Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Unforced errors

“The chief cause of problems is solutions.”
                                                                   Eric Sevareid

Usually limited to the sport of tennis, an unforced error refers to bad play made entirely as a result of a player’s blunder, and not because of an opponent’s skills or effort. Applied to politics, unforced errors do not have the luxury of being isolated from pressure, prompting or stress in engaging an opponent. Nonetheless, the analogy makes sense when the scale of the misjudgement or error is of such nature or significance that it gives your opponent an undeserved advantage, or places you at risks you could or should have avoided. There are many instances of political unforced errors these days, perhaps owing to the slippery grounds on which all players play, or the absence of good intelligence, stamina or skills among the players. Some of the errors our politicians and leaders make these days will cost the nation very dearly. While they will only lose nominations and elections, some of their mistakes could lose the nation excellent opportunities to fix its current problems, and give it a stronger foundation for future generations to build upon.

          Take the case of the claimed breakthrough by the federal government in its fight against Boko Haram in the form of an agreement to cease hostilities, presumably as a step towards a negotiated resolution. The announcement came from the federal government, a party in the war that has had the upper hand in the last few weeks; looks like it is successfully marshalling all its assets for a final onslaught, and still has large populations and territory in the hands of terrorists it appears to be defeating. Even making legitimate allowances for the fact that the government knows something we do not, the acceptance of a ceasefire with an opponent seemingly on the run is bound to raise more than eyebrows. Those among us who thought the administration deserves some trust had our goodwill shattered just a few hours into the trumpeted ceasefire when the insurgents took over new territory and population, slaughtering many locals to make the point that nothing has changed. 

Perhaps our military hierarchy really had thought it had a binding agreement, and had instructed its forces not to fight? No matter. The insurgents bombed the claim that there was a ceasefire, and then the walls collapsed on the claim that a credible ceasefire was signed from the outrage and cynicism of just about everyone who should know. Local communities, people with knowledge of the insurgency and critical analysts who had seen it all before said either the administration had been deceived again, or it is involved in another game of deception. The word so far is that bombs are going off from both sides and villagers are being slaughtered even as Jonathan’s administration sticks to the idea that it has a credible ceasefire agreement. Our troops will now fight to defend themselves and prevent further inroads into our territories while people make money putting forward characters that claim to represent Boko Haram, and our population in captured territories or kidnapped citizens begin to wonder if they are being bargained away.

          Or take the case of the quiet but intense drama going on in the upper achelons of the APC, the type that will give it the nation to run in 2015, or give the PDP another four years from 2015. For a party that a few months ago was virtually guaranteed victory against the PDP, the APC is now fighting for its dear life. Everything is threatening to come unstuck, and unless you count the massive invasion by former PDP members into the APC as moles, most of the problems of the APC today are self-inflicted. There were small errors, faulty assumptions and miscalculations here and there, all made in the euphoria which followed the historic merger of major opposition parties which have now grown into massive problems. The acute shortage of time to resolve them is being compounded by the intense pressure from very powerful interests within the party to shape it after their ambitions. The hitherto unassailable position of General Buhari is now being openly challenged by people who, this time last year, were not even in the party. Atiku, as is rumoured, may very well be in the game to retire Buhari finally and permanently from politics, but all three careers (Buhari’s, Atiku’s and Kwankwaso’s) could come to a tragic end if something dramatic and unusual does not happen to save the party from a damaging contest for the APC flag. PDP will not need to defeat APC in 2015: APC will lose all by itself in the manner it mismanages the great opportunity it has to change the course of Nigerian democracy. 

          Another unforced error that may only be manifest in the next few weeks will be in the candidature of President Jonathan.  PDP big wigs think that they have acted in the tradition of their party which insists that you cannot say no to an incumbent president when he demands for another go. They went through the usual motion of mowing down all internal challenges, breached all the rules relating to campaigning, and they think they are now ready to face whoever and whatever APC throws at them. The PDP will not reveal its plan B, assuming, that is, it has one. 

