or official, his individual perspective on criteria for choosing whom to put forward for the office of president would still not qualify as policy. In fairness to the man , therefore, he is entitled to his views. The presidency has predictably distanced itself from Mr. Daura lest it be interpreted as Mr. Buhari flying a tattered kite.
On the surface, a call for a meritocratic parameter for presidential selection over and above the present north-south zoning arrangement is not exactly ground breaking. In a settled and normal polity, parties ought to put forward the best candidate to the electorate irrespective of ethnicity, geo politics or religion. That is the ideal of liberal democracy in an enlightened political order. But this nation is unlike no other. Our history and political evolution is like no other. A delicate balance of power between a Moslem north and a Christian south has remained the unwritten insurance code for stability in Nigerian history. Previous dislocations of social and political order have resulted from perceptions of any disruption of this balance of power. This bipolar political structure ensures a social and cultural equilibrium from which other instruments and structures of balance, strategic stability, social peace, political order and a degree of equity should flow.
It has remained psychologically satisfying to the majority of ordinary Nigerians to find a Christian President and Moslem Vice President or vice versa each time a new presidential term is inaugurated. Even under the military, there was a careful sensitivity to this bi polarity as the basis for the allocation of apex political office. For instance, when General Murtala Mohammed, a Moslem head of state was assassinated, he was succeeded by his Yoruba southern deputy, then Major General Olusegun Obasanjo. In order of military seniority, Obasanjo’s deputy should have been Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, another Christian. In deference to the bipolar equation and in the interest of national stability, Mr. Danjuma assented to the elevation of the much more junior Col. Shehu Musa Yar’dua as Obasanjo’s deputy.
Subsequent political dispensations have institutionalized this bipolar balance of power as a political convention. Each major political party has adopted this template of north-south power rotation or zoning as a winning and pragmatic even if lazy formula of power succession. In the immediate instance of the APC, the choice of Mr. Buhari as presidential candidate was largely informed by this reality. Strictly speaking then, there was no meritocracy about the emergence of Mr. Buhari. His prime qualification was being a northerner. Other considerations about his previous leadership roles were mere tangential marketing gimmicks . In fact, other parameters of presidential qualification such as paper qualification, eloquence, articulateness or even basic policy knowledge did not count for much.
There is in fact a sense in which Mr. Daura’s new found recipe for a political meritocracy could be an indictment of the qualifications and track record of performance of his uncle so far. But it is too late to go in that direction. It is the general merit of the proposition itself that ought to concern us here.
The threats to the political order that necessitate the bipolar balance of power are still potent. They threaten Nigeria under Buhari more than ever. Fear of religious and geo political lopsidedness and potent sectional domination is today stronger than ever. The re-emergence of different regional, ethnic and religious factions has assumed an even more frightening dimension. The federalist hegemony on the basis of which Nigeria’s political order was reconstructed after the civil war in 1970 has been badly eroded. Clamours for re-structuring, confederation, secession, ethnic self -determination and other
separatist agenda have been activated under Mr. Buhari.
We must commend Mr. Daura for recognizing the urgent necessity for ‘merit’ to determine the choice of president going forward. But jettisoning the north-south zoning formula will kill our imperfect union. We must have a country before we emplace the best president to lead it. Only the present north-south, Christian-Moslem bipolar arrangement can guarantee the strategic stability to ensure the survival of the Nigerian nation.
However, within the existing zoning understanding, the political parties as the instruments and platforms for political leadership selection need to overhaul their procedures and tighten their requirements for all elective offices. Specifically, the zone that should provide the next president has to put forward their best possible candidate. Political expediency, a deep pockets and compromise brought us to the present sorry pass. Subsequent Nigerian presidents must be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of their peers from any other nation of the world. Educational qualifications should no longer be propped up by silly affidavits or be subjects of endless court disputations. An aspiring president must demonstrate firm grasp of the various dimensions of the Nigerian narrative- our history, economy, society, geography, foreign relations, headaches etc. More importantly, the presidential aspirants in contention must be capable of thinking through Nigeria’s current problems and proffer original workable solutions.
As matters stand today, the imperative of zoning the presidency has thrown up unresolved matters of equity and fairness in the larger context of national history. Unresolved quests for equity and fairness linger. The annulment of the June 12, 1992 elections created a national consensus that the South West had been wronged. In the 1998-99 race for the presidency, the nation assuaged the South West’s hurt by choosing between Chief Olu Falaye of the Alliance for Democracy(AD) and General Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The rest is history.
Similarly, following the sudden demise of President Umaru Yar’dua, it fell on Goodluck Jonathan, then Vice President to succeed him. A prime consideration for Jonathan’s subsequent electoral victory was the heat of resource control militancy and agitations from the Niger Delta. The unanimous national support for the candidacy of president Jonathan was a gesture of goodwill towards the peoples of the Niger Delta.
At this moment, the moral arc of Nigerian history is bent in the direction of justice for the people of the South East. This imperative dictates that the politics of moral consequence which produced both the Obasanjo and Jonathan presidencies be replicated in respect of the South East. (More on this subsequently). I doubt that the impulses behind Mamman Daura’s anti- zoning thesis takes into consideration the imperative of moral merit in the politics of the impending presidential succession.