Who the dictator’s cap fits
Category: Monday column
How should we see the salvo fired by Chief Edwin Clark at all Nigerian state governors last week, accusing them of being dictators? Was Chief Clark being a Nigerian Chemical Ali who dropped the political equivalent of nerve gas on the terrain? Or was he being a Comical Ali, out to provide some needed comic relief?
Clark fired not one, but up to a dozen salvoes at Nigerian governors. He said the governors are more dictatorial than military governors were. He said the Nigeria Governors Forum [NGF] has constituted itself into an opposition party to the Federal Government and has become a threat to national peace and stability. He also said the governors’ forum has “hijacked” the ruling PDP’s structures and prevents the holding of proper congresses and conventions to elect officials. Clark also said even though the governors’ forum has a peer review mechanism, they never criticise wrongdoing by their own members.
Chief Clark said while NGF was silent when Chief James Ibori was being tried in London for corruption, “they conspicuously support their colleagues for no good reasons. For instance, they had no reason to hold Mr. President to ransom over the gubernatorial struggles in Bayelsa State between Chief Timipre Sylva and Seriake Dickson.” He condemned the governors for supporting ten PDP National Working Committee members who took decisions in the absence of national chairman Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, and said NGF “fuelled the crisis in Adamawa State by declaring its unholy support for Governor Murtala Nyako.” He said other weighty things, that governors emasculate their state assemblies, and that Nigerians do not support devolution of power to the states in matters such as state police for fear that the governors will abuse them. He said, “Our democracy is today imperilled because of the excesses of the governors who have put themselves and their interest over and above the interest of the nation.”
Now, before we get to the message, let us briefly examine the messenger. Chief Edwin Clark is not exactly the elder statesman whose words are spoken with the benefit of experience and deep reflection and which carry with them the credibility of detachment from the partisan fray. At 85, he is very much in the partisan political and geo-ethnic fray. Chief Clark accidentally acquired the role of the president’s godfather with Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s rise to the presidency. Given the president’s less than overwhelming political stature, he probably needs a godfather, but Clark has defined his role not as helping to improve the administration’s quality or consensual reach, but to sharpen its partisan teeth. His mission is to prop up and elongate President Goodluck Jonathan’s rule for as long as possible, for apparent ethnic reasons.
Now, with respect to his main charge of dictatorial tendencies, a detached Nigerian statesman would have said that not only the governors, but all executive offices created by the 1999 Constitution have developed beyond the imagination of the framers of the Constitution. Executive offices at all levels have largely escaped from the Constitution’s elaborately prescribed systems of check and balance.
With particular respect to state governors, we can see that they come in all shapes and sizes. I am not talking about physical girth now, but of temperament, activity, intellect, ambition and garrulousity. Some are very visible while others are reticent. Some governors flaunt their power while others are aloof. Some governors are ambitious for higher duties while others seem contented. Yet, every single one of them dominates the political terrain of his state. There must be something to the office or to the political terrain or both.
Nor did the governors fall from the sky. Almost every major segment of the intelligentsia is represented among them. Among the current governors alone, there are career civil servants [Babangida Aliyu, Wamakko], some big accountants [Dankwambo, Mukhtar Yero], several big bankers [Peter Obi, Isa Yuguda, Kashim Shettima], a SAN [Fashola], an Air Commodore [Jang], a Navy Admiral [Nyako], an airline pilot [Wada], a former Assembly speaker [Amaechi], some engineers [Aregbesola, Kwankwaso], a medical doctor [Uduaghan], a pharmacist [Suntai], a Customs officer [Dakingari], former federal legislators [Suswam, Dickson], a top labour unionist [Oshiomhole], a high profile businessman [Okorocha] and what can best be described as a professional politician [Sule Lamido]. If all these groups and professions contributed to the dictatorship pool, then who is left to point accusing fingers?
Now, even though NGF has existed since 1999, its transformation into a trade union that protects the political interests of every incumbent governor is a recent development in Nigerian politics. I think the shabby and classically dictatorial treatment that President Jonathan meted out to Mr. Timipre Sylva was a factor in this transformation. First term governors’ fear of blackmail as Jonathan plots a run in 2015, and also the fear of blackmail by governors who nurse presidential ambitions in 2015, all added to the mix.
Anyway, for the president to have 36 governors gang up against him even though 23 of them belong to his own party says something about his own political abilities. This was not possible in the Second Republic or even in the Obasanjo era.
Back in the Second Republic, there was nothing like NGF; the governors only met at the National Economic Council and the Council of State. They coordinated their positions on all issues with their parties, not their trans-party colleagues. It was only the opposition party governors of the Second Republic [UPN, PRP and GNPP] that held regular meetings of the Nine Progressive Governors. Three NPP governors later joined them after the collapse of the NPN/NPP accord.
In this Fourth Republic, the weaknesses of the political parties has already created many strange institutions such as Afenifere, Ohaneze, ACF, Middle Belt Forum etc and has also enhanced the political roles of JNI and CAN. For example, President Jonathan does not have a proper ruling party caucus meeting such as Alhaji Shehu Shagari used to chair every Monday evening, which made NPN very well coordinated from top to bottom. Instead, the president in this Republic has assumed roles previously unknown in Nigerian politics, such as the powers of “party leader” that Chief Obasanjo arrogated to himself and which Jonathan has now inherited. They include the power to determine or to flush out the party chairman and governors, a power that Jonathan used to flush out Vincent Ogbulafor, John Nwodo and Governor Sylva and to single-handedly install Bamanga Tukur.
Now, dictatorial tendencies easily catch on. I am not vouching for Governor Murtala Nyako’s democratic credentials, but the way that Bamanga is going about snatching control of the party chapter in his home state is a throwback to the worst excesses of the Obasanjo era. Jonathan is unable to rein him in because he set the stage for such impunity in his home state.
I think that central to the loss of political parties’ autonomy is the matter of money. As soon as the 1999 elections ended, no ordinary party member anywhere was ready to donate any money to the party. In every state, governors took over as the sole financiers of the ruling party, an arrangement that was bound to come with serious consequences for intra-party democracy and party autonomy.
So, who in this clumsy Nigerian arrangement does the dictator’s cap fit the most? You see, dictators come in several hues. I think Chief Clark is right that a Mobutu Sese Seko dictator’s leopard-skin cap fits the average Nigerian governor. However, I think the dictatorial Peacock Throne of the Shah of Iran and all its gilded accompaniments will fit nicely where President Jonathan’s Niger Delta hat now resides. As for the man who rails against dictatorial power only when it is not exercised by his political godson, I think the jewel-encrusted cap of Emperor Jean Bedel Ahmed Salim Bokassa, complete with the golden carriage drawn by imported French horses, will fit him very nicely.