So you have to speculate whether it has contingency plans for the distinct possibility that the Supreme Court could strike down Jonathan’s eligibility as a candidate in 2015. How does it plan to deal with rebellious first-term governors, senators and other legislators who now want a Jonathan treatment? How does it handle governors who want to choose successors? How would it handle fallouts from serving senators who will resist pack-and-go orders because outgoing governors want their seats? With its no-going-back-on-Jonathan posture, and assuming that he does cross the eligibility hurdle, does the PDP have all answers to APC’s challenge? Could it have boxed itself into a corner by assuming that the APC will only field Buhari, and that it is inconceivable that Jonathan will lose to him? Could the party be guilty of underrating Buhari’s popularity or potential to limit his electoral shortcomings; and overrating Jonathan’s acceptability and the capacity of campaign managers to deliver on promises to weaken resistance against him in many parts of the nation? How would PDP react to the possible emergence of a dark horse from APC, a northern Christian, a southern Muslim or a southern Christian from the Niger Delta as candidates? How flexible is PDP strategy, beyond the assumption that massive amounts of money can make major differences in the manner voters behave, INEC conducts elections, the direction security agents wield sticks and guns, and the judiciary is inclined?

          Politicians do not have the luxury of taking decisions in a vacuum. They make good and poor judgment calls, and reap the benefits or pay huge prices for them. Because politics is about life, limbs and livelihoods, the public is usually the victim or beneficiary of failures or success of decisions of politicians. At this moment in our history, so much depends on the manner our leaders and politicians appreciate the total context of their actions and decisions. Unfortunately it is also the case that those who lead our nation and are about to determine its future have not demonstrated the levels of competence, commitment and vision that will guarantee that our fears over 2015 and beyond are misplaced.                           


“Society performs for itself almost everything which is acribed to government “
                                                                                    Thomas Paine, 1737-1809.

I  spent the last two weeks in Saudi Arabia among Islamists. These are Muslims who recognize the imperatives of complying with the demands of their faith to visit Makkah for the Hajj, and are blessed with the means to do so. There were millioms of us, all submitting to the incomparable awesomeness of the entire exercise. The bewildering mix of race, age, status, gender, nationalities, sects, political leaning, wealth and poverty, humbled by a breathtaking environment undertook a ritual that had been performed exactly the way we did for more than 1400 years. For four days, millions of Muslims stood in total submission to Allah Subhanahu  Wa Ta’ala and prayed. 

Everyone was there with their private packet of prayers and requests, but virtually everyone shared one prayer in common: that Muslims the world over will overcome the challenges they face with such seeming impotence. You got to know of this when, as I was privileged to do, you mixed with Muslims from all over the world, the category of pilgrims who are knowledgeable, informed, involved and passionate about their faith. Muslims from the Balkans and former USSR speak about the stresses of living with violence inspired by groups bent on pushing back frontiers of oppression from non-Muslims powers. Asian Muslims and millions in many Arab countries speak of unending violence as Muslims take on each other in a vicious struggle to establish a particular version of Islamic system. The Middle East speaks of blood and guts, of Israel’s callous savagery, the unyielding support it enjoys from the US and its allies, and of the desperation of generations who have known only war with Israel as the basic stuff of life. The Maghreb speaks of turmoil and vicious battles to assume the power to determine how much influence the Islamic faith is allowed in public lives of Muslims. West and East Africa bleed from weak governments and determined groups that have made massive inroads into lives of citizens using terror to prop up Islamic systems. In Central Africa, Muslims are under attack for just being Muslims. European Muslims are torn between being Muslims and being Europeans. Muslim leaders fawn at the feet of America and beg it to fight their battles for them. They are resented by their people for being weak and corrupt, for abandoning the interests of Islam, and being the cause of all the fate of Muslims.  

            There were Muslims from all parts of the world who worried over the perception that Muslims are engaged in a global war with every type of enemy including fellow Muslims, and they cannot understand exactly what the issues are, or how they should judge who is right or wrong. They resent the term Islamist applied by the Western media to every group that takes up arms and claims to fight for a cause, provided they are Muslims. They worried that the global Muslim community is being weakened by multiple assaults from self-inflicted intra-Muslims conflicts as we see in Syria, Iraq, Iran and many other parts of the Muslim world. They lament the damaging image being created for Islam as a faith rooted in violence from which the rest of the world should put much distance.

             Every Muslim now knows of Boko Haram, and wants to know what it represents or if it can get what it wants. Muslims from all over the world are curious over how Boko Haram , Al Shabbab and AQIM managed to grow into what they are, the social context that gives them succour, and the attitudes of other Muslims towards them. Everyone wants to know if the spectacular emergence of the Islamic State (ISIL) will inspire more Muslim uprisings or serve as impetus for groups under arms to dig in.

            The Hajj provided an opportunity for much soul-searching among Muslims, but in truth, there was more pain and anger than studied analyses over the state of Islam in the world. On those rare occasions when discussions moved away from lamentations to the search for solutions, a few difficult positions tended to emerge. One is that the Muslim world is not one world at all: it is a patchwork of Muslim communities each labouring under fairly unique stimuli and challenge. While it has common irritants, such as the brazen impunity with which Israel justifies its security, or a West which both protects it and makes much capital from the weaknesses of Muslim countries, or the humiliating capitulation of leaders of Muslim countries and communities, it is important to understand the basic differences between the goals of Chechnian Muslims, ISIL and Boko Haram. There will always be a Muslim group somewhere that will take up arms in the name of the faith, but a world in which the vast majority of Muslims live in peace with themselves and non-Muslims is feasible. More than that, it is now an urgent necessity. The detailed fatwa issued by the world’s leading Muslim leaders a few weeks ago hints at a new thinking around isolating Islam from terror. 

                         Much as we think our version of the threats posed by Boko Haram are very serious (and they are) they pale in comparison with those in many other parts of the world. This is very fortunate for us in Nigeria (and Africa) because it means our own threat is still within the bracket of those that can be contained and, in the longer term, eliminated. But this is not to be assumed. The current appearance of success by the Nigerian state against terrorists must be supported and sustained. Our neighbours must be more actively involved in the fight to destroy the rump of the terrorists. Defeating Boko Haram militarily is only a first step towards dealing with this threat. The Northern Muslim establishment must undertake a deep and thorough search into its weaknesses and limitations. Long before it challenged the Nigerian state, Jumaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (JASLIWAJ) was pre-eminently a challenge against mainstream Muslim leadership and establishment. Its remote nourishment is still there in abundance: in sects that resist reforms in Islamic education, in poverty and corrupt and indifferent leadership. These have to be faced by religious and political leaders in Nigeria with courage, sensitivity and knowledge. Some very big obstacles will have to be confronted and overcome.

 It will be a monumental mistake to assume that some of the most basic problems which generate alienation and anger among Muslims in Nigeria can only be solved by government. Nigerian Muslims lend themselves to weak governments to use, or tolerate practices and weaknesses that weaken Muslims and create conditions which breed fringe groups. It will be equally naive to assume that having a Muslim President alone will dramatically transform the state of Muslims in Nigeria. In a Nigerian state whose structure does no favour to Islam as a religion, the Muslim community will have to assume prime responsibility for its condition.

            I spent the last two weeks with Islamists more deserving of the name than terrorists who serve anti-Islamic interests. For us in Nigeria, the real fight against Boko Haram will have to be fought by Muslims, because the Nigerian state cannot respond appropriately to the complex interplay between faith, society and economy which breeds groups such as them. If Muslim leaders do not move with courage and speed to plug the many loopholes in their unity and disposition that will be exploited for the 2015 elections, they will be made even weaker. Then groups like JASLIWAJ will find even stronger impetus to rise against a state they will claim is patently anti- Islamic.     

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jonathan goes for broke

‘Democracy is too good to share with just  anybody’. 
                                                                                            Nigel Rees.

Buckle up. President Jonathan is going for broke. These are no times for the timid. The next few weeks will be full of sound and fury. What they signify, however, cannot be entirely foretold. If the tough guy posture of the President is borne out of an assessment of his strength in relation to his adversaries’ weaknesses, he may be on his way to breaking a world record for turning the tables against all odds. If, however, it is a gamble, he could come unstuck in more ways than he imagines. Either way, President Jonathan has just adjusted his position right back to a place where his future could substantially determine the fate of the nation.
          For a man who had attempted to keep alive the fiction that the law does not allow him to state whether he is a candidate for another term, his reaction to the successful assault on a weak and feeble challenge over the PDP flag for 2015 will enrich his record on inconsistencies. How anyone will believe that Governor Sule Lamido could stand up and stare into Jonathan’s eyes beats the imagination. If the billions being spent on advertising the candidature of an undeclared Jonathan have not convinced Lamido that he is not a David against this Goliath, the vast arsenal of the PDP in arm-twisting tactics was enough to do the trick. Only a few skeletons needed to be flashed, and assurances that do not necessary carry self- actualizing capacities given, for Sule Lamido’s pathetic bravado to fall flat. The icing on the cake was the enlisting of the custodian of Jonathan’s one-term-only documented pledge, Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu to complete the public humbling of Sule Lamido. It is likely that governor Lamido has a good face-saving story to tell his people whose hopes he had raised by his threat to enter the ring with Jonathan, or turn Jigawa State into a miniature Bayelsa as an option. A powerful team followed him home to make sure he got the massage.
           Jonathan’s hat has been in the ring all this while. The ritual of chorused endorsement merely says it is the only one. Jonathan now walks with a swagger and confidence of a victor. He is told he has vanquished all northern PDP protests at the illegitimacy of his ambition, as all his opposition from the region has either defected or been cowed into humiliating acquiescence. The PDP will field only Jonathan whether party loyalist from all over the country think he represents a liability or an asset.
          It will be uncharitable to assume that PDP has not set aside a princely sum to seek legal advice over his eligibility, and to fight, using every means, to overcome potential legal hurdles. It is, in fact, quite conceivable that Jonathan and the PDP see this potential hurdle as a done deal, considering the leaky nature of our judicial system.
          Perhaps it is the sense of accomplishment in winning a predictable battle that gives the President his current disposition on many issues. You see this in the manner he side-steps a raging insurgency and the global outrage over the Chibok girls and headed for the UN Security Council, a place where he was bound to run into a storm of protests and hostility. People claiming to be sympathetic to his version of the fight against the insurgency say the US government is actively frustrating his efforts to buy weapons in the open market, hence the recourse to his underhand cash-for-weapons attempt in South Africa which blew up in the nation’s face. He is unlikely to have been warmly hugged by South African diplomats representing a nation seething with anger at the response of the Nigerian government to demands for full information regarding the death of many South Africans in a church in Lagos. If South African diplomats did not return Jonathan’s greetings, it is possibly because they had read that he had visited the crashed church building, with more sympathy for the priests than the victims, and had said little beyond promising to investigate.
          There could have been other leaders at the UN who would have read diplomatic briefs on the collapsed church building and the embarrassing seizure of a Nigerian plane which the government admits went with its $10m in cash to pay for weapons in South Africa. They would know that President Jonathan had not visited the parents of the abducted Chibok girls, but had visited and commiserated with the owner of a church whose collapsed building is being investigated. While he mingled with leaders who would stare at a President seemingly at ease even as abducted girls were rumoured to have been freed one moment, and still missing the next, President Jonathan would have put up a brave face while reading prepared speeches warning the world on the dangers of terror. Many in his audience have serious reservations regarding his will and capacity to fight Nigerian’s version of terror.
          President Jonathan’s mien will not show evidence of deeper humility with his endorsement as the only Nigerian fit to fly the PDP flag. He will embark on an aggressive campaign blaming the opposition and terror for gaping deficits in his administration. These deficits will have to be exposed by an opposition that itself could think going for broke is the way to go. The APC’s many options do not have time to incubate and respond appropriately to PDP’s big, if predictable, gamble.
The cat-and-mouse between Jonathan and Buhari is practically over. The world knows that Jonathan is now PDP’s candidate. Those in the thinking circles of the two parties will now be firming up scenarios. Many in the APC think the biggest blunder the PDP has made is to field Jonathan. Many in PDP have prayed fervently that APC should field Buhari. Both think these candidates represent each other’s biggest liabilities. Now that Jonathan is set to fly PDP’s flag, will APC go for broke and field Buhari? Can APC afford not to field Buhari? If it can, what does it have in store to minimise the potential damage in fielding another candidate? Can it afford an all-out scramble for the flag, and risking the type of damage that will literally hand Jonathan another four years in the Villa? Can it also gamble, with, say, a northern Christian or southern candidate? What would it take to get another flag bearer, and convince Buhari to endorse him? How will APC handle fallouts from the selection of flag bearers at state and national levels?
          The most serious aspect of the gamble of the PDP is that it could be infectious. It could create stronger resistance against Jonathan and his party in places which think another four years of his administration will compound every ill and problem which exist today. It could deepen support in those places which think even a poor Jonathan leadership is preferable to an APC Presidency. If it results in a Jonathan-Buhari contest, it will test the nation’s fragile democratic system to its limit, or even risk destroying it altogether.
          The PDP leaders and President Jonathan have just raised the stakes higher than they have ever been. If they have taken an audatious gamble in clothing a president many think has run his race in the image of the untouchable, they may rue their decisions if and / or when the general elections are held in 2015. Unless, of course, they bank on a game plan for deepening the intense, conflicting passions which Jonathan’s Presidency generates, with all its dangerous ramifications. Some may see a victory for Jonathan well outside the framework of a free and fair election next year. The biggest gamble of all will be one that assumes that leaders will emerge in defiance of the will of the Nigerian people.

Time and Place

‘When you are on the periphery its not the periphery; it is the center.’ Mary Robinson

With just a few months before Nigerians go to the general elections, the outlook on a nation ready to confront and successfully deal with a major turning point is poor. Vital requirements for the success of the transitional processes between this administration and the next are missing, and there is little evidence that capacities exist which will re invent or develop them. Of these, the most important is the limited space for formal political structures and processes to canvass for support and organize to contest in the election. Political parties and politicians have lost much ground to powerful ethnic, religious and political interests. The 2015 elections, if they hold at all, will not be about choices involving candidates and parties. They are likely to be a contest between ethnic and religious groups.

Ironically, the National Conference which could have improved elite consensus around key issues is principally responsible for the increased disarray among the elites. For this you have to blame President Goodluck Jonathan. Predicating the conference on the assumption that ethnicity is the building block of the Nigerian state, Jonathan designed it in such a manner that he basically re-invented ethnic and regional leaders who had no capacity to address the foundations of national security, reform a threatened electoral process or mitigate the damage of widespread corruption. They quarreled their ways into deeping the chasms his presidency had created, and each fraction of the elite went away with an injured agenda and its own idea of priorities for good governance. People who exercise constitutional authority, or operate basic political structures stood by as un-elected Nigerians briefly basked in the sun and told themselves that they held the aces regarding the future of the nation.

       It is no surprise that the post-conference atmosphere is characterized by higher levels of hostility between ethnic and regional elites. Political developments are being substantially influenced by fallouts from the national conference. Nigerian elites have rarely been as polarized along ethnic and regional lines, and politicking towards the 2015 elections will bear all the hallmarks of a nation laboring under the overbearing influence of forces which the democratic process is intended to accommodate and overcome. Every development these days is ground for ethnic battles.  INEC rolls out proposals on allocation of 30,000 additional polling units, the first such review since 1996. Ordinarily this should have been a cause for celebrating a major step intended to address a major bottleneck in the electoral process. Most parts of the country desperately need additional or decongested polling units, given the massive increase in voting population and democratic changes. INEC thought it had applied all the appropriate indices in allocating the additional polling units across the federation, including the criterion of equity. It was wrong. The allocation of over 70% of the units to states in the north was rejected by ethnic and regional leaders from the south, quite possibly with prompting from politicians holding offices in the present administration.
 Jega who was a hero to many in the south only for conducting an election in 2011 that produced a southern President, was stripped to his bare bones as a hard core northern chauvinist who should resign immediately. The distinguished assembly of the outraged, long accustomed to bullying a weakened north into giving ground, failed to note that Jega admitted that many states in the south did not even deserve the number of units they got, but for the inclusion of the principle of fairness and equity. In other words, if INEC had been strict in sharing out the units in accordance with voting population and geography, the north would have received even more. This means units that should have been allocated to ease voting for northern voters have been given to southern voters, presumably on the assumption that their leaders shout louder than northern leaders.

   The painstaking and detailed response of INEC to the criticism from ethnic champions from the south merely opened up a new front for Jega: northern regional leaders were outraged over the concessions INEC says it made at northern voters’ expense. They insisted that the entire exercise be revisited, and justice done to the northern voters by giving them back units that were unfairly allocated to southern voters. Their language suggested a pronounced exasperation of people who had watched the grounds shift away from the north or many fronts, and whose pleas for justice or redress are not even the irritants they were a few years ago.

   The quarrel over allocation of polling units is a symptom of much deeper crisis afflicting the Nigerian elite. In a way, INEC read the terrain much better than most observers are willing to give it credit for. It attempted to balance political exigencies against the demand for fairness in an exercise that cannot be stretched beyond a certain threshold. It is also quite possibly aware that this quarrel is less about the manner it distributed 30,000 additional polling units than a symptom of the deeply soiled relations being actively promoted within and between many parts of the nation by ethnic and regional leaders. Evidence of this is all over the terrain. Igbo ethnic leaders will go to war over allegations that Ihejirika has been supporting Boko Haram. Northern elders accuse Jonathan of turning his back on the north as an insurgency he can fight destroys it, and for fraternizing with its sponsors. South south leaders provide the muscle for the sole candidature of Jonathan, and let everyone know it is less about the PDP than it is for their son. If Jonathan attempts to postpone the 2015 elections, he is likely to have a long queue of ethnic and religious supporters for it.

   With all this space taken up by ethnic and regional leaders, the two leading parties now have to struggle for room to be heard. In this respect, the PDP has a slight advantage; it has ethnic leaders who will defend and support the PDP position in the south east and south south as a matter with deep significance for their ethnic constituencies. Northern leaders suffer deep divisions around partisan, religious and ethnic lines, and it is most unlikely that they will endorse APC or PDP in the same manner ethnic leaders in many parts of the south openly do. In spite of its massive support in the south west, APC knows that it has very serious problems with a large segment of Yoruba elite, and these will be difficult to stop from walking on both sides of the street when it matters most.

   As the 2015 elections approach, influence of ethnic, regional and religious sentiments will be channeled more actively into the contest. It is unlikely that the nation will witness radical departures from patters of electioneering of the past, but the combined effects of the insurgency which has made every northerner an equal victim may reduce the gulf which exists between its many ethno-religious groups, while a new determination by northern regional leaders to cobble together a firmer political unity could reduce the region’s vulnerability. A north/south west alliance is one of the possibilities in 2015, but there are many permutations in the pipeline for this to become real. If elites who believe they represent ethnic, regional or religious interests can speak to each other, they could find that they have a stronger influence than politicians in the manner the 2015 elections affect the fortunes of the people that they think they have responsibility for. If they do not, they may push a fragile nation nearer to a point even they cannot salvage